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Leaders as Architects of Change focus of TDC symposium

More than 350 professionals, mostly women, gathered at the University of Houston Hilton Hotel recently for the Seventh Annual Gulf Coast Women in Leadership Symposium. Hosted by the Texas Diversity Council, the symposium focused on Women Leaders as Architects of Change.

Paula McHam, director of client and community affairs at Cigna, moderated the event, which offered attendees a unique opportunity to hear from a panel of six local, and highly successful, businesswomen about their experiences on the road to success. Panelists were April Bailey, Elizabeth Campbell, Shannon Grossman, Pam Gardner, Meera Naehr and Vi Phu.

Shannon Grossman, supply chain director for Occidental Oil and Gas Corporation, oversees global procurement and strategic sourcing of U.S. project materials. Grossman spoke on the topic,  “Becoming a Person of Influence.” 

Elizabeth Campbell is an attorney, partner, and chief diversity officer at Andrews Kurth LLP and speaks frequently on the topic of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Campbell discussed, “Cross Cultural Leadership: Women Bridging the Racial Divide.”

Pam Gardner is the former Houston Astros president and current special advisor to the chairman of the Astros. Gardner was the first female executive inducted into the Texas Baseball Hall of Fame. She discussed “The M (Male) Factor in Mentoring for Leadership and Success.” 

April Bailey, vice president of commercial banking at Amegy and mother of two young children, entitled her talk, “I’m a Woman. I’m Invincible…And I’m Exhausted!” She described work/life balance as a juggling act, where a ball — work, spirit, health and family — represents each area of your life.  

“Work is like a rubber ball,” said Bailey. “If you drop it, it will bounce back. But the other four balls are glass.” 

Bailey encouraged attendees to leave work on time in order to make sure the required attention is given to one’s family and personal life. Bailey recommended making daily lists to stay organized — one for work and also one for home. According to Bailey, many women do not take proper care of themselves and need to focus on their wellness as a priority.  

“If you are not healthy you can’t be there for your family or your employer,” she said.

Every morning Bailey wakes up to exercise while her family is still sleeping. Bailey also expressed how important nutrition is to her productivity, stating that she makes sure to eat healthy foods throughout her busy day. 

“Do things that energize you and avoid things that zap your energy,” said Bailey. “And proper rest is a priority that is not negotiable.”

Energy zappers come in the form of guilt, stress and worry, said Bailey. As a mother of young children, Bailey explained she often feels guilty about her demanding work schedule and spends a great deal of time worrying, which is counterproductive.

“The men in the office don’t feel guilty,” said Bailey. “You need to remember the reason behind your hard work.”

She also added that an important component in her work/life balance is the ability to outsource certain tasks, such as childcare, to others when possible.“

A little bit of help can go a long way,” said Bailey, who recently hired a college student to help with her young children during work hours.As an ending note, Bailey encouraged the attendees to learn how to say “no” in appropriate situations.

“Practice saying, ‘this is something that I cannot do at this moment, but let me recommend someone who can help you,’” she said. 

Meera Naehr is president of the Mom Corps Houston franchise, a national staffing organization that matches local businesses with professional candidates looking for flexible work arrangements.

At the symposium, Naehr lead the discussion, “Personal Branding: Accessorize Your Assets.” Naehr described a personal brand as how one defines oneself both personally and professionally.

“Brands aren’t just for celebrities,” said Naehr. “It’s what others use to assign you relevance and value. It sets an expectation for an experience when working with you.”

With the ubiquity of social media, the importance and value of personal branding has never been more relevant, said Naehr, adding that “there is no better time than now for personal branding.”

So, what if you have never thought about your personal brand? According to Naehr, there are steps you can take to develop your own mission statement. First, you must identify what you are passionate about, and conversely, what you are dispassionate about. Secondly, you have to think about what your vision for the future is. Although technology and social media have made it much easier to connect with one another, Naehr warns that the line has become blurred online between professional and personal identities as a result.

“Some brands we consciously promote; others are thrown onto us,” Naehr said. “I have often had to discount a potential candidate due to what I have found online.” 

According to Naehr, you must represent yourself authentically and consistently through all outlets in order to be successful.

“I’ve had to walk away from some business partnerships because it didn’t resonate with my personal brand,” said Naehr. 

Vi Phu is a principal and actuary for Mercer Health and Benefits Consulting in Houston, Texas. Phu moved to Houston in 1980 with her family, who fled Vietnam after the fall of Saigon. Phu spoke on the topic, “Own Your Finances, Own Your Life.”

“Through hard work and mentoring, I am now living the American dream,” said Phu. 

According to Phu, financial self-sufficiency is an important skill for people beginning their career, as well as for those who are preparing to leave the workforce. At the top of Phu’s “Top 10 List for Financial Responsibility” is knowing your limits and not spending money you don’t currently have in the bank. 

“Do you really need that 50th pair of shoes? Is that more important than paying off your student loans or paying for your mortgage?” asked Phu. 

Phu also advised attendees to contribute to their 401k’s. “Besides the tax benefits, many employers match employee contributions, so if you don’t contribute that is money lost,” said Phu.

Phu explained a major component of financial security is learning how to budget. Vu added that one should always be prepared for the unexpected by adding a cushion or “rainy-day fund” into the budget. When making large purchases, Phu advised the audience to include maintenance costs into the price total. Phu also touched on the importance of shopping around and not to be embarrassed by coupons.

“If I won the lottery tomorrow,” Phu said, “I would still use coupons.”  

As an ending note, Phu encouraged the attendees to educate their children about personal finance by engaging them in discussions about money and showing them the family budget.

“As a mother of three, I know it is challenging to stick to a financial plan, but I never want to go back to the days when we barely paid our minimum payment on our credit card balance,” said Phu. 

Local businessman Dennis Kennedy founded the Texas Diversity Council in 2004. He launched the National Diversity Council just four years later. The council’s mission is to promote   diversity in business through community outreach, networking, mentoring opportunities and events. 

For more information, visit

Bethany Redd is a journalism major at the University of Houston. She is working at Houston Woman Magazine this semester as an intern.

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