Photography by David Michael Howarth


Don’t miss our 2017 Women’s Empowerment Series! Click here to find out more about this year’s panelists and take advantage of early bird pricing.


Last month, nearly 200 women attended the opening of SJ Magazine’s highly popular Women’s Empowerment Series. Five successful women shared their personal stories and hard-earned wisdom. The first of a four-part series, the evening’s topic was “Secrets of Success: Stories from Women at the Top.” For tickets to the remaining panels, click here.



Person to Watch.qxd

Stephanie Stahl, CBS3 medical reporter

Kristi Howell, president/CEO, Burlington County Regional Chamber of Commerce

Adrienne Kirby, president/CEO, Cooper University Health Care

Lita Abele, president/CEO, U.S. Lumber


Getting through tough times…

Rejection and failure are difficult for everybody. In my business it’s very public when you get moved out of a situation or you get fired. I’ve been fired before, which I thought I would never recover from. But you find a way. Persevering through loss and disappointment builds character and often leads to better things.  –   Stephanie Stahl

_dsc1316When I was 26, I was getting divorced, and I lost both of my parents. I had a daughter, and I decided to take an adverse situation and turn it around. I had a fire in my belly. I decided I was going to create a career for myself, get more education and do things I wanted to do. I wanted to give my daughter a better life. That was my motivation.  –  Adrienne Kirby

In the very beginning, when my husband brought me to the office, his employees didn’t want me there. I cannot explain the feeling, because they were talking behind my back. I thought, “Is it because I am from another country or something like that?” But I was determined to learn this business. I was determined to show who I was in the long run. I accomplished that.  –  Lita Abele


On success…

Success, for me, is not defined by my job title. The first time I felt that sort of elation from success was when my personal life was at a real high, and I had accomplished something professionally that was at a real high. I felt I was accomplishing the things in my life that were important to me. I finished my PhD from Penn in May of 1997, and I got married to my wonderful husband in June of 1997. It was like a magic moment in my life.  –  Adrienne Kirby

_dsc1343I am successful when my dreams come true, because I’m a dreamer. Everything that happened to me and is happening right now is all my dream. I keep dreaming big.  –  Lita Abele

I was in this job for several years when I turned and asked myself, “Why are all these people asking me to come speak? Why do they want to hear what I have to say?” It took me a while to convince myself I had something to say that was worth being said.  –  Kristi Howell


Taking a break…

I relax around 11 o’clock at night. I go to our basement, sing karaoke and dance. Just by myself.  –  Lita Abele

Look at what you spend your time doing. There are probably two or three hours a week that you’re doing something you could say no to. Go choose to do something else, even if it’s just sitting by yourself.  –  Adrienne Kirby


Working with other women…

When I was in my current job for about five years, a friend called me and said, “I want you to know you were nominated for this award, but we’re not giving it to you.” She said the reason was the women in the group decided that because I didn’t have kids, I wasn’t “really quite there yet.” Two weeks ago, I was meeting with a woman and we were talking about my community involvement, and she says, “Do you have kids?” I said, “No, not yet.” She says, “I’m impressed, but I’d be really impressed if you had kids.” I just kind of sat back. Why do we, as women, judge each other on that? I’m sure I’m going to be judged if I’m 48 or 49 years old with a 1-year-old too. So just bring it on.  –  Kristi Howell

_dsc1226I don’t think your gender determines whether you’re a good person or not a good person. I’ve worked for men who were not good people. I have worked for women who were not good people. I have worked for both genders that were fabulous people. Unfortunately, it’s the luck of the draw.  –  Adrienne Kirby

Advice to young women…

I see younger women do things that are going to hold them back. We have a lot of cocktail-type events, and I watch young women who maybe have a little too much to drink and are flirting with somebody they shouldn’t be. They start to diminish their own reputation by doing that.  –  Kristi Howell

I would tell young women to work harder, be persistent and have strong determination. Don’t give up. Lead with your heart. Dream big, and then go reach your dream. Work on it until you reach it.  –  Lita Abele

Sometimes I see younger people who seem to get confused between going to the club and coming to work. The younger you are, the more people are watching how you show up. Be very conscious of not over-sexualizing the workplace. I see bright, beautiful young women, and I think, “Three more inches on that skirt, and you’d be fine. Take the two, three inches off the heels, put it on the skirt, and we’d all be good.”  –  Adrienne Kirby

Don’t say anything on social media you don’t want everybody you’re going to work for know about.  –  Stephanie Stahl



On sexism…

I’ve had this experience more than once: Somebody walks in a room and I’m standing there, and they’re looking around me because they’ve got to find the man in charge. Then someone says, “Have you met our CEO?” And they say, “Oh, you’re the CEO?” I’m the same person who has been standing here for five minutes that you chose not to look at, greet or acknowledge. It just slays me.  –  Adrienne Kirby

It is obvious that sexism exists in our society. We still don’t have parity in pay between men and women in most industries. But we have the first female running for president. Slowly but surely we’re breaking those barriers and that glass ceiling.  –  Stephanie Stahl


_dsc1437On mentors…

I have mentors today who I don’t think know they’re my mentor. When people ask how you get a mentor, I tell them it’s very natural. These are my go-to people. I was having a stressful situation the other week, and I picked up the phone and said, “Hi, I don’t know if I’m going to ask you a question or if I just need to vent for five minutes.” The relationship just kind of happens.  –  Kristi Howell

I’ve had people come to me to say, “Can you be my mentor?” And I’m looking at them thinking, “Oh boy,” because we don’t really have a connection. This is something that needs to be organic. You’ll know when somebody is going to connect to you as a human being and care about you. That will make a really big difference.  –  Adrienne Kirby


On self-confidence…

Body language speaks loudly. You put your head up, your shoulders back. Act like you know what you’re doing, and everybody will believe you do. We all know people who we think are just great, and then you meet them and find out they’re like marshmallows.  –  Adrienne Kirby

_dsc1383Every morning when I put on my makeup, I look myself in the mirror and say, “You got this girl.” I really do.  –  Kristi Howell


Recommended books

“Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead” by Sheryl Sandberg
———-Stephanie Stahl

“I Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life by Doing Something New Every Day” by Lu Ann Cahn
———- Kristi Howell

“Thick Face, Black Heart: The Asian Path to Thriving, Winning & Succeeding” by Chin-Ning Chu
———- – Adrienne Kirby

“The Self-Architect: Redesigning Your Life” edited by Linda Ellis Eastman
———- – Lita Abele




Click here to register for the second Women’s Empowerment panel on Oct. 10 at The Mansion.

Panelists include Brenda J. Bacon, president/CEO of Brandywine Senior Living; N.J. State Senator Dawn Marie Addiego; Dr. Renee Kendzierski, women’s imaging specialist for South Jersey Radiology Associates; and Angela Hines, president of Rubino Service Company. The topic is “Balancing Work and Family: Leaning In Without Falling Over.”

To see more pictures from the first panel of our Women’s Empowerment Series, click here.

October 2016
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