Panel moderator Gabriela Castañeda, assistant director of Chapman’s Argyros School Career Services, welcomes attendees to the Women Empowerment panel discussion sponsored by the Orange County Hispanic Youth Chamber of Commerce. The event was hosted at Chapman.
Gabriela Castañeda serves as moderator during the Women in Power panel discussion sponsored in early spring by the Orange County Hispanic Youth Chamber of Commerce and Chapman.

‘Stand in your Power,’ Women Empowerment Leaders Tell Students at Chapman University Panelists offer practical advice for empowering women in the workforce.

Angelica Gutierrez, Ph.D., was 8 years old when school officials told her she had a learning disability because she didn’t speak English. That experience fueled a lifelong struggle with imposter syndrome, she says. But even as doubts lingered, she pushed forward.

Today the same girl once pegged “learning disabled” has been recognized as one of the “World’s Best 40 Under 40 Business Professors” by Poets & Quants. Fully aware of the unique career struggles women face, she now tells them: “There’s power in your journey. Stand in your power.” 

These and other stories were just a few of the insights into women’s journeys to success that were shared during a panel discussion on March 6 before an audience gathered at Chapman University. Hosted by Chapman and the Orange County Hispanic Youth Chamber of Commerce (OCHYCC), the event was part of the Women’s History Month celebrations at Chapman, which also included a Women’s Day resource fair, a leadership panel and “Herstories” crash courses.

Invest in Women 

Chief among the themes highlighted at the event was the idea of looking beyond personal career trajectories. Success, panelists said, is less about your own personal journey to the top and more about how many women you empower along the way. 

The Hon. Gaddi H. Vasquez, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, recalled his early years serving on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. Questioned for having an all-female staff in 1988, Vasquez said he made it his mission early on to open the door to diversity and inclusion. 

“I knew from day one that once I got to a stage where I could influence the outcomes that would put women in positions of leadership, I was going to use every ounce of energy available to do that,” said Vasquez.

Gaddi Vasquez at women empowerment panel at Chapman University.
The Hon. Gaddi H. Vasquez, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture, offers advice to audience members at the women empowerment event. “Don’t be afraid to move into male spaces,” he says.

Moderator Gabriela Castañeda, Ed.D., assistant director at Argyros School Career Services, encouraged students to use Chapman’s career services. It’s a resource designed to open doors, she says.

“Within my job I work hard to make sure I don’t leave anyone behind. We want nothing but to make a difference, open doors and bring everyone along,” Castañeda said. 

Make Male Networks Work For You

Another common thread among the panelists was the role male mentors play in helping women navigate the workforce. Gutierrez emphasized that while women tend to gravitate toward individuals who are similar, the move can impede career advancement, especially in male-dominated fields. 

“We have to identify male mentors who have executive-level positions, who can provide guidance and more importantly help us tap into their networks,” said Gutierrez. 

Women Empowerment Takes Work

Vasquez echoed Gutierrez’s sentiments, urging audience members to step outside of their comfort zone: “Don’t be afraid to move into male spaces. I know it’s easier said than done, but there are calculated ways to do it. Step up and step outside of that box.”

The event closed with a Q&A in which one response by Gutierrez was met with enthusiastic applause from the audience. When asked what can be done to empower women in the workplace, she said: “Teach them to negotiate pay. Who are we not to ask for more?”

Michelle Anguka

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