BY SABRINA GUO
In March of 2018, Syosset Central District Superintendent Dr. Thomas Rogers and Deputy Superintendent Adele Bovard noted a disproportionately low number of female high school students enrolled in advanced STEM and business classes.
Alarmed, Bovard discovered female students didn’t see themselves as being talented in technology or business.
“The female students identified the feeling of male competition as an obstacle,” Bovard said. “They went on to say that the lack of a female cohort in those classes made it difficult.
“I knew that we had to change the experience for girls and young women in Syosset so they could challenge any field they had a passion for, including technology and business.”
In light of this, Syosset’s Women’s Leadership Committee was formed to empower future female leaders by instilling in them the core values, attitudes and skills that are foundational for thoughtful leadership, particularly in business and STEM.
Under the vision of Theresa Berke, Matthew Fiasconaro, Deborah Contino and Alison deLauzon, the committee launched a progressively evolving initiative called G.I.R.L. Talk: Women in Leadership Speaker Series, a forum that introduces young women to female leaders in our community.
“Lack of role models is one of the main reasons why young women do not go into higher-level jobs in the careers they are in,” Berke said. “I believe the sooner we expose girls to role model women in career fields, the sooner we can show them anything is possible.”
By exposing girls to female role models, G.I.R.L. Talk hopes to combat the struggles
women face in the workplace. Contino found the under-representation of females disconcerting.
“Colleges actively recruit and offer scholarships to young women who major in STEM and business,” Contino said. “We need talented and bright female voices in these ever-growing, in-demand high-paying careers to better reflect the needs of our society.”
The speaker series focuses on women leaders with careers in business and STEM-related
fields, including entrepreneurs, CEOs, senior officers and leaders in many fields.
Dr. Priya Shah, Woman Leader and a mother of a G.I.R.L. Talk member, is grateful to share her experiences.
“The focus has clearly shifted in the national consciousness and I’m happy to see that the District leadership has recognized it,” Dr. Shah said. “G.I.R.L. Talk is one such example of a much-needed initiative. The questions asked by even the youngest of girls demonstrated such maturity and curiosity.”
A variety of interactive and engaging formats have been initiated since 2018, including speakers presentations, panelists forums, Q&A sessions and the most recent Women in
Leadership Power Brunch event. Fiasconaro was inspired by the outpouring of support during these events.
“Mentors have loved working with students, and it’s amazing to see and hear the girls be able to network and open up about potential career paths that interest them,” Fiasconaro
said. “They have spoken to classes of students, provided internships for girls and opened their places of business for visits. It truly is remarkable what has come out of this program.”
These events have already had a wide-reaching impact. Empowered by speakers’ accomplishments and personal stories, a G.I.R.L. Talk member wrote to former First Lady
Michelle Obama, conveying how the committee strove to embody her “Let Girls Learn”
To everyone’s excitement, Mrs. Obama replied, thanking the members for their inspirational work, and invited them to her “Becoming” book event, where she talked about her life journey.
It was such a motivational and energizing experience for everyone that it inspired a G.I.R.L. Talk member to launch her own international pen-pal program, Crossing Borders, to empower refugee and migrant girls worldwide.
This G.I.R.L. Talk supported initiative is a great example of proactive woman leadership, exemplifying positive intercultural exchange. Dr. Uzma Syed, another G.I.R.L. Talk mentor, applauded the work of the committee and the engagement of the younger students.
“I think it’s important for students to lead these initiatives so they can be comfortable with leadership roles from an early age,” Dr. Syed said. “I would love to bring in female mentors from Align Us [a mentorship program which fosters career development for students] to come speak about various industries. I think there is a lot of potential for growth, and I’ve noticed so much need from the conversations I had with the young girls.”
In less than two years, the Women’s Leadership Committee has grown significantly, with more faculty advisors and women leaders mentoring the next generation of the committee’s student membership.
As for the future of G.I.R.L. Talk, Superintendent Rogers shared his optimism.
“We’re proud of the breadth of programs we offer here in Syosset, and we’ve recently made some investments in cutting-edge programs like virtual enterprise, robotics and coding,” Rogers said. “I’m thrilled by our early progress, the contributions of so many women in leadership from our community and the active role our student body has taken in leading this initiative.”
Deputy Superintendent Bovard expressed her gratitude for the change she has seen happening, including the elementary level coding platform, but also in general growth.
“All students are learning coding and it has allowed girls to find their creativity and their voice,” Bovard said. “We are reworking the middle school business curriculum to build on the elementary experience and opening doors for females at the high school level. I am proud to say that we have increased percentages of females in tech and business courses, and I expect that growth to continue.”