By Sara Guando
Picture a CEO. Picture a business executive, a director of finance, or a panel of a company’s top leaders. What do you see? A quick Google image search of “CEO” revealed an interesting find; that only nine of the first one hundred pictures represented women, and one of those was CEO Barbie. Fortunately, this is not the case at the Long Island Association for AIDS Care (LIAAC). Led by Dr. Gail Barouh, President and CEO of LIAAC, the impressive roster of leadership and management at the agency is knowledgeable, skillful, and predominantly female.
On Thursday June 8th, Dr. Gail Barouh hosted a group of young women for an event of empowerment and education. Over a dozen motivated, ambitious girls attended the event where LIAAC’s accomplished panel of female executives, directors and management, discussed the challenges, as well as the advantages, of being a woman in a position of leadership.
Harriet Gourdine-Adams, Chief Officer for Care Coordination at LIAAC, explained that this event originated during a discussion of the unique challenges female executives face and the desire to share the trials and the triumphs of being a female executive with the next generation of young ladies. She believes that it is very motivating for a young girl to see a woman in a position of power. Dr. Barouh stated that she wanted to introduce the girls to “accomplished women who came to do this work from different walks of life, at different times in their life” to show that there is no single path to success. She explained to the girls that this was a unique experience for them, as at most companies you would not see a panel of its top leaders being female.
Along with Dr. Gail Barouh and Harriet Gourdine-Adams, Catherine Hart, LIAAC’s Chief Operating Officer participated at the event. LIAAC’s contributing panelists also included Marie Denis, Director of Quality Management/Compliance Officer, Michele Keogh, Director of Mobile Outreach, Jessica Totino, Director of Client Services, Julia Smith, Controller, Michele Mainella, Director of Finances, and Carol Cutrone, recently retired Chief of Staff.
The panel did not disappoint. The discussion began with each leader telling about her own background and career. Most of the women had started as volunteers or in other fields completely. They rooted a common idea into the minds of the participating young ladies ‘there is no singular thing that defines you. If you work hard, follow your heart and stay focused, women can accomplish anything.’ Marie Denis also reminded the girls that “you can change your mind, and your path, at any time. Never get stuck.” Catherine Hart commended working at LIAAC where “there is no glass ceiling for women.”
The girls participated in a question and answer session, where they discussed skills necessary to be a good leader as well as how to balance work with personal life. Throughout the discussion, Dr. Gail Barouh offered the girls her insight on what it means to run a company, make hard decisions, and tackle obstacles. She talked about being adaptable, along with the stresses of having to make decisions that some people may not always agree with. When LIAAC was in its infancy, Dr. Barouh recalls that there were fourteen agencies in New York State that dealt with HIV/AIDS, but only three were run by women. The women had a difficult time gaining ground and funding because opportunities for advancement were often controlled by men. Dr. Barouh told the girls “it is harder to be a woman in business, and in life” but that with confidence, open-mindedness, and hard work anything is possible.
The young ladies in attendance shared their dreams for the future. Among them were wishes to be a news reporter, an animator, a doctor, lawyer, marine biologist and fashion designer. Though each child has a unique future and path, they gained from this lesson the notions of female empowerment, being supportive of one another, and to always work hard and dream big.