“It has never been a better time for a young business woman to go into business,” said Maureen Sherry, bestselling author of the celebrated novel Opening Belle, in her keynote address for the 2019 Professional Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series on January 17th. Sherry previously worked as the Managing Director for the now-defunct investment bank Bear Stearns on Wall Street. As a young female juggling motherhood and work, Sherry often faced ridicule and harassment from her male colleagues.
Speaking to a packed ballroom, Nneka Chiazor, Regional Vice President of Government & Public Affairs of Cox Communications, provided the welcoming remarks. “Let us all be the type of women that we want to work with and not go against. Let’s be the type of women that we want to uplift and not put down,” said Chiazor. Chiazor was excited for the Professional Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series, stating “It’s a must event. When you bring women closer, you bring the nation closer together.”
Sherry’s novel, Opening Belle, follows a young woman named Isabelle who appears to have it all - a nice apartment, a healthy family, and a job as the Managing Director of a large investment bank on Wall Street. Although not an autobiography, the story mirrored parts of Sherry’s own life and experiences. Both Isabelle and Sherry encountered sexism at their respective workplaces, not always intentional, but due to the male culture that had become so normalized in the business world.
As Sherry began her keynote address, she spoke of her start in the financial world on Wall Street and how instead of listening to her female peers about the power disparities they felt in the workplace, she would tell them to “man up.” Sherry found herself in an environment where there was no support or mentoring from other women, but competition with each other instead. However, her feelings soon changed as she started noticing how little of a voice she had in meetings with male executives. She realized how hard it was for other women to voice their opinions without ridicule from male colleagues.
The path for professional women to rise to the top may be more difficult, but Sherry is optimistic about the next generation of women. Sherry says she has “never seen the tide of support” as she has in the past couple of years. The recent visibility of women empowerment movements stemming from allegations in Hollywood has provided an umbrella for women around the world to come together in solidarity to share their experiences of dealing with harassment and inequality in the workplace. With women around the world uniting and raising their voices, Sherry believes change is coming.
As the event neared the end, Sherry graciously answered questions from the audience. When asked for advice to young women professionals, Sherry says “I feel the next generation, they are so much more aware of these issues and I’m very, very encouraged.”
The Hampton Roads Chamber is proud to present the Professional Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series to provide the business community access to nationally-known speakers.
Thank you to our sponsors: Series Presenting Sponsor, Cox Communications; Series Speaker Sponsor, Old Point National Bank; Series Member Spotlight Sponsor, Bon Secours Health System; Series Luncheon Sponsors, Exterior Source, Tidewater Home Funding, Union Bank & Trust, and Virginia Eye Consultants; and Series Airline Sponsor, Southwest Airlines.
The 2019 Professional Women’s Leadership Luncheon Series continues on Wednesday, April 10th with bestselling author of The Gusty Girl Handbook: Your Manifesto for Success and former editor-in-chief of Cosmopolitan, Kate White. Contact Anne Baumler at 757-664-2518 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and to register.