Do you dream of opening your own business? We have some advice…

From the desk of Hannah Stenzel of Godfrey Financial Associates, Inc.

In this article by Kerry Hannon of The New Yorker, five dynamic and successful women entrepreneurs give the gift of their advice about starting your own business.

Most of these women relied upon the support of a close-knit group of peers and colleagues to help their vision come to life. They also share many valuable secrets to leadership, such as taking risks, being active, building a strong team, and having complete dedication to your vision.

These values of community and leadership are core foundations of the Women’s Business Council. Come gather with local, successful, engaging women who champion each other.

See you at the WBC Holiday Luncheon next week, on December 10th!

When women gather, the world changes

From the desk of Lauren Axford, Executive Director, Pine Hollow Arboretum

Well, I could not have found a better article to endorse all the opportunities that the Women’s Business Council of the Capital Region Chamber provides for its members! According to Pat Mitchell (a self-professed “dangerous woman, advocate and activist”) and growing body of research data, there is measurable value in women gathering to share stories and experiences, to network both professionally and personally and to exchange ideas. 

In fact, a recent Harvard Business School study has indicated that women who participate in women’s conferences and similar activities are “twice as likely to get a promotion within a year and three times as likely to get a 10 percent salary bump!” On that note, see you at the next Women’s Business Council function!!

Read the article here.

How Women Entrepreneurs Are Breaking Free of the Pay Gap (And The Best Cities To Be In)

From the desk of Lauren Axford, Executive Director, Pine Hollow Arboretum

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Did you know that yesterday, November 19th, was “Women’s Entrepreneurship Day”?  Established in 2014 and recognized by 144 nations, this is a day to acknowledge and appreciate the work of women entrepreneurs.  A 2018 study showed that 40% of United States businesses are women-owned, with about half of those businesses being owned by women of color.

There is still a lot of work to be done for full “executive power and representation”, especially worldwide.   However, groups like the Dell Women’s Entrepreneur Network are helping to boost the success of women-owned businesses by commissioning research aimed at exploring how success relates to “access to capital, technology, talent, culture, and markets”.  These findings will then help inform policy that will continue to encourage the growing momentum for support of women-owned businesses around the world. 

Read the article here.

Jason Benitez: Leading Talent and Inclusion in the Capital District

From the desk of Hannah Stenzel of Godfrey Financial Associates, Inc.

This past week, I had the pleasure of meeting Jason Benitez and interviewing him about his dreams and goals for his position as Vice President of Talent and Inclusion of the Capital Region Chamber.

Benitez is now the second person to hold this title, succeeding Angela Dixon this past July. This position was created as part of a strategic overhaul that the Capital Region Chamber began five years ago in an effort to better serve the evolving needs of our communities.

Benitez is inspired by the opportunity for his position as being a hub of connection and empowerment for businesses throughout our region.

Connecting Local Business with Talent

            Benitez likens his role in developing talent and inclusion to a community-wide human resources department, working with businesses and community members on several different fronts. “It’s very much a multi-pronged approach,” he explained.

            The talent aspect of his role involves guiding businesses to tap into the wealth of skills and knowledge that our local communities hold. “It’s doing what you can to make sure that the needs of the business community are being met; especially in ensuring that there is a pipeline [of a workforce] that is prepared and ready to meet the needs of the business community,” he explained.

            The inclusion aspect of his role makes sure that our educational institutions, businesses, not-for-profits, and community-based organizations are working with underrepresented populations, and fostering greater equity throughout their procedures. One of the most important questions he asks is, “Are we really taking advantage of a full and wide cross-section of our population?”

            For example, Benitez noted the underrepresentation of women and people of color in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) fields. “We look at the end dilemma and work backward. Why are fewer women considering this? How can we produce more women with STEM skills that businesses are  asking for?”

He highlighted the Chamber’s P-TECH partnership with Capital Region BOCES and two local school districts that empower high school students to complete a significant amount of a STEM associate’s degree while still in high school. Then, colleagues at the Chamber work to get underrepresented groups interested and prepared to take on these STEM roles.

Removing barriers to access education is crucial. “We have to make sure that the institutions that are providing these skills are engaging underrepresented groups in this pipeline process,” he stated.

Including underserved and underrepresented communities in the workforce is a win-win: companies with a more diverse workforce are more likely to achieve above-average profits, and by supporting our vulnerable populations, our community becomes stronger as a whole.

What Makes Diversity and Inclusion Work?

Diversity and inclusion are two distinct and integral parts of his role. What’s the difference, and why does it matter? There’s a popular quote by Verna Myers, the VP of Inclusion Strategy at Netflix, which states: “Diversity is being invited to the party. Inclusion is being asked to dance.”

What this means is that while the diverse representation of populations is important, inclusion speaks to everyone’s ability to be involved in a community. In order to work, inclusionary policies must be part of a business’s (and a community’s) entire system and culture, not just a token gesture.

