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Shannon Nolan-Arañez, coordinator of student involvement for Student Life and Leadership, is hosting Cal State San Marcos’ first-ever Women’s Leadership Symposium. Courtesy photo
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Cal State San Marcos to host first-ever Women’s Leadership Symposium

SAN MARCOS — In an effort to empower women while offering useful tools to help them in their careers, Cal State San Marcos will host the university’s first-ever Women’s Leadership Symposium on Saturday, Feb. 29.

The day-long event, which features a keynote speech from Florida businesswoman Lakitsia Gaines, will offer students workshops that cover topics such as salary negotiation, mentorship, mindfulness, compassion, leadership styles and advocacy. The event, which is being organized by the Associated Students and staff from Student Life & Leadership and the Gender Equity, is relevant to today’s current events, said Shannon Nolan-Arañez, coordinator of student involvement for Student Life and Leadership and the symposium committee chair.

“This symposium is timely,” Nolan-Arañez said. “Our CSUSM student body is majority female, approximately 60%, so our former Gender Equity Center Director and I thought it would be timely to collaborate on hosting a leadership opportunity to bring intersectional feminism where students can learn about how their individual identities impact their leadership style.”

Students will have the opportunity to attend up to six workshops while also hearing from 14 different people during a “networking lunch.” Gail Cole-Avent, associate vice president of Student Life, Darcy Wright, academic support coordinator in the School of Nursing, and Cal State San Marcos professors Fredi Avalos, Ranjeeta Basu and Kendra Rivera are all expected to participate in the inaugural event.

“Our aim is to give students the opportunity to gain confidence and knowledge to support their professional goals across all professions and life experiences,” said Nolan-Arañez, who has worked at the university for 17 years. “Although more females are in college classrooms, there are less females in C-suite positions. We also see more presidential candidates than before! What does this mean for our future? How do we get there together? These are the things we hope to explore.”

In the U.S. women made up nearly half of the labor force in 2018, but only a third held leadership positions. In fact, there were fewer women in leadership positions than there were men named John in the U.S., according to nonprofit group, Catalyst, which works to strengthen the role of women in business.

White women held more management positions at 32% compared to Latina women at 6%, black women at 3% and Asian women at 2%, Catalyst reported.

Catalyst reported the number of women in leadership positions worldwide is improving with 29% of senior-level leadership roles held by women in 2019. The group said it’s the highest number ever recorded.

The topic of leadership will be tackled at the symposium by Pamela Redela, a professor in Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies. She said she will be addressing the topic of leadership and what it means for women compared to men.

“This is an opportunity to interact in a more intimate environment with students who are interested in honing their leadership skills,” Redela said. “Events like this are important and needed until we as a culture are able to see women as capable of strong leadership.”

Redela joins Gaines as one of the speakers during the event. Gaines operates two State Farm agencies in Florida after graduating from Florida A&M University. She’s donated more than 200 hours of her time to hosting financial literacy programs and more than $50,000 a year to scholarships, according to Cal State San Marcos.

The Women’s Leadership Symposium will take place from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 29 at the USU Ballroom at Cal State San Marcos.

For more information about the Women’s Leadership Symposium or to register for the free event, go to