When the Westchester County Association held its annual Women in Tech awards on Thursday, the honorees stressed the value of mentoring and taking chances.
The event, hosted at Abigail Kirsch at Tappan Hill Mansion in Tarrytown, highlighted four women in leadership roles in STEM sectors — science, technology, engineering and math:
• Jaime Fabricant, senior marketing manager, cultural foresights and innovation for Pepsi Beverages North America
• Jeannine Haggerty, general manger of Con Edison’s Bronx and Westchester electric operations
• Merin Joseph, executive vice president and chief information officer at WESTMED Practice Partners and WESTMED Medical Group
• Julie Roche, co-Founder and CEO, Burbio.com.
Each honoree at the luncheon gave their story in a 10-minute sit down interview with Rita Cosby, an Emmy award-winning TV host who is a special correspondent for the CBS newsmagazine, “Inside Edition.”
Cosby opened up with a story of her own when she took a chance and pushed back against a TV station that told her “we already have a beautiful blonde, we don’t need another one.”
“My first reaction was how dare this person say this, but luckily I came up with a response,” Cosby said. “I remember saying, ‘Do you have a beautiful blonde who can speak several languages and can work 24 hours a day?'”
She said she got the job, and the person eventually apologized for what they said on the phone.
“But it taught me really early on some of the hurdles and the stereotypes that women go through,” Cosby said.
Cosby then led the individual interviews that touched on not only some of those hurdles, but also on how technology is changing the way people do their jobs.
Fabricant said society is increasingly encouraging women that “you can accomplish anything. Even if you think it’s in areas that are more male dominated in the traditional sense.”
She pointed out that PepsiCo is led by a woman CEO, Indra Nooyi, who Fabricant described as an inspiring role model.
Part of Fabricant’s role at PepsiCo is finding emerging technologies and innovations to help reach customers.
“In order to stay relevant, especially with millennial consumers, you have to show them something they never even knew was possible before,” Fabricant said.
Haggerty mentors ConEd employees to help recruit women into information technology. She said her advice for women entering male-dominated fields is to work hard and find people to help.
“I encourage new hires to continue to lead and also to find those mentors, and find them organically,” Haggerty said. “It has to happen when you’re meeting with them and talking, and you will find that people want to support you.”
Joseph noted how fast the information technology field is growing in health care. She said when she started at Westmed, there was only one other person in the department.
“We are working with vendors all the time to find new areas (of technology) we can expand on,” Joseph said.
While Joseph said new graduates “often don’t want to take much risk,” she encourages hard work and taking chances.
Roche, co-launched Burbio, a community calendar sharing digital platform, along with her husband in 2014. She said the goal of the company is to be “the answer for when,” for all local events.
She that while there aren’t many female technology entrepreneurs out there today, she hopes she can help change that. Part of that, she said, is to encourage potential entrepreneurs to take a chance and go after their visions.
Rather than wait for perfection, Roche said, “just get it out there.”