Tobin Celebrates Women in Entrepreneurship

Local businesswoman speaks in commemoration

Dayra Santana, Contributing writer

This past week was Women Entrepreneurship Week (WEW), a celebration of women entrepreneurs across the U.S. and the rest of the world. Events across college campuses featured female guest speakers to inspire young women and students to create their own businesses.

The emphasis on the importance of women in entrepreneurship stems from statistics discussed in a U.S. Senate report entitled, “Tackling the Gender Gap: What Women Entrepreneurs Need to Thrive.” The obstacles facing businesswomen include unequal access to funding and venture capital, a gender pay gap and a lack of female role models and mentors. These WEW events are geared towards encouraging students to triumph against the odds.

St. John’s held one such event featuring Wendy Lombardo, a businesswoman from Long Island.

The owner of high-end fashion boutique, Reign, Lombardo spoke to the audience about building a business from the ground up. Students were able to discuss their own business goals and ask her for advice.

In the spirit of WEW, Lombardo was open about some of the struggles she faced as a woman at the beginning of her career.

“When I started, I looked young… I found that people didn’t take me as seriously,” Lombardo said. “It was really just about forming that tough skin to be able to be confident in what I knew was right, and have that same type of aura as somebody older or that men have in business. It’s a little bit harder for women because there’s a stigma… where a man can say the same thing a women does and it’s fine, he’s just considered a strong personality.”

No stigma has gotten in the way of Lombardo, who has expanded her original Merrick location three times and has opened a second location in Long Beach.

Jenna Morace, co-owner of the Reign boutique location in Long Beach, was also in attendance. She spoke on the experience of being underestimated as a woman.

“I’m 24, so people always say, ‘you’re in charge?’ and I’m like, ‘yes I am,’” Morace, a recent Hofstra University graduate, said. “I also think it’s important to take women seriously. People see Wendy, and they’re like ‘you’ve done all this?’ It’s really inspiring that she did.”

Sophomore business management student Diana Picarella attended the event. She was interested in hearing firsthand about what it’s like to create and own a business firsthand from a businesswoman.

“To hear from someone in business, someone who’s actually doing it, puts things into perspective,” Picarella said. “And to have it come from a woman is important, because women have to go out there and show that anything’s possible.”

Ingrid Fray, associate professor of management, organized the event. “I think women… they don’t have as much representation in business as men do.” Fray said on the importance of Women Entrepreneurship Week.

Fray teaches entrepreneurship classes at St. John’s that teach students the foundations of what it means to be an entrepreneur. Fray loves seeing student ideas come to life in a classroom setting.

Fray also founded an organization on Long Island called Dress for Success Nassau County, which provides business attire for women seeking employment at a low cost. It was primarily founded by women and currently run by women.

“The most challenging [part] was making the low-income women… believe that they can become an active part of society, just like I am,” Fray said. “The most rewarding for me is helping women believe in themselves and seeing them make the change from welfare to work.”

The University is working to have more guest speakers visit campus to discuss owning a business with aspiring student entrepreneurs.

Being a woman entrepreneur can be incredibly rewarding. Lombardo told the audience how far confidence, passion and determination can take you in the business world.

“The most important thing is to absolutely love your business, and when you do you could be working 100 hours a week and you’re not gonna feel it,” Lombardo said, and she did just that. “I absolutely loved it, and still do. There’s nothing else I’d rather do.”