YWCA Glendale’s female leadership panel covers #MeToo to ‘Yes, I can’

A woman’s path to the top of her career is not a passive one, according to five successful, locally based female panelists during YWCA Glendale’s second annual leadership conference.

“You have to learn to face the challenge of speaking your mind,” said Toni Beck Espinoza, a financial planner, in the auditorium at Glendale Downtown Central Library, where the EmpowHer panel discussion was held earlier this month.

“Don’t wait for someone to seek you out,” added Kendyl Young, owner of a real estate brokerage in Glendale. “Just stand up, claim your greatness and make it happen.”

Moderator Tamar Sadd, the city’s economic development coordinator, teased out practical advice, such as book and podcast recommendations, as well as bigger picture commentary, including the significance of the “#MeToo” movement, which has affected workplaces across the country.

All of the panelists saw a silver lining in the recent exposure of sexual harassment in the workplace.

“What’s great about this moment is it’s a redefinition — and I get to be part of it,” said Jessica McConnell First, founder of a brand-strategy company, adding that the frank conversations about women’s complaints will drive change.

Ana Quintana, a managing partner with a venture-capital firm, said she’s seen several male partners forced to step down when it came out that they were meeting female entrepreneurs alone in their hotel rooms. Now, meetings are held in the boardroom, with other partners present, she said.

“[The movement] definitely made a change in the venture community, and it’s wonderful to see,” Quintana said.

The panel drew around 80 mostly female attendees, including Glendale City Councilwoman Paula Devine.

Following the panel discussion, Devine stood up and said three words she hoped attendees would take with the event — “Yes, I can.”

“We have this little voice inside of us — it’s that fear voice, saying, ‘I can’t do it’,” she said. “Men don’t have that voice. We have to say to that voice, ‘Yes, I can.’”

A handful of audience members were under 30 years old, including Glendale Community College students Ana Manukian, 20, and Joanna Flamenco, 21.

Manukian, a third-year biology student, said she came away from the discussion feeling inspired by the women onstage.

“It’s really motivating to hear all the stuff they’ve been through, the barriers they’ve pushed,” she said. “I’m just in awe.”

In addition to serving as a recreation center, YWCA Glendale works with women in crisis, including providing counseling, child care, an emergency shelter and legal services to survivors of domestic violence.

Partially to counter the darkness inherent to its core work, the organization’s executive director Tara Peterson said she decided last year to launch a positive space for the community and started the leadership conference.

The point of the event is “to bring all women together, no matter what stage they’re at in their life, to network and socialize, and also learn from each other,” she said.

Twitter: @lila_seidman