By Kathy Chouteau
A coach for the San Francisco Giants, the diversity leader of a multi-national corporation and the founder of a popular media and technology company joined a Zoom call on Tuesday sharing at least one thing in common.
They’re all inspirational women, and they had ample inspiration to share at the annual Junior Achievement of Northern California’s S.H.E. Leads STEM Summit, where female leaders shared their insights and experiences with the up-and-coming teen businesswomen of tomorrow.
The first day of the summit—fittingly held on International Women’s Day, and taking place virtually due to the pandemic—kicked off with moderator and author/journalist Diana Kapp welcoming everyone and introducing the panelists, which included Josetta Jones, chief diversity and inclusion officer, Chevron; Hannah Lavon, founder and creative director, Pals Socks; Nisha Palvia, analytics manager, Kearney; Lisa Sugar, co-founder, editor and chief, PopSugar; and Karen Warren, area president, Robert Half.
Kapp then welcomed the first day’s keynote speaker, Alyssa Nakken of the San Francisco Giants, the first female coach in Major League Baseball. During an inspirational speech recounting her zig-zag rise to her current trailblazing role, Nakken advised the participants that “gathering lessons learned from others, inspiration from how they hold themselves and finding characteristics that resonate with me” is what helped her build herself into her profession and that she works “just as hard on myself every day as I do on the field—and that’s helped me build the confidence I need to continue to move forward.”
In the subsequent panel discussion, Kapp asked Chevron’s Josetta Jones to describe herself the way her best friend might do so and to share her authentic self. Jones joked about how loving a good pun and being witty, then quickly underscored the importance of thoughtfulness and close relationships in a person’s life.
“I try to be thoughtful, because as we go through life, and as we go through our school career, really our friends and family get us through, and if you haven’t developed those key relationships with them, you can have a really hard time,” she said.
Jones also gave a shout-out to some of her friends who were joining the summit to support her and expressed thankfulness, noting they “have a two-way relationship” and that “you have some people that love you and I think that’s what I give out—at least that’s what I like to give out—so that’s what I think they’d say about me.”
Positivity is key to success, agreed Lisa Sugar of PopSugar, who shared her love of candy and work ethic and added her “best friend would say that I’m a loyal friend, I’m the eternal optimist in the group that always wants to put a smile on someone’s face.”
Sugar, who founded PopSugar with her husband while they were starting a family, also shared how blending “family and fun and business has always been a part of our company and who I am today and I think that’s…weaved into our culture and our company culture.”
Kapp next touched on the topic of “imposter syndrome,” the “sense that wherever you are, whatever you’ve accomplished, that you sort of don’t deserve it,” asking the panelists to share related experiences.
Chevron’s Jones was quick to impart that she has felt that way, particularly “coming up in the math and science field” where there are not many young women who are studying in those fields “although the numbers are changing.”
Jones highlighted how if she feels she can’t do something, she “grabs some theme music” from the likes of fellow Houston native Beyonce or Gwen Stefani for some “West Coast flair.” She added “Music can really put you in the right way, especially if you’re feeling that you’re not measuring up,” underscoring that they shouldn’t “let the imposter syndrome get you down, let it encourage you.”
Kearney’s Nisha Palvia touched on her experience with imposter syndrome before becoming a management consultant, when she was an engineer and “one of the fewer females in the room,” and later, “in the field.” Palvia added, “I think the biggest takeaway I can have is knowing that I still have lots to learn, but I still have a unique set of skills and experiences that can bring something to the table.”
Kapp then asked Pals Socks’ Hannah Lavon about how she got the courage to believe in herself and start her own business. Noting that in the early days her mom worried that she “might end up in the basement,” she said that it took “a lot of milestones to actually happen…to prove to myself that I can actually do this [and] this is actually happening,” adding that “You just have to have faith, and if you’re getting good feedback, to keep on tweaking and reaching out and learning until you can actually, you know, make stuff happen for real-z.”
Palvia and Jones addressed their decision to enter the engineering field, given that it’s not considered a traditional career for women. Palvia shared how she jumped around to different majors in college, eventually landing on engineering because “I knew my strengths [and that] engineering would be a really good option” and she went toward industrial engineering “because I like to see how processes work.”
For Jones’ part, her road toward pursuing engineering was part inspiration from her older sister—who was majoring in engineering in college—and part encouragement from her mother, who suggested it as a secure post-college career. “So I decided to study chemical engineering,” said Jones, who also attended law school. “I liked chemistry and I liked math, and what I really found with engineering…is that there is a routine and a methodology of analyzing problems, and there will always be something to solve in any of our work and so it’s a really good foundation to being an engineer.”
Lavon then shared insights on becoming a better leader. Noting she is currently discovering how to better herself, Lavon said “I think to start, being very goal-oriented and really wanting to be helpful to other people. You have to really practice your empathy skills, I think, because a really great way to lead, I think, is to figure out what people need and how they can be inspired, so you can do that for them.” She joked, “as I say, put yourself in someone else’s socks.”
Following the panel, Junior Achievement of Northern California President and CEO Christine Burr spoke to the summit’s aim of “empowering young women and girls to become trailblazers and future leaders.”
“Go out there and blaze your own trail,” Burr said.