Michael Watkins/Courier
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“Dare to be” was this year’s theme for the 7th annual LA County Women’s Leadership Conference held last Thursday at the Pasadena Civic Center. In its biggest turnout yet, over 900 attendees took part in a variety of notable speakers and networking opportunities. From Noelia Rodriguez, who currently works in government relations and formerly served as Laura Bush’s press secretary, to Surina Khan, CEO of the Women’s Foundation of California, essentially, each speaker “dared” attendees to do something.

Betty Porto, Vice President of Porto’s, a widely popular Socal bakery and cafe, spoke about running a family business. She shared how they built it entirely from the ground up. Her session was appropriately named, “Dare to be hungry,” and it was a favorite at the conference, every chair was filled while many others stood along the walls of the room to hear her speak.

“Immigrants are crazy,” she said.

The room filled with laughter as she shared a story about how her Cuban parents had $700 and a notion to start a business with it. The Porto family trusted their instincts and knew from the very beginning, they were onto something, because “every color, every ethnicity came to us. I always say food has no prejudice,” said Porto. Today, the Porto brand continues to expand.

Most speakers shared personal and unique anecdotes for finding success, work balance, perseverance, and even addressed how to fight against a sexist society.

“We’re living in unusual times, I just wanna talk about the elephant in the room and that’s the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States…We have to hold firm, women have been carrying the heavy weight of fighting sexsism for a very long time… now is the time for us to not crawl back, now is the time to get loud, and stay loud.” Keynote speaker, Susan Zirinsky,  executive tv producer and journalist announced to a room full of over 800 women and a few men.

Zirinsky went on to share about a time in which she spoke at a women’s tech conference, at which Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadell (a man) advised the group of professionals to, “instead of asking for a raise, have faith that the system will give you the right raise…. I kid you not,” she said.

The majority of the attendees were LA County employees who seemed thankful for the opportunity to hear these accomplished women speak. However, the event is open to the public and for CSUN grad student, Xochill Azmitia it was a chance to mingle, observe, and find out how to stand out in front of potential employers.

“I’m getting my masters in social work, so this is exposure for me.. [we need to] have more women being hired and especially women of color, latinas are [paid] 40 cents to the dollar- it’s the biggest gap. So I take that and say, ok, what else do I have to do to advocate myself as a well rounded employee, what do I bring to the table. [That’s what] I’m getting from the conference.” Azmitia said.

Women from all ranks, and from a wide array of LA County departments, (plus a few outsiders) embraced the leadership conference. Many left inspired, motivated, and ultimately, hopeful for what the future brings.

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