What started as a series of events has evolved into a global network with a life of its own. And last week, on International Women’s Day, Northeastern University’s Women Who Empower program expanded its reach even further, holding panel discussions in Boston, San Francisco, and London.
“This is a tangible manifestation of Northeastern’s 2025 vision as a global university system,” Diane MacGillivray, senior vice president for University Advancement, said in opening remarks in London. “These events aren’t a destination, but a beginning.”
The Women Who Empower program brings the global Northeastern community together for learning, networking, and leadership opportunities. Last week’s global event, titled “Women Who Empower: Our World,” featured three diverse panels of women in three cities. Speakers shared their success stories with audiences of alumni, parents, students, and friends and offered advice for navigating the professional world.
As both an introvert and a motivational speaker, Juliette Mayers knows a thing or two about the challenges—and payoffs—of finding your voice. Mayers is an alumna of Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business and president and CEO of the strategic consulting company Inspiration Zone LLC. She was one of three panelists at the Boston event, “Succeeding Together,” held in the Alumni Center.
Mayers is also an immigrant from Barbados. “I lived in poverty, and since then have overcome a lot of barriers and struggles. I’m now living the life I envisioned,” said Mayers, DMSB’88. “I feel like I am living the dream.”
Throughout a career that included leadership positions at GE Capital, The Bank of Boston (now BankBoston), and Blue Cross Blue Shield, Mayers realized the importance of building relationships and developing a personal brand. She told an audience of about 80 Northeastern community members to remember the three C’s: Competence, credibility, and confidence. These factors are within our control, Mayers said, and they shape the way we are viewed by others. Her most important piece of advice, however, came from her mother—”never let your circumstances define you.”
Alumna Ashley Paré, CPS’09, also spoke about forging her own path. After landing her dream job at a cybersecurity technology company in New York City, Paré realized she felt unfulfilled. She returned to Boston and started her own business—Own Your Worth—where she coaches women to be the “future female leaders of our world.”
“A lot of times in tech, I was the only woman in the room,” said Paré, who graduated in 2009 with her graduate certificate in human resources management. “I found the more I spoke up, the more I felt empowered and the less I cared about what others thought.” She encouraged members of the audience to focus more on being respected than liked—advice she received from a former boss and advocate.
Alumna Jessica Yamas, MS/MBA’12, is the New England Women’s Business Enterprise National Council Director at The Center for Women & Enterprise, role that allows her to help women get their businesses certified as “women-owned” and facilitate a connection between these local businesses and large multinational corporations.
Yamas studied mathematics as an undergraduate, graduated, and then opened a café. Years later, she went back to school and received an MS and MBA from Northeastern’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. She spoke about the importance of being flexible in designing a career trajectory.
“It’s a tricky game and success is an elusive target,” said Yamas. “I encourage you to cut yourself a little slack sometimes. Success will come and go.”
Alumna April Zhong served as one of the panelists at the Women Who Empower program in San Francisco, which was called “The Power of Science & Entrepreneurship.” Zhong is president and CEO of SilRay, Inc., a solar firm that was ranked as one of the 50 fast growing private companies in Silicon Valley. The company grew out of her passion for helping people and businesses become more energy efficient.
Zhong said that while working in a male-dominated field can be challenging, it can also be an advantage. “If you’re a woman and you go in there with your confidence and knowledge, people will listen, and they will remember you because they are used to seeing men. You are different,” said Zhong, MS’96.
Panelist Sherry Moore—parent to current student Geralyn Moore, E’20—is a software engineer at Google, where she uses machine learning to improve the platform’s advertising mechanism. Moore said the environment at Google is known for being diverse and inclusive—and that the reality lives up to the hype. That focus on diversity in the workplace also transfers to the creation of new Google products, she said.
“I ask about people’s stories and what they want to achieve, and this helps to develop diverse products and unique thinking,” she said.
University trustee and alumna Jeannine Sargent moderated the panel. She is now a partner at Katalyst Ventures, where she has built and scaled multi-billion-dollar businesses at the cutting edge of technology and emerging markets. Sargent agreed with the panelists that diversity is essential at all level of an organization. “Working with people from different cultures and backgrounds is more work, but the pay-off is greater,” said Sargent, E’87.
The Women Who Empower: Our World program had particular significance in London. In addition to being held on International Women’s Day, this year marks the 100th anniversary of women in London securing the right to vote, MacGillivray noted.
Nearly 130 people attended the London program, including students, alumni, parents, faculty, staff, and friends. The event included a fireside chat between Northeastern parents Farida Khelfa and Bella Pollen.
Khelfa is a model, actress, and documentary filmmaker. She has made films featuring a diverse array of characters, including fashion designer and creative director Jean Paul Gaultier and shoe designer Christian Louboutin. Pollen is a fashion designer, writer, and journalist who has contributed to a variety of publications, including both British and American Vogue, The Times, the Sunday Telegraph, and the Observer. From 1981 to 1994, she managed her own fashion design company—Arabella Pollen—which was patronized by famous clients such as Princess Diana and singer Marianne Faithfull.
Pollen spoke of the unique challenges women face in their personal and professional lives.
“Equality aside, what we fight for, what we march for is the right to fulfill those many different sides of ourselves at a time of our choosing,” Pollen said. “It can be scary pushing those boundaries, warming our fingers on the edge of danger. But if we get burnt from time to time, so what? If we mess up and sometimes become the villain of our narrative rather than the hero. Well, that happens too. The struggle to be true to ourselves and loyal to others is what makes us human.”