Benitez elaborates, “Diversity and inclusion have to go hand in hand; it can’t just be a box-checking. It has to be considering “What is [an employee’s] experience like once they get there?” That’s the climate, the inclusion piece. That’s what speaks to tenure and longevity, how inclusive the workplace actually is.”

            Our regional workforce is experiencing a wave of change. Benitez asks, how are businesses and organizations really preparing for this wave? “When I say preparing, I mean are they examining their hiring practices, their promotion practices, the climate of their day-to-day workplace…and asking, are those things presenting an opportunity or an obstacle to certain folks?”

His History in Education

Benitez worked for most of his career in higher education, beginning in the early 1990s when he came to Albany from his hometown of Brooklyn to study at SUNY Albany as an EOP student. He graduated and stayed at SUNY Albany where he worked at residential life, running dorms and counseling students, and also meeting his wife.

Benitez continued his legacy by becoming the Director of Multicultural Affairs and EOP Coordinator at Schenectady County Community College in 2009, and then as Associate Dean of Diversity and Inclusion at Union college from 2011 to 2019. At Union College, Benitez spearheaded programming and diversity work, advised a wide array of student clubs and organizations, and developed numerous campaigns that still continue; such as the Social Justice Retreat and Pride Walk. It was at Union College that he developed a working relationship with Marna Redding, which led to his being tapped for his new role at the Chamber.

His extensive experience working in higher education imbues him with a valuable and unique skillset; the ability to talk to different communities, to engage, to build diversity and inclusion related initiatives. It’s also easy to see the passion he has for identifying and cultivating the immense potential of the people and organizations he works with.

“I really felt in many ways that I was able to work with students in the chapter right before they were going on to do some really great things, and I like to think that, for at least some of them, that I had an impact on them through our years of interactions and programs…that’s what’s inspiring, is being able to see them in their first year, and witnessing and contributing to their growth. It’s very rewarding and powerful.”

The Talent and Inclusion Summit

            That same passion he has for collaborating with students as they work towards doing great things, Benitez brings to local businesses as they develop and evolve.

            One of the first steps in expanding this offering was the inaugural Talent and Inclusion summit, which was this past September 19th.  

“We had 150 attendees, with keynote speakers and break-out panels focusing on underserved communities, such as veterans, folks with disabilities, and folks with an incarceration record,” Benitez explained.

            Benitez looks forward to making this an annual event and expanding other Chamber offerings to carry forward our region’s economic opportunity.

The Future of the Chamber, and Our Region

The latest development in the expansion of the Chamber includes merging with the Southern Saratoga Chamber of Commerce. This now allows the Chamber to effectively align and engage a larger area of the capital district, which will serve everyone.

Benitez sees the strategic implications of this merger. “We’re really trying to send a strong message of regional unity; that it’s great for these cities to have their unique identities, but it works to our best interest as a region…that we can still operate independently, but that we should think and strategize as a region.”

Inclusion and the Women’s Business Council

Benitez sees the natural alignment of core values between his role and the Women’s Business Council, and he is excited for helping women to achieve greater equity in the workforce.

            I showed him a WBC Voice entry by Karen Lombardo, citing an article showing that 49% of all new businesses started in the United States were run by women and that the majority of those women were African American. Benitez commented on how women-owned businesses tend to grow faster and present a greater opportunity for change. “Speculating as to why women-owned businesses tend to grow faster, is because…they are going to operate in a way that’s more progressive, more open to opportunity, fairer. And maybe those elements are helping those businesses to flourish because people are flocking to them.”

            Benitez has experienced how empowering each other leads to increased opportunity and hope for everyone, and he takes that forward as a personal mission. “I used to say to my students that your education creates a light, and you have a duty to not hide that light. You have to use it to illuminate the path for those that are coming up behind you.”

Quotes from Voices in the Crowd

From the desk of Amanda Goyer, Chair of the Women’s Business Council and Director of Community Engagement at CAP COM Federal Credit Union.

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Yesterday’s Women’s Business Council’s Voices in the Crowd event was inspired by Moth Radio Hour, and our second year bringing impactful stories to life with the help of our moderator and story coach, Christina Thyssen!

The storytellers captured the audience with their authentic and real-life stories that left attendees motivated and ready to rise against the tide, the theme all stories aligned with.

Main takeaways from each story are phrased below:

You can be strong, but a work in progress all at the same time.

– Subrina

You can quit, but don’t quit on yourself.

– Walter


From challenge, find strength and courage.

– Susan

Don’t ever let anything get in the way of your goals.

– Gretchel

Allow defining moments, even if it’s rock bottom, to be gifts.

– Victoria

We would love to hear your feedback on this event for future planning! Thank you to all of our WBC members for sharing your voice!

Vote For the Epilepsy Foundation at This Year’s Capital Region Gives

Our 2019 Adopted Nonprofit, The Epilepsy Foundation of Northeastern New York needs your help! Please vote for them (one vote per day) starting on Thursday, November 14th, so they can win $10,000 in FREE advertising from the Times Union. Prizes like this are huge for non-profits as it helps spread their mission and help the families affected by epilepsy.

For more information, go to