When Women Lead: Opportunities for Success

CBIA’s annual When Women Lead drew a record crowd of business leaders from around the state.

There are many paths to success, and no one right way to navigate that path.

A panel of business leaders shared the challenges and opportunities that led them to where they are today with a crowd of more than 350 during CBIA’s May 18 When Women Lead conference

KeyBank private client banker Billie Jo McWilliams, who introduced the panel, shared how her experience owning a small business helps her work with others in similar situations. 

“I’m able to combine my experiences as a small business owner with my knowledge and training as a banker to help women like me overcome many of the obstacles I ran across,” she said.

Women’s Business Development Council founder and CEO Fran Pastore moderated the discussion featuring Havenly co-executive director of development Jane Dowd, Miranda Creative founder and chief creative officer Maria Miranda, and Kappa Consulting LLC owner Roni Rodman.

Capitalizing on Opportunities

Pastore highlighted the importance of capitalizing on opportunities. 

“That’s what entrepreneurs do,” she said. “They find a need in their community, they seize it, and they seek to solve it.”

For Rodman, it wasn’t just one opportunity, but a journey of entrepreneurship. 

“I always admired people that had an idea of what they wanted to do,” she said.

When Women Lead panel, Fran Pastore, Jane Dowd, Maria Miranda, Roni Rodman
WBDC CEO Fran Pastore talks with Havenly’s Jane Dowd, Miranda Creative’s Maria Miranda, and Kappa Consulting’s Roni Rodman.

“I feel like it’s almost trying on clothes—like you try in a job to see if it works, and if it doesn’t, you take what you like and you move on to the next thing. And that’s what I continue to do.”

Rodman worked as a teacher and a pharmaceutical rep, before taking time off to raise her children.

She got back into the workforce with a job in retail, then became a medical rep, and owned a MedSpa, before starting Kappa Consulting.

“Every opportunity led to something else,” she said. 

‘Without Fear’

Miranda’s opportunity came in 1988 shortly after graduating from the University of Connecticut and interviewing for a job.

“I realized that if I wanted to work with someone I respected, I needed to work for myself,” she said. 

That realization led her to open her own ad agency that would become Miranda Creative. 

“I was raised to be without fear.”

Miranda Creative’s Maria Miranda

Miranda credits her father, who was a potato chip salesman, for giving her confidence.

“I was raised to be without fear,” she said.

“He taught me not to be afraid of being a salesperson, and being able to represent yourself or to argue for what you need.”

Muscle Memory

Miranda said that identifying opportunities is a muscle memory that you can develop over time. 

“Consider what you’re reading, what organizations you belong to, and build that ability to understand and see and identify the opportunities and then it becomes a bit easier to act on them versus asking yourself, ‘Is this an opportunity? Should I really act on it?’” she said. 

As a nonprofit that empowers female refugees from all over the world with job training and education, Dowd said Havenly’s mission is providing opportunities for others. 

“Helping women find dignified work that honors where they’re coming from.”

Havenly’s Jane Dowd

Nieda Abbas, an Iraqi refugee who was working in a cigarette factory, cofounded the organization. 

“That’s kind of where the nonprofit developed, of helping women like Nieda, who have very strong professional and educational backgrounds and help them find dignified work that honors where they’re coming from,” Dowd said.

Havenly currently operates a cafe in New Haven, but is looking to expand, either with a daycare or a salon. 

“We’re really looking at the opportunities that people are bringing with them to try and help us define how we expand,” Dowd said.

Learning to Pivot

As entrepreneurs and business leaders, the panel spoke about learning to pivot when opportunities arise and not being afraid to make mistakes.

Dowd, who started her career in law before moving into the nonprofit sector, said it’s all about “being adaptable to change positions.”

“I think that trying different things, pivoting into different roles, saying ‘I really don’t like this part. I think I’d be really good at this, even if I haven’t tried it.’”

“I was able to succeed because I wasn’t scared to change and try new things.”


“Evolution is a constant process,” Miranda said. “And it’s okay to say ‘I no longer want to do this. I want to do this and how do I move myself there?’”

“That’s kind of my mantra,” Rodman added. “See what there is and if it works great. If not, you know, learn from your mistakes.”

“Because if you don’t make mistakes, you’re never gonna learn.

“I was able to succeed because I wasn’t scared to change and try new things.”


It’s that understanding that there is nothing to be afraid of that everyone on the panel emphasized. 

“I think in our hearts, we know what our fears are,” said Miranda. 

“And if we own them, then we unpack them and say ultimately, I really have nothing to be afraid of when I really look at it. Then that’s where the strength comes.”

“That is your passion speaking to you.”


And when it comes to capitalizing on opportunities, the panel agreed that it’s important to find what you’re passionate about. 

“If you find yourself spending lots of time watching cooking meals on TikTok, you find your time rearranging your furniture, or if you find yourself doing more time on whatever it may be, pay attention to that because that is your passion speaking to you,” said Miranda.

“You may not really be listening to and to take a step towards that passion,” she said.


It’s also key to have the confidence to know what opportunities are not for you.

“Saying no is important,” Rodman said. “And learning that takes years.”

“I’m at the age where I can appreciate that and have the confidence to do that,” she said.

“If you don’t have capacity, if it doesn’t fit for you—no is a full sentence,” added Dowd.

“Making sure that we’re building time into our day to take care of ourselves and each other.”


One of the lessons the panel shared was to highlight the importance of taking time for yourself. 

“I think that’s one of the biggest challenges of being an entrepreneur and being in business for oneself, is that your foot is always on the gas,” said Pastore. 

“I have a plan for self care,” said Miranda. “Because ultimately, I am responsible for my community.”

“If I am not at my creative strength, if I’m not working at my best, what does that mean for the rest of my community?“

Dowd added that it’s important to lean into “the joyful moments at work and not just the hard ones.”

“And then also making sure that we’re building time into our day to just kind of take care of ourselves and each other,” she said.

When Women Lead was produced by CBIA in collaboration with the Women’s Business Development Council and made possible through the generous support of KeyBank, Shipman & Goodwin, Sun Life, and Pullman & Comley LLC.


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