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2021 International Women’s Day: Choose to Challenge

The Detroit Regional Chamber hosted its third annual International Women’s Day celebration virtually with empowering conversations with distinguished local business leaders. The event featured an uplifting and empowering program that embodied the 2021 theme of Choose to Challenge, which emphasizes the importance of equity for women in the workforce and beyond. Leading executives spoke on how they can engage in inclusive practices to foster diversity of thought and encourage all employees to have a voice.

The Chamber’s Chief Operating Officer Tammy Carnrike opened the program with some history on International Women’s Day. Next, Carla Walker-Miller, chief executive officer of Walker- Miller energy Services; Nayana Ferguson, co-Founder and chief operating officer of Anteel Tequila; Muna Jondy, immigration attorney and chairwoman of the Michigan Women’s Commission; and Linzie Vengas, vice president of Ideal Group; – spoke with Detroit Public Television anchor Christy McDonald to share their personal experiences and wisdom for others working toward a more equal society.

Here’s what they had to say.

On courage

“Courage is a renewable resource, and somedays it reminds us that there is always a fight worth fighting for,” said Walker-Miller. “As long as women continue to support each other there is always an opportunity to fight another day, to be better, to do better, and make difference not just for ourselves but for our community.”

The panelists agreed that courage is the first step in challenging the biases that all women face in the workplace and beyond.

“With every challenge there are stumbling blocks that teach us to be remarkable. They teach us what we are capable of, that we are stronger than we think, and about growth,” said Ferguson.

She also spoke about dealing with several challenges and how the mindset she developed while getting through those rough times helps her in her business. She chooses to challenge the spirits industry by being the first black woman to start a tequila brand. “You can always choose to change or choose not to,” said Ferguson.

She encouraged the listeners to choose to challenge yourself daily, rise to the occasion, face your
fears, and accomplish what you thought was impossible.

On women in the workforce

In Michigan public companies, 21% have women directors–2% of which are women of color- and 18% of Michigan’s 77 public companies have no women directors at all. Women led only five publicly traded companies in Michigan. Women comprise only 12% of named executives and 58% of Michigan public companies have no women named executive officers at all.

“This matters because this is the pool that most CEOs are chosen from and nearly a third have no women executive officers,” said Jonday. “Women of color represent only 2% of named executive officers and most of these numbers have been static since 2007.”

At the Women Commission, Jonday’s team works to combat the systematic obstacles that women face every day in the workforce. Unlocking opportunities, financial freedom, and visible authentic leadership are ways to achieve gender equality.

“The challenge that I choose is a lifelong challenge. I know this is something I have to do my entire life,” said Jonday.

On the pandemic’s impact on women

Since its onset, the pandemic’s impact on women has been hard than on men.

“What women are experiencing during this pandemic is something the world really needs to pay attention to and provide resources to make this time easier for women. Rates of domestic violence have increased exponentially,” said Jonday.

Linzie Vengas, vice president of  Ideal group has made sure that she checks in with her staff and realized that everyone has a had a lot of different personal challenges.

“Everyone has a lot going on, so we have to make sure that we are protecting the wellness of our people [employees],” said Vengas.

View the full program here for more valuable lessons from this year’s speakers.