Center for Women of New York hosts annual conference

By Madina Toure

Professionals spanning the fields of education, banking and finance spoke about navigating their careers and the challenges women face in the workforce at the 28th annual World of Working Women Conference hosted by the Center for the Women of New York in Flushing last week.

The panel discussion, held at the Sheraton LaGuardia East Hotel at 135-20 39th Ave., featured Audra Fordin of Great Bear Auto Shop; Cassidy Canzani, a senior economist in the New York Office of Economic Analysis and Information, Bureau of Labor Statistics ; Moses Ojeda, principal of Thomas Edison Career and Technical Education HS; Regina Olff, coordinator of the Retiree Learning Center Programs of the UFT; Mallory Trachtenberg, a program analyst for the Labor Department’s Women’s Bureau; and Gina Bolden-Rivera of Flushing Bank.

Roz Liston, editor of the TimesLedger Newspapers, moderated the panel.

The panelists fielded questions about how to encourage women to step into fields such as STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) where women are historically underrepresented, cultural views on gender norms and how women can avoid being treated differently because of their gender in the workplace.

A number of students from Thomas Edison HS attended the panel discussion. Ojeda, who graduated from Thomas Edison in 1993, has revamped information technology and career and technical education at the school, said the organization’s mission resonates with him.

“As a teacher, I had female students who loved working on computers and their parents would say, ‘No, that’s not the field for you. That’s for a boy, that’s for a man. You’re going to go into medical. You’re going to go into business’ and it would crush me to see that they were unhappy,” he said.

The boys from Edison readily admitted that they were often outshone by the girls, particularly in the highly competitive robotics class.

Fordin, a fourth generation auto shop repair owner, said she strives to bring more women into her industry.

“The auto industry is a lucrative industry that ‘women auto know’ about,” she said, referring to her website.

A young Edison student wearing a headscarf said she was interested in going into auto mechanics, but her traditional parents actively discouraged her. Her dilemma kicked off a lively discussion among panelists, the audience and the students about how to educate parents on changing gender roles. One woman suggested a public service ad campaign.

One of the male students asked the panelists if any of them had failed and how they moved on.

Ann Juliano Jawin, the center’s founder and chairwoman, said she ran for public office twice and did not win, but the experience gave her valuable life skills.

“Learning how to speak in public, holding people’s attention, getting money out of them and also the respect of the other people in the field because when you run for office, you know how tough it is,” Jawin said.

Bolden-Rivera said life is a “building block,” noting the exposure she has gotten from working at a small bank.

“Think about your own passion and what allows you to do that passion,” she said.

State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) said he and the organization “go back many, many years.” When he was a councilman, he gave $900,000 to the center toward the renovation of the landmarked building in Fort Totten which the center plans to occupy after being forced to move in 2002 to make room for a city Fire Department facility.

“The Center for Women of New York does such a great job helping women in need and there is no question that there is a tremendous need,” Weprin said.

Reach reporter Madina Toure by e-mail at mtoure@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4566.