Connecting the Dots
How SJ Mag Media became a business that empowers women

When I was a teen, I had this strong belief that young girls should think they can do great things. Then, I believed women in college should too. In my 30s, I thought young moms should know they can do great things. And now I strongly feel that older women should also believe they can do great things.            

I’ve come to realize these beliefs have guided me throughout my career – I guess you could say my life. I had the revelation earlier this year, when I was asked by the Burlington County Regional Chamber of Commerce to speak at their women’s conference about how SJ Mag Media became a business that empowers women. At first, it wasn’t a process I could easily describe, but when I took some time to look back, I saw key moments where I made a specific decision or chose to follow a particular path, and when I put all those points together, it brings us here.

You could say it all started when I put former Camden Mayor Dana Redd on the cover of SJ Mag. It was 2014, the beginning of her second term, and Camden had been experiencing significant change. For the cover subhead, we called her “The woman warrior who just might change Camden.” I wrote that because after spending time with her, I believed it was true – and it was. Mayor Redd later said our cover made people take notice of Camden and her work, and that was a boost for her. It made me happy to think words we wrote had, in some small way, fueled the powerful work of a South Jersey woman.

It was one of the first times I realized the magazine had a voice, and I could use it to do something positive for women – inspire them, inform them and, most important, showcase them. In the decades that followed, we emphasized stories that were important to South Jersey women. 

Then I asked 14 women to have dinner with me. It was our first Women’s Roundtable, and I planned to publish quotes and photos in the print issue and online. Everything about the night went beyond my expectations.

At the very first roundtable, the very first woman to speak talked about how, starting her career in the ’70s, she had made the decision to put off having children and after years of growing her business, she wasn’t able to conceive when she finally thought the time was right. It was a regret she would have forever. 

She was sitting at dinner with women she had just met, and yet she was open and honest and trusting. She believed her words would be received with kindness, and they were. I sat at the start of that dinner thinking, this is going to work. The Women’s Roundtable will be something wonderful. 

And it was. Which led to the Women’s Empowerment Series. 

As I sat at the Women’s Roundtables year after year, I kept wishing others could hear what I was hearing. So I asked some women to join me for a series of panels where we would – kind-of – do a roundtable, only in front of an audience. 

The panels sold out, and women who attended told me they felt like they were having dinner with friends, not listening to panelists talk. Young women would repeat a particular story they had heard and tell me how relatable it was, which shocked them.

The response was perfect. Which led to the Women of Excellence Awards.

We created the Women of Excellence Awards to honor those who were making a significant difference in South Jersey. (You can see this year’s honorees on p. 32!) Our awards reception sells out every year, and I usually begin the evening talking about the warmth and love that is always – always – present in the room. 

The paths that brought us here have been like dominoes: one article, one post, one event, all stacking on top of each other to bring us to where I think I’ve always wanted to be. We’ve built the reputation that SJ Mag Media empowers women. It’s something that is well-known, well-respected and well-liked. 

So the story of how SJ Mag Media came to be a business that empowers women was developed as we went along, guided by a few basic beliefs about women. Looking back, it’s easy to see how everything fell into place. It’s a wonderful place to be.


Follow @mariannealeardi on Instagram


Read more “Wide Awake” by Marianne Aleardi

May 2024
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