Student Organization of Kean University and the Social Work Club partnered together to host the panel, Influencing Change: Women Social Workers in Leadership, as part of Women's History Month and Social Work Month. The panel featured New Jersey Lieutenant Governor Sheila Oliver, Assemblywoman Joann Downey, J.D., Executive Director for the National Association of Social Workers-New Jersey Chapter Jennifer Thompson, MSW and Executive Director of the Family Service Bureau Manuela Garcia, LCSW, who brought their knowledge and expertise to Kean students.
The panel was moderated by faculty moderator Jennifer Pax, LCSW and student moderators President of Kean's Social Work Club Katy Engel, President of Kean's Phi Alpha Honors Society chapter Julia Park, Zoey Ashley and Dinah Kofie. Moderators were able to ask questions to specific panelists or to the panel as a whole on behalf of the Kean student body. Questions ranged from career advice to personal questions. One of the first questions students issued was directed toward Oliver and asked about how she became Lieutenant Governor of New Jersey. Oliver relayed that she hadn't necessarily set out to pursue the position but had taken opportunities as they came.
"No matter what your background and training is...always keep an open mind when opportunities present themselves for you because, if I did not maintain an open mind, have a willingness to try new things, leave one job and go to another, I would not be New Jersey's Lieutenant Governor today," said Oliver. "So, I would encourage you to not feel like you can't take risks in your career."
Panelists also informed the audience about the realities of being a woman social worker and a woman in a position of power. The panelists foretold the difficulties women must still fight through to earn a position of power and be seen as equal to men.
Downey talked about the ongoing fight for women to receive pay equal to men's.
"[Pay inequality] is unacceptable because a job is what a job is, and you should be paid exactly what that job is worth no matter who you are," said Downey.
Downey is currently the only female prime sponsor of the Pay Equity Bill and believes that it is important for everyone to continue supporting one another in this fight for equality.
"Gender discrimination does exist, and we're going to get through it but with everybody's help," said Downey. "We always continue to be fighters, protectors and advocates for each other and everyone out there."
Panelists also discussed the struggle women often put themselves through due to their hesitation in taking new opportunities. Thompson talked about how she began her career taking opportunities as they came and invited other women to do the same instead of fearing unpreparedness.
"I always step forward and, if there was a project that needed to be done or an opportunity that I saw needed to be addressed, I raised my hand, and often those were roles and tasks that I was widely unqualified for nor did I know anything about," said Thompson. "I think that ingenuity, [the] ability to step forward and raise my hand [and] always taking on the big tasks and not being afraid to do so really has served me well. Ultimately, I think [that] as students, you can do that as well."
Thompson encouraged students to become active now through clubs and activities in order to gain new experiences and skills.
In a similar wavelength, Downey supported this advice and reiterated the fact that women needed to be fearless in their careers.
"One of the themes you're hearing from women here and what's important to understand is taking that opportunity when that door opens for you, because women tend to think too much. You've just got to go for it," said Downey.
At the conclusion of the event, the four panelists received an award for their contributions to society.
As president for the Social Work Club, Engel said, "Getting together a group of accomplished female social workers is always important but [it is] extra important in today's age of women feeling inherently devalued, especially in the workplace. It's imperative that we, as women, are always mindful of the fact that we can achieve our goals through hard work and perseverance and that we are worthy of equal pay as men for equal work. These amazing women are proof of that and role models to all of us forging our path in this world."
For more information on Kean's Social Work Club check out their Cougar Link page.