Speaking Up: Local Professional Women Share Their Struggles 

67 years after women were granted the right to vote through the 19th amendment, March was declared Women’s History Month. This March marks the 34th year of honoring women’s contributions in American history.  

March 8 is also International Women’s Day, a globally-recognized time to celebrate the achievements of women and a call to action for accelerating gender parity. 2021’s theme, Choose to Challenge, urges supporters to call out gender bias and inequality.  It also inspired this poll of influential women in our community, asking them to describe the biggest professional challenge they have faced. Compiled by Angela Bosco.

Mimi Rocah

“As a woman working in law enforcement for close to 20 years, I was often the only woman in a room full of men. Early on in my career, I was intimidated by this, and it often stopped me from speaking up. Over time, I realized that my points were as good and as valid as those of the men, but that I simply lacked the confidence they had. The more I spoke up, the more confidence I gained. This may not be the ‘biggest’ challenge I have faced, in that it was not the most serious, but on a day-to-day basis it has had a tremendous impact on my career and ability to do my job” Westchester County District Attorney Mimi Rocah

Elizabeth Thompson Bracken

The biggest challenge I had to overcome as a working woman was to believe in myself. Trusting your own voice and overcoming self-doubt is the most important step any woman can take in becoming successful in the workplace. As women, we all are judged to a higher standard than our male counterparts and have to perform on an uneven playing field at work… My message to any working woman is to advocate on your own behalf, take risks, follow your own instincts with clarity, courage, passion and humility and you can and will overcome any challenge.– Elizabeth Bracken-Thompson: Partner, Thompson & Bender

Marcene Hedayati

The greatest challenge this year was figuring out ways to keep people emotionally, spiritually and physically connected… As we all continue to hunker down and follow safety guidelines, the lack of human contact, whether at work, with our friends, our families or the community at large, has had a significant impact on our state of mind and resulted in a general malaise. To find ways to buoy positive thinking and maintain an upbeat attitude has been the greatest challenge of all.”- Marcene Hedayati: Principal Broker/Owner, Corcoran Legends Realty 

Sandy Galef

“Balancing the needs of your family with the work of the job is the biggest challenge. You need to recognize when there is an imbalance between being a wife and a mother and being a legislator. At times you have to pull back a little to attend to the most important responsibilities you have and that is your family.”– Assemblywoman, Sandy Galef, District 95 

Karen Erren

As a working mother, juggling the various stages of life has been the greatest challenge I’ve overcome in my career. When my children were young, coordinating work expectations with daycare deadlines and fees was very much a balancing act. Today, not only do women still face these challenges, they are also being disproportionately impacted during Covid by unemployment and the struggles associated with virtual schooling. We must be intentional about ensuring that the gains women have made in the workforce are not lost. Karen Erren, President & CEO of Feeding Westchester 

Ali Vitali

“The biggest challenge for me — and this was true early on in my career but still happens during big moments or when I earn a new opportunity — is overcoming thoughts of Imposter Syndrome that stem, not from a lack of confidence, but from being in still-male dominated spaces of media and politics. Just because these voices may sometimes be louder, doesn’t mean they know more or deserve to be heard more than I do. Oftentimes, I’ll have a different perspective on a story or pick up on a unique angle that others haven’tThat’s the point. It’s why we need more women from diverse backgrounds across news: to elevate and center stories that may not otherwise be told.  Ali Vitali, NBC News Political Correspondent 

Joy Myke

The biggest challenge I overcame in working as a school business official was balancing the needs of my family and the demands of being a CFO for a school district… On some days, this means leaving work early to support my children, then working later into the evening from home to complete important tasks. Ultimately, the decision to be present for the important moments with my children while still meeting the demands of my role in school finance, at a time when the landscape is continually changing, was the best avenue for me to establish a work/life balance that works for my family.” –Joy Myke, Assistant Superintendent for Business, Public Schools of the Tarrytowns 

Deb Milone

I feel the biggest challenge for working women is balancing our job with home and family obligations. Women wear many hats, and finding that balance can be difficult. We need to be hyper-organized and prioritize time for ourselves because we tend to put aside our wellbeing. Doing something for yourself each day helps to focus, rejuvenate and keep all in perspective. Be happy with what you accomplish and don’t focus on what you didn’t get to, and take time for family.”- Deb Milone, President Hudson Valley Gateway Chamber of Commerce [Text Wrapping Break] 

JoAnne Murray

Believing in myself.  Believing that I could compete in a man’s world. 40 years ago, I would often find myself the only woman in the room at business meetings. It was intimidating. Fortunately, this is not as common an occurrence today.” – JoAnne Murray, President Allan Block Insurance Agency 

Lucia Ballas-Traynor

“As a person with extremely high standards and expectations, my biggest challenge as a working woman was to embrace imperfection. At some point you are going to drop one of the many balls that you are juggling, and one is going to crack. Accept yourself to be flawed. Learn from your mistakes, do not let the guilt consume you, and move on!”- Lucia Ballas-Traynor, Multicultural Sales & Marketing Consultant 

Laura Rey Iannarelli

“I’ve worked in the insurance industry for 24 years now, and I still find that I am often the only woman at meetings of agency owners. While that was daunting early in my career, it has become a point of pride and an opportunity. My voice and my perspective are needed and valued. And just as my father taught me so much about business and entrepreneurship, I also have something to model for my daughter: Just because you don’t see many women in a place or position, it doesn’t mean they can’t or shouldn’t be there. We can do anything.”– Laura Rey Iannarelli, President & CEO, The Rey Insurance Agency Inc. 

Abigail Lewis

The biggest challenge is to offer ourselves the same space and recognition we offer others: it’s okay to be uncomfortable, we don’t need to know everything, and we won’t always get things right. In fact, it’s sometimes in those most difficult moments great, creative things happen.” –Abigail Lewis, Executive Arts Director, Bethany Arts Community 

Joan Grangenois-Thomas

“Women are inherently nurturers. It is very difficult for me to say ‘no’ to a request for assistance or participation. I feel like I’m letting that person down, when I know that I must be the fiercest provider of care to me. If I’m not good, then I can’t be good for anyone else.” – Joan Grangenois-Thomas, Principal, JGT Public Relations 

Jean Kim Sears

“In my industry women only account for around 20% of the financial advisors. There’s also unconscious bias when it comes to promoting women to higher leadership positions.  As a partner at Edward Jones, I work very hard to overcome these biases and breakdown the barriers to entry for women in my industry through mentorship, education and recruiting” –Jean Kim Sears, Financial Advisor, Edward Jones 

Dr. Gail Duffy

“The biggest challenge I have experienced as a working woman is maintaining a work/home balance and finding time for self-care. As a female administrator as well as a mom of two, I am often pulled in many directions. I have strived to model for my kids that you can have both a successful career and also be active in your children’s’ lives. There are sacrifices that you will need to make along the way but always remember what is most important to you and make that a priority each day”- Dr. Gail Duffy, Assistant Superintendent for Administration & Instruction, Public Schools of the Tarrytowns 

4 Comments

  1. A thoughful compilation of challenges that I hope will give other women the comfort of knowing they are not alone. It will also hopefully give them the confidence to overcome their own challenges. Thank you for including me.

  2. What a wonderful tribute to so many well-respected individuals. I’m flattered to be included. Thank you to all women who contributed to history, culture and society and paved the way for successes for our daughters.

  3. Thank you so much for including me in this article. What a powerful tribute to the amazing women in our community!

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About the Author: Angela Bosco