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EAGLE: Women discuss ways to advance in business

By Sara Brown  sbrown@eagletribune.com | Posted: Tuesday, October 28, 2014 1:10 am

HAVERHILL — Congresswoman Niki Tsongas urged women business leaders to start having a conversation about earned sick time. 

"It can be a tough discussion to have but it is a conversation we need to start having on every level," Tsongas said. 

Tsongas was one of the featured speakers at the Merrimack Valley Chamber of Commerce's annual women in business conference at Michael's Function Hall. The conference serves as an opportunity for women in the region to network and learn from each other. 

"Two-thirds of minimum wage workers are women and many of them have no earned sick time," Tsongas said. "They are often find themselves in a difficult position of having to choose between helping a sick family member or going to work." 

Next week voters will go to the polls to decide whether or not all Massachusetts workers can earn sick time on the ballot initiative 4. While Tsongas never directly mentioned the election, it was obvious that it was a subject close to her heart. 

"It's often dilemmas like this that prevent working families to get ahead," she said. 

This is why women need to be in business and in leadership positions, according to Tsongas. 

"When women are in positions of power, they often focus on issues that have been ignored which usually directly affect the lives of women and working families," she said. 

Executive Director of Northern Essex Community College's Lawrence campus, Noemi Custodia-Lora, said she often struggled with the balance between motherhood and career when she first started out.

"I would have anxiety attacks that I wasn't spending enough time at work or home," she said to the crowd. 

However, she soon learned the ability to let go. 

"Not everything is going to be perfect. Sometimes the kids are going to be wearing socks that don't match and that's OK," she said getting a chuckle out of the crowd. "It's all about time management. If you work hard, everything will work out." 

She urged the women who attended the conference to find a mentor. 

"I would be no where without my mentors. You can find mentors in the most surprising places. I have students that are mentors," she said. 

Andrea Luppi, communications and community relations manager of Columbia Gas, agreed. 

"There are a lot of women in this room that can be mentors to you," she said. "Also, be mentors to the women starting their careers." 

"Mentors are something that women find really important. You never hear men talk about finding a mentor," Luppi added. 

Chairman of radiation oncology at Lahey Hospital, Andrea McKee, and director of marketing for Cedar's Mediterranean Food, Aimee Tsakirellis, also gave their advice on how to succeed in business. President of Lawrence General Hospital Dianne Anderson moderated the conversation.    

Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini said one of the smartest women he has ever known is his grandmother. 

"She never had a chance to join a chamber of commerce," he said. "She would be proud of all of you here today. We have come a long way but we still have a long way to go."