Annual Awards Dinner: Epilepsy Foundation

Annual Awards Dinner

On Wednesday, November 20th at Shaker Ridge Country Club, we are holding our Annual Awards Dinner where we celebrate and recognize achievers, donors, corporate sponsors, and volunteers (including the Community Partner Award for the Capital Region Chamber and the Women’s Business Council!). The cocktail hour begins at 5:30pm, followed by the dinner and program. View this year’s honorees and register at: http://bit.ly/2019EFNENYAwards

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.

Image result for voices in the crowd

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

-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!

Women in Business Wednesday: ‘She-Build’

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

‘She-Build’: Creating an All-Woman Real Estate Development Team With diversity and inclusion initiatives gaining traction in many industries, the commercial real estate world still remains a male dominated sector. However, there are women led commercial real estate companies that are working to improve the recruitment and retention of women in both management and investment positions.  


photography of three women sits beside table inside room during daytime

Photo by C Morillo on Unsplash

Click here to read the article: http://nytimes.com/2019/11/12/business/women-real-estate-development.html

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 timesunion.com/capitalregiongives

2019 Epilepsy Family Conference

The Epilepsy Family Conference is a signature education activity unique to the Epilepsy Foundation of Northeastern NY.

The goal of this event is to offer information and education on epilepsy-related topics to those who are affected by epilepsy, as well as healthcare professionals. This conference includes topics relevant to both adult and pediatric epilepsy patients. For the first time, the conference will be broadcast live on Facebook! The conference will be taking place on Wednesday, November 13th at the Hearst Media Center (645 Albany Shaker Road, Albany NY 12211). Check-in begins at 11:00 and the program is from 11:30 am – 3:45 pm. Lunch will be served. Register for the conference by joining either in-person or on Facebook Live and view the agenda: http://bit.ly/EFNENYFamilyConf2019

10 Powerful Women in Tech Share Their Best Advice for Managing a Team

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

10 Powerful Women in Tech Share Their Best Advice for Managing a Team

Effectively managing a team can be challenging to say the least. Giving firm direction, while simultaneously providing space for individuality and creativity, is an art.   Here are some tips from 10 influential women in the technology sector that can be applied to any field or work

(A Hint: clear communication, strong leadership, and collaboration are important!)

10 Powerful Women in Tech Share Their Best Advice for Managing a Team