Advertisement

Join us for the final Women’s Empowerment Panel on Nov. 16 at The Mansion.

To bring back our Women’s Empowerment Series, we started with a virtual event to discuss how things have changed since the pandemic, and what we do now.

It was a risk to take an event that is always described as warm, intimate and personal to a virtual format, but we thought it could work. And it did, thanks to panelists who, once again, were open and honest. The night reminded us all why so many people love the Women’s Empowerment Series.

It’s so good to be back.

 

 

Panelists

Jamie Apody
Sports Anchor/Reporter 6abc

Melonie Johnson
President/CEO Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa

Helaina Semmler, MD
Section Chief of General Radiology SJRA

Molly Deese
Executive Director Adventure Aquarium

Fozia Janjua
Mt. Laurel Councilwoman

Moderator
Marianne Aleardi
Publisher & Editor-in-Chief SJ Magazine

 

How life has changed since 2020

I got a call mid-May 2020, on a Saturday at 10 am. I’ll never forget this. I was the property president/COO at MGM National Harbor in Maryland, and I was asked to leave my comfort zone and move to the Borgata in Atlantic City. It was like the bottom of my world just dropped, but I chose to go. I came in during the pandemic, stayed by myself in this hotel while it was closed for 4 months. This by far was the toughest challenge in my career. It was scary, but I realized how strong I truly am.
Melonie Johnson

My whole life has changed dramatically in the past 18 months – for the better. I went from being a stay-at-home mom to being a councilwoman and an educator, in addition to running a non-profit. I went from zero to 100, all of a sudden.
Fozia Janjua

I chose change. I chose to switch roles within my company and took a whole new position. I also moved away from my family in Georgia. My kids are grown and still in Georgia, so that was really hard. And I got Covid, which threw me for a loop. But a moment of clarification for me was realizing that in order for me to help anybody, I had to take care of myself.
Molly Deese

The moment they knew things were really different

The moment for me was when we made the call to shut offices and furlough employees. It was hard. These are people we’ve worked with for years and years and years. It was heartbreaking.
Helaina Semmler

There are 1,967 rooms in that tower, and I was the only person staying there. Someone said, “Were you afraid?” I wasn’t afraid until they asked me that question. But it was eerie. That’s the moment where I thought, ok, not only has the world changed, but my world has changed drastically.
Melonie Johnson

The moment I realized everything had changed was when I was talking with former Eagles long-snapper Jon Dorenbos, and in the middle of the interview my 2-year-old walked in and said, “Mommy, I have to poop.”
Jamie Apody

Remote schooling

Try to teach a 6-year-old to read over the computer. It was constant, “Mom, how do you spell cat?” I just thought, how am I going to survive this? Virtual school really wasn’t fun. Virtual preschool was interesting, too. I don’t recommend it.
Jamie Apody

One night during quarantine, I said to my grown children, “If you were younger and I had to put you all in virtual school, I would have put you up for adoption. Just so we’re on the same page.”
Molly Deese

I have 4 sons. My oldest is 17, so he’s a senior in high school. I have a 15-year-old who is a freshman in high school, an 11-year-old who’s in sixth grade, and a 9-year-old in fourth grade. It was challenging. We needed a lot of time management and I was sharing schedules with my husband. But now that I’m working and I have very limited resources and time, I learned to reach out for help.
Fozia Janjua

Social media

Social media has changed things a lot. People can hide behind a keyboard and message me to stay in the kitchen or that I don’t know anything about sports – things they wouldn’t say to a male sportscaster. If I get a score wrong on the nightly news, I won’t hear the end of it. But if a male counterpart gets a score wrong, it’s a mistake. It’s still that way to this day. You’ve got to just overcome that and develop a thicker skin.
Jamie Apody

Working in a male-dominated industry

Sportscasting is as male as it gets most days. I’m still doubted to this day, even 15 years in Philadelphia, by mostly male counterparts. Some sports writers – old school guys who have done this a long time – don’t like my line of questioning because sometimes I’m not asking questions that are X’s and O’s related. I try to get the personal side of coaches and players, and that doesn’t fit the story they’re writing. I get eyerolls.
Jamie Apody

Going to med school in the late ’80s, early ’90s, I was interested in orthopedic surgery. There were programs that said they would never, never take a female surgeon. Things have changed, but I should go back and thank them, because now I’m the chair of x-ray at our practice and a full partner. I’ve been here for over 20 years. I guess I could have stood my ground back then, but things turned out really well.
Helaina Semmler

On zoom calls

I don’t know about everybody else, but I can’t stand Zoom.
Molly Deese

I’m more of a social person and I get distracted really easily. So when we’re having a call, if I don’t have to speak, I’m really not listening. This is the truth. We have so many meetings and sometimes I feel like we have meetings to have meetings. If it adds no value, I tend to disconnect.
Melonie Johnson

