Siekerka tells Berkeley College audience: ‘Never be afraid to be a woman in a man’s world. Lean into it’

Michele Siekerka told the more than 100 students, faculty members and business leaders in the room that she always skates to where the puck is going to be, instead of where it currently is.

“When I was 9 years old, I set out to become a judge,” the CEO and president of the New Jersey Business & Industry Association said. “And, as the first in my family to go to college, I became myopically focused on what it was I needed to do to put myself on the path I always saw five years ahead.”

Siekerka became a lawyer, she said.

“But I am not a judge today because of all the different opportunities that developed from the relationships I had built along my career,” Siekerka said.

Timing, flexibility, adaptability and balance are sometimes more important than rigidity, she added.

“Sometimes, an opportunity may present itself, but everything in your life has a right time — you may need to skip one to later reap the investment of another 10 times over,” Siekerka said.

Siekerka delivered her keynote at Berkeley College’s fourth annual Women in Leadership conference Thursday in Woodbridge, intended to empower women leaders both economically and politically during Women Entrepreneurship Week.

Now the first female CEO and president of NJBIA, Siekerka shared her thoughts on building effective leadership personally, professionally and civically.

“As we stand here today in 2018, it is important we emphasize women’s leadership because we still have a need to raise women to the C-suite and the boardroom,” she said. “Never be afraid to be a woman in man’s world. Lean into it — but be proactive, not aggressive.

“I think you can put yourself out there, get ahead and be assertive without having to be a bully.”

Passion also cannot be forced, Siekerka added.

“The intersection of business and civics is so important to building our communities,” she said. “So, I have sat on more nonprofit boards than I can count because I love being engaged — but I only will go to the ones where I feel the real passion to give back.

“If you are not passionate about what you do, others will not come along. But, when you are passionate about what you do, you can exert tremendous influence.”

Shaiasia Boyd-Dorchy, a fashion merchandising and management senior at Berkeley College in Woodbridge, said her passions only were ignited when she was able to overcome her shyness.

“When I first started classes here, I had no intention of getting involved,” she said.

Still, her family pushed her to try some of the many campus activities and clubs available.

She also said she began attending women’s leadership events across the state.

“These events contribute to building up one’s self-confidence,” Boyd-Dorchy said. “Through these experiences, I gained the confidence to help me now become the student government and fashion club president, a student speaker, a member of the National Society of Leadership, an employee of career services and, most importantly, to work toward the goal of become a fashion magazine editor after I graduate.”

Recently, Boyd-Dorchy said she also organized a fundraiser for those affected by Hurricane Florence and created Motivational Mondays, where she and a few other members of the student government serve breakfast and motivational quotes to students.

“Now, my ‘Thought for Thursday’ is this,” she said. “Motivate yourself to build your own dreams or someone will hire you to build theirs.”

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