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From successful women business leaders: ‘Be fiercely and fearlessly feminine’

By Haley Tran, student writer
Monday, April 17, 2023

Twice every year, the Broad College hosts its Advancing Women in Business event to connect alumni, recent graduates and current students through a networking session followed by a panel discussion. This spring’s event, on March 29, was held both virtually and in person and sparked an insightful dialogue around what it meant to be a woman in business.

Cheri DeClercq, assistant dean for MBA programs and organizer of the event, said, “Encouraging women to reach their full potential is a vital part of what we do every day, and these events provide a platform for us to come together to celebrate our success, to share our experiences and to inspire each other. It’s refreshing, energizing and motivating to see the impact on students, alumni and the speakers themselves!”

The panel featured two Broad alumnae, Angela Samfilippo Gorder (B.A., MBA Finance and Accounting ’98), chief executive officer of Samfilippo & Co., and Laurene Horiszny (B.A. Marketing ’77), former chief ethics and compliance officer of BorgWarner Inc., alongside Florentine Nzisabira, a Humphrey Fellow at Michigan State University.

With 25 years of experience in the banking alternative investment industry, Gorder is on a mission to increase the number of female chief investment officers in high finance. Horiszny specializes in ESG, compliance and risk management, and over the course of her career, she has overseen global ethics and compliance programs as well as corporate social responsibility matters.

Nzisabira’s main focus is on empowering women in business and working with female leaders to foster their development. As part of the Humphrey Fellowship program, she came to MSU from Burundi for an education in human rights and international human rights law.

“We are so honored to have these brilliant women with us today,” interim dean Judith Whipple said, kicking off the event. “The Broad College cares about motivating and uplifting women in business while they are on campus and after they graduate. This panel will help us understand how women are represented in business and reflect on the positive impact we have made and will make in the future.”

DeClercq began the discussion by asking the panelists about the person who had had the most impact on their success.

“My mother is the most important person I have to thank for my success. Not only is she a great mother, but she is also a leader, a teacher and a businesswoman,” Nzisabira said. “My mother practices what she preaches, and she has always inspired me to work harder and smarter.”

Horiszny added, “Rather than just one person, my entire college experience at MSU contributed to my success. I was fortunate enough to receive early leadership training from studying management classes and being a resident assistant. It is so important to embrace opportunities to do leadership training throughout your life because these skills are going to stay with you for a long time.”

DeClercq and the panelists then delved deeper into the topic of prioritizing opportunities and maintaining a healthy work-life balance.

“I’ve never had any real balance in my life. I have sacrificed a lot of areas of my life and my career,” Gorder said of her experience as a woman in a male-dominated industry and having to work hard to prove herself. “After 25 years in the industry, the best advice I can give to young women is to not be a people pleaser and to put yourself first, always.”

Nzisabira introduced the concept of balancing the wheel of life: “To not be overworked and stay healthy, you must have objectives for each area of your life and make sure you follow through. If your wheel of life is not balanced, no area of your life can move forward.”

The Broad College cares about motivating and uplifting women in business while they are on campus and after they graduate. This panel will help us understand how women are represented in business and reflect on the positive impact we have made and will make in the future.
Judith Whipple

Both Horiszny and Nzisabira also stressed the importance of setting boundaries and saying no.

“The ability to say no is absolutely crucial to your career growth,” Horiszny said. “Ask yourself, ‘Is the opportunity going to further me in my career?’ Oftentimes, women are asked to do dull or menial jobs rather than jobs that will propel us forward. Whenever we are faced with a new opportunity, remember this: if there is no room for growth, it’s time to say no.”

“As women, we have been manipulated into thinking that multitasking is a superpower, but multitasking is not beneficial for our careers. You’ve got to set your priorities straight,” Nzisabira added.

The event ended with a Q&A session with students and professionals, and the panelists told young women in the audience to embrace being feminine.

“Don’t force yourself to be like the guys. You bring a unique strength to the table because you are a woman and because you experience life differently as a woman. We are proud to be women,” Nzisabira said.

Gorder echoed the same mindset. “When I first started in an accounting firm out of college that was predominantly male, I thought I needed to learn how to golf to get along with my male coworkers. However, I realized I was never going to be ‘one of the guys.’ I am just going to be me. Every room I walk in where I am the only woman, I will make sure everyone in the room knows I am an intellectual, I am here for a reason and I am an expert in what I do.”

She also encouraged listeners to embrace their femininity: “Now that the world is more open and receptive, this is the time for us to be fiercely and fearlessly feminine. We must be and stay magnificently female.”

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