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Sunday, May 26, 2024
The Observer

Three women executives speak to South Bend community

On Thursday night in Stapleton Lounge, Saint Mary’s created a space for three boss ladies who had something to say. The panel discussion, “Boss Ladies, Real Talk with Female Executives,” was the first in a series of events featuring women business leaders. The series will culminate with the annual Engaging Women Conference to be held at Saint Mary’s on May 22.

Willow Wetherall, director of the Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative at Saint Mary’s, hosted the event which was sponsored by 1st Source Bank. Bethany Hartley, director of diversity and inclusion for the South Bend/Elkhart Regional Partnership, moderated the event.

At the beginning of the discussion, Hartley clarified the meaning behind the notion of ‘boss lady.’

“Women should be proud and embrace the word boss,” she said. “It’s an energy, it’s a feeling and it’s a movement.”

The panelists for the event included South Bend city clerk Kareemah Fowler, vice president of philanthropy at Lakeland Health Foundations Brandi Smith and market development manager at Manufacturing Technologies, Inc. Constanza Lengerich.

The panel began with a question about intentionality. Hartley said she pushed herself to create a panel that was intentionally diverse, and that diversity is possible if we all take the time to make it happen.

Smith said for her, being a successful boss demands intentionality.

“My work is relational and it demands intention,” she said. “I have to be hyper-aware and very thoughtful because my communication is critical.”

Fowler said she strives to be a role model for her daughter and finds inspiration in the popular culture they share.

“Drake was talking about success, and he said, ‘I am who I think I am.’ That was huge for me,” she said. “With social media and the digital age, people can put on a big facade, so for me, that hit home, and I often think about if I am who I want to be.”

With everything in her life, Fowler said she tries to be intentional when seeking and creating change.

“Who I am is an advocate for women and a woman who supports women,” she said. “I’m an advocate for diversity and inclusion in small business. I have to make a lot of decisions, and if I have the opportunity to make changes in those areas, I do that. I only do things where I can make a difference. I pride myself as a person who can get things done.”

Lengerich said she is intentional in her competitiveness and likes to push herself to be better. Lengerich is originally from Chile, and said that intentionally pushing herself to achieve her dreams proved lucrative and successful.

“I wanted to study in the U.S., so I applied for a scholarship in Chile that covered all my expenses to study for my master’s abroad,” she said. “I didn’t get the scholarship, but I said, ‘I’m still going to study there and study in one of the best universities.’ I connected with Notre Dame — they have a really good innovation program called the ESTEEM program. I was actually one of the first applicants, and I told them that this was my dream. I ended up with a scholarship that covered 90 percent of my expenses.”

Fowler said she often finds success when she is true to herself and true to her work, which she finds meaningful.

“Success for me is simple — it’s being able to do meaningful work without compromise, be a role model for my 16-year-old daughter and provide for my family,” she said. “I’m at my best when I’m at service to others.”

Before becoming vice president of philanthropy, Smith was living in Los Angeles, having successfully helped to develop three short films. Smith said while she was working on her screenplay, however, she discovered that she was pregnant and had to make different career choices for herself and her family.

“The best advice is to be authentic,” she said. “When I started my family, that really changed my ability to be 100 percent in all the work that I do, and I still try to bring myself to the work, but I have to make choices for myself and my family. Ultimately, for the younger women in the room who haven’t started families, the best advice is to really go for it before starting a family. Go for that thing that terrifies you because it’s harder to do once you have a family.”

While the focus of the night was on women supporting women, Hartley emphasized that men can still be accountable for helping to support women.

“This has always been an interesting trend, and that is that older men are not threatened by helping women,” she said. “It’s been very beneficial to me to have that relationship with those men who are willing to help me.”

Lengerich and Fowler both spoke about how their fathers empowered them and made them stronger.

“He empowered me,” Fowler said, “He made me stronger and taught me not to be afraid of men.”

Smith said ultimately, her goal is freedom — including financial freedom, creative freedom and psychological freedom.

“I’m working on building myself right now so that I can help grow others in the future,” she said.

Fowler said she is now open to where her life in public service will take her, and hopes to mark her success by her growth and the growth and development of others she has supported.

“Ten years from now, I want to be the best version Kareemah I can be — physically, mentally and spiritually,” she said. “I want to be able to go out into my community and pinpoint the impact I have made. I want to be able to point to all the women that I took along with me.”