Former CEO discusses women in leadership roles during Fireside Chat

The second Fireside Chat of the Presidential Speaker Series this year welcomed the former CEO of SUEZ North America, Nadine Leslie. Four additional guests — Teachers Pay Teachers’ Senior IT Manager Randi N. Gray, Enterprise’s Talent Acquisition Manager Jennifer Santiago, head of Johnson & Johnson’s Global Data Protection Legal Team Ivelisse Clausell and Assistant General Counsel at The Stevens Institute of Technology Sylvia-Rebecca Gutierrez — were invited to run breakout sessions related to the chat’s theme, “Women Boldly Leading.”

Williams-Goldstein encouraged women to be brave enough to share their stories and potentially inspire others. Photo by Via Cole

Chief of Staff and Vice President for Policy, Research and Governance Brittany Williams-Goldstein wished a “Happy International Women’s Day” to thunderous applause from the attendees packing the Trustees Pavilion. She opened the event by emphasizing the need for women to share their experiences.

“If you have a story in you, share it. It helps others around you grow and learn,” she said.

President Cindy Jebb described how her guest “broke a 150-year glass ceiling” with her work in engineering. She asked Leslie to share the story of what brought her to that male-dominated field.

As a child, Leslie accompanied her father to his job as a civil engineer. “I found myself not only wanting to learn, but also to have that sense of very strong accomplishment,” she said. She hoped that by entering the field, she would inspire more women to follow.

In college, her dedication deepened thanks to the other women in the program. “We were a small minority, but we were so strong together,” she said.

Much of the conversation explored how maintaining mentor-mentee relationships leads to success. Leslie was the only female employee at one of her first jobs, but her boss did not underestimate her for it.

“Not only did he see in me something that he wanted to help grow, but he also gave me the opportunities to surpass myself,” Leslie said.

Now, the internet makes finding female mentors easier for those who are seeking guidance. Leslie advised attendees to take advantage.

Leslie drew on her experiences to give advice to Ramapo students who would soon be graduating, particularly women who were entering the workforce. Being a leader requires confidence without arrogance and humbleness without passivity. Education is also vital.

“What you learn is never lost,” she said. Even if the subject of a course seems irrelevant to one’s future line of work, the material likely teaches critical thinking techniques that have useful broad applications.

Leslie encouraged graduates to be willing to learn from and to teach their colleagues instead of viewing them as competition. “Embrace that next phase in your life with joy and confidence and always remember to give back, pay it forward.”

Leslie also spoke on the importance of a work-life balance. She recalled turning down a promotion to be able to spend more time with her son. A few years later when her son was in college, she was able to accept a much bigger opportunity.

“What you learn is never lost.”

– Nadine Leslie

“We women, we can have it all, but we have to be patient,” she said. Life is a series of choices, and it is rare for all of someone’s wants to be fulfilled at the same time.

During the public Q&A, it was clear how closely the audience resonated with Leslie. Assistant Director of the Center for Student Involvement and Coordinator of the Office of Violence Prevention Marie Danielle-Attis mentioned their shared identities as women of color with Haitian backgrounds and asked how intersectionality informs how Leslie leads.

Leslie described how people continue to evolve after college and should view the experiences and identities that make them unique as advantageous. “For me, all these pieces contributed to who I became, but I think the management of my fear was critical to my ability to become an effective leader.”

Featured photo by Via Cole