I love Zoom. I love the convenience of it, not having to commute. I don’t have to get fully dressed. I can still be home with the kids and be present at meetings.
Fozia Janjua

Working from home

You lose some of that personal touch. I like to be in the office. I like to walk down the halls, to say hi to everybody, ask how the kids are. You lose that when you’re working at home.
Helaina Semmler

If you would have told me sportscasting could be a work-from-home job, I never in a million years would have believed you. But now I can do 4 interviews in one day, because I’m doing them from home. I’m working more though – in a different way, obviously – but I feel like I constantly have to be on, constantly have to be checking email, constantly have to prove I can make things happen.
Jamie Apody

I work in an industry that never closes. At all of our properties, we’ve gone through every department and decided who needs to work in brick and mortars, and what employees can work from home. I don’t think we’ll ever go back from that.
Melonie Johnson

Dress codes

Aside from being the first female partner in my practice, I was also the first physician in my practice with a tattoo. Some hospitals have policies where you have to cover all your tattoos, even to this day. I think you can have a tattoo or wear a flamboyant yellow dress or dye your hair pink for breast cancer month and still be professional.
Helaina Semmler

I went 16 months without wearing Spanx or a dress. I just wore a cute top and slippers and sweatpants, and nobody knew any better. The pandemic taught me that comfort is a value of mine. So now that I’m back in the office, I come in basically in my sweats and change into my dress when I need to. That’s just going to be the new me.
Jamie Apody

In the past, the gaming industry was very stringent. But we’ve come a long way because we had to evolve with the new generation. The vast majority of our employees who are in the front, facing customers, are in uniforms. But our management team has to dress up because when the customer comes on the floor, they perceive that person as being in charge. And we’re all about taking care of the guests.
Melonie Johnson

I was with my HR director and we read our policy that said you have to have your natural hair color. I looked at my HR director and said, “Well, I have to quit.” She looked at me like, what are you talking about? I said, “Honey, this is not my natural hair color.” I really do believe you could take 2 people, put them in the exact same outfit and it wouldn’t matter how they were dressed – it’s about how you carry yourself. You can be professional whether you’re in a suit or jeans.
Molly Deese

Book recommendations

Educated by Tara Westover.
Fozia Janjua

Be Where Your Feet Are,” which is written by former Sixers’ CEO Scott O’Neil, who has hired a lot of women throughout his career.
Jamie Apody

Executive Presence: The Missing Link between Merit and Success” by Sylvia Ann Hewlett. It’s got some really good lessons.
Melonie Johnson

The Healing Otherness Handbook” by Professor Stacee Reicherzer. It’s about being okay with who you are.
Helaina Semmler

You Are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life” by Jen Sincero.
Molly Deese

 

Audience questions

How do you know when to ignore a sexist comment and when to say something?
Lexi T., Lumberton

Read the room. Sometimes you give someone a platform if you stoop to their level and respond. Depending on who it is and what is said, maybe have a private conversation later. In some of the times sexist comments have been made to me, they are not intentional so education is needed to say hey, that bothered me.
Molly Deese

I would never, ever say anything in an open forum, because it gives people a platform. But depending on the severity of the comment, I do have one-on-one conversations.
Melonie Johnson

What did you do to step away from your virtual work environment?
-Jen M., Sicklerville

I realized I had to have a start of the workday and an end, because you get comfortable in pajama pants all day, sitting on the bed, trying to work and drink wine at the same time. That wasn’t a good idea.
Melonie Johnson

Every day at 5 am I was out walking 3 miles. I was just walking to clear the air, listening to a lot of podcasts. I wish I had continued with it. Now I just don’t have the energy I did before.
Fozia Janjua

I did a lot of crocheting because it calmed me. I ended up doing 4 king-sized bed blankets. That’s what kept me sane at home.
Helaina Semmler

For Dr. Semmler: Do you think the way you practice now would be different if you got into this field at a time when female doctors were more accepted?
-Lauren R., Medford

I might be a different person because the struggles you go through as a woman coming up in a male-dominated field make you a stronger person. So would I be the same person? Probably not. Would I practice medicine the same way? Yes, I think I would.
Helaina Semmler

 

Join us for the final Women’s Empowerment Panel on Nov. 16 at The Mansion.

November 2021
Related Articles
Comments

Leave a Reply

2021 Women of Excellence Awards Reception
Advertisement
Ravi's Bimah

Get SJ Mag in Your Inbox

Subscribe for the latest on South Jersey dining, weekend entertainment, the Shore and much more - sent directly to your inbox.

* indicates required
Email Format
Advertisement
fox penberthy morgan stanley web ad july 2020
Advertisement
GFS After Dark_WEB AD
Advertisement
Layout 1
WATCH NOW: It's A South Jersey Summer
Advertisement
New Issue Banner WEB AD
Advertisement