First Successful Business Women Awards brings attention to women’s influence

Her Heartbeat honors 13 women who have made significant impact in areas like education, social services, technology, health care and more.

Thirteen Central New York businesswomen received awards for their leadership examples and services to the community at the Successful Business Women Awards. The event, produced by BizEventz, took place on Thursday, Sept. 24, at the Oncenter, 800 S. State St., in downtown Syracuse. 

Presented by Her Heartbeat, the new event attracted several female entrepreneurs as well as their colleagues, family members and supporters. “It’s been a dream of mine to honor women in the Central New York community,” said Leisha Tedford Doherty, the founder and president of Her Heartbeat. 

Photo: Natalie Camou
Leisha Tedford Doherty hugs attendees of her first major event produced by Her Heartbeat.

During the process of selecting the awards recipients, a six-person awards committee, which included Tedford Doherty and two men, considered hundreds of nominees spanning many different industries. The 13 recipients stood out from the rest of the pack for a specific reason. “They go above and beyond just being successful businesswomen,” Tedford Doherty said.

Rachel Polansky, a reporter from NewsChannel 9, served as mistress of ceremonies delivered the opening remarks. “Central New York is filled with talented and successful women and today, it’s all about girl power,” she said to the almost entirely female audience. 

Melanie Littlejohn, an executive at National Grid for the Central New York region, followed with a moving keynote address. In her address, she used the story of two little girls named Ryan and Hazel teaching several adults how to dance the “Nae Nae” to spread a message of fearlessness, purpose and female self-awareness. “Get to know your soul,” Littlejohn said. “Dance your dance. Sing your song.” At the end of her address, the audience gave her a standing ovation.

The awards recipients included