Celebrating the Women of Western Wake

Be yourself, build relationships, stay focused, and use your crock pot — that’s just some of the advice dished up by honorees at the 2012 Women of Western Wake Luncheon, to a sellout crowd at Cary Magazine’s latest live event.

The Women of Western Wake Luncheon, hosted annually by Cary Magazine, is a celebration honoring the achievements and successes of female leaders who make a strong impact on our community.

This year’s honorees, who were also featured in Cary Magazine’s print and online editions, include:

Leah Brown, founder and president of A10 Clinical Solutions;

Kathy Burns, founding partner of both the Burns & Bynum accounting firm and Hall & Burns Wealth Management;

Christine Hilt, founder of landscape architecture firm CLH Design;

Kay Struffolino, noted community leader and volunteer; and

Juliann Zoetmulder, founder and president of the Western Wake Farmers’ Market.

This fifth-annual event was held this year on Oct. 19 at The Umstead Hotel & Spa. The day included a networking session, delicious lunch, and a panel discussion with honorees moderated by ABC 11 TV’s Angela Hampton.

Among the buzz of conversation across The Umstead ballroom were hugs and greetings exchanged by friends old and new, who joined to celebrate the special role of women in the home, workplace and community.

Special guests at the luncheon included 14 students from the Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy, one of the county’s first single-gender public schools. They, and some 250 attendees, heard from the panel of honorees on leadership, inspiration, and “having it all.”

“Being a woman is a positive thing in business,” Brown told the crowd. “We are productive, and working moms definitely know how to multitask. I’ve even had a client say he chose to do business with a woman’s company because, as he said, ‘I know you’re here because you want to be, not just to make money.’”

For others on the panel, success is inspired by striving to be their best, helping clients succeed, and making daily progress toward their goals.

The panel also discussed issues affecting women in the workplace, including equal pay.

“The issue with pay is a huge problem I honestly don’t think will change,” Struffolino said, “because I think there are so many men out there who don’t have the proper image of women in the workplace.”

Hilt countered with, “It won’t change until women are running the companies. We change the structure, and make it more women-friendly, as we take leadership roles.”

The panel encouraged the women, and a few men, in the audience to build supportive relationships.

“We’re always connected now (via technology),” Zoetmulder said. “I find myself craving time face to face, quality time with people. You have to create that and dedicate yourself to being present in the moment.”

Burns credited positive rapport with others in the business community for helping to launch her firm and build a strong client base.

So is it possible to “have it all?” This question from Hampton elicited humorous responses from the panel among the serious notes.

“Define ‘all’ — I can’t have a husband and a boyfriend!” joked Hilt. “But no. Balance is a wonderful thing, but it’s a pendulum swinging. What gives me character and strength is the swinging.”

“Yes and no,” added Burns. “I feel like I do have it all, but usually that’s on Saturdays and Sundays!”

Brown said yes to the have-it-all question: “You can, but you have to believe that,” while Struffolino said the balancing act women face in juggling children, work and community is “just another growth component” in our lives.

Wisdom Received, and Shared

The Women of Western Wake shared the bits of advice they’ve received that has made a difference along the way. These pearls of wisdom brought much head-nodding among the audience.

“My grandmother always said, ‘Good, bad or indifferent, you’re judged by the company you keep,” began Struffolino.

A co-worker approaching retirement told Burns early on to, “‘be nice to people on the way up; you may meet them again on the way down,’” she said.

“I had a tough time with calculus,” Hilt remembered. “My dad said, ‘At least you’re consistently bad at just one subject.’ The point is to acknowledge what you’re good at, and don’t let what you’re bad at bring you down.”

“Hard work beats talent, when talent doesn’t work hard,” Brown contributed. And Zoetmulder offered, “Try to leave people happier than when you find them.”

Along with the advice of others, the honorees also had wisdom of their own to pass along, things learned via years of hard-earned success.

“Be yourself — everybody knows when you’re faking it,” Brown said. “And ask; as women, if we don’t expect more or ask for more, we won’t get it. Ask for that pay raise, that contract, and you will get it all.”

Struffolino said, “You must have some pleasure, some enjoyment in what you’re doing. Yes, feel it’s important, but enjoy it too. That’s your driving force.”

Stay focused, Burns recommended, and seek a mentor in your field to build long-term relationships.

And, “If you want to be a leader, make sure you have the support of your loved ones,” Hilt said. “Communicate your goals to them, and that will allow you to fly as high as you want to go.”

Finally, the panel offered its thoughts on the traits and qualities of a great female leader, in a question proposed by a member of the audience.

Be a great listener, Zoetmulder said. Be fearless and take risks, Brown said. Be humble, Burns said. And for Struffolino, leadership is in how you treat other people.

Congratulations again to the 2012 Women of Western Wake!

Cary Magazine’s next live event is the Elegant Weddings Gala, set for March 2013. Keep watch here for more details.

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