Women’s Day Event at Bell Works Seeks to Inspire, Empower

March 29, 2018
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International Women’s Day speakers at Bell Works. From left: Casey DeStefano, Jennifer Scandariato, Christine Zilinski, Paola Zamudio, Margaretha P. Laurenzi, Sarah Krug, Jenna Gaudio. Courtesy Bell Works

By Jenna O’Donnell |

HOLMDEL – Leaning into International Women’s Day, local women packed the auditorium at Bell Works last Thursday to hear and be inspired by talks from local female leaders.

The #PressforProgress event on March 8, organized by Bell Works and headlined by five keynote speakers from different backgrounds and walks of life, embraced the campaign set forth by International Women’s Day 2018 which aimed to accelerate gender parity in every workplace. In the historic former Bell Labs building, local attendees listened to different ideas and advice on how they can motivate friends, colleagues and communities to be more gender inclusive.

“We have the potential to inspire others,” said Casey DeStefano, who hosted the free event. “Tonight is about celebrating women and girls and their will to tell a story.”

Featured speakers tackled that challenge from different angles. Some shared anecdotes from their personal lives or careers, while others offered advice and lessons learned, but all shared a recurring theme of facing the challenges and fears that come with leadership.

Christine Zilinski, the Red Bank-based owner of Salon Concrete, shared a story about finding strength to persevere when faced with challenges as a small-business owner. “Don’t let your circumstances define you,” she said. “Today’s thoughts make up tomorrow’s dreams.”

Jennifer Scandariato, a senior director of cloud services at Bell Works-based company iCIMS, spoke of finding the courage to be a pioneer in work and in life. “We all face fear every single day,” she said. “How we deal with it is what makes us different.”

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Margaretha P. Laurenzi, a director at the Community Foundation of New Jersey focused on philanthropy and the potential women have to create positive change. She welcomed many in the crowd from Impact 100 Jersey Coast, a coalition of more than 280 women that collectively funds grants in the region and invited all the women in the room to find a way to make a difference. “What can you do?” she asked, “What can you give? What will your impact be?”

Jenna Gaudio, a vice president of product management at Bell Works-based Vydia, spoke about some of the difficulties of being a woman in the tech industry, illustrated by a photo taken during a company outing in which the men played basketball while a lone woman – Gaudio – shot hoops on the opposite side of the court, excluded from the game. Her other female colleagues were left on the sidelines.

“They took a picture, obviously,” Gaudio said. “Then these women created a softball team. They created a running group. They created a bunch of other groups and they invited everyone.” She described how the same men who had excluded the women from playing ball with them started participating in these inclusive groups and how the teamwork and working environment has substantially improved as a result.

Sarah Krug captured audience interest with a story from her childhood. She ran away from home at age 17  to follow her dream of going to Princeton University, afraid her conservative father would find her and bring her back home.

She shared a personal story to show that it pays to dream big because often the things that people most fear don’t come true. “We fear uncertainty. We fear the unknown,” she said.

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Today Krug helps cancer patients navigate health care at Cancer 101, a patient advocacy organization.

Paola Zamudio, the Bell Works creative director who organized the evening, closed the event with a whimsical video of a young girl handing out purple balloons inside the bright atrium at Bell Works. Then she encouraged the women and men in the audience to continue to strive for gender parity in their lives.

Audience members left with smiles and positive feedback.

Lauren Cesario of Monmouth Beach, and Lisa Becker of Fair Haven, both found out about the event through Impact 100 Jersey Coast and were glad they’d come.

“It was appropriate for the times and what’s happening right now,” said Cesario. “And a very inspiring message.”

Becker agreed, praising the positivity of the night.

“I thought it was awesome,” she said. “I was just saying that I wish I had brought my daughter.”

This article was first published in the March 15-22, 2018 print edition of The Two River Times.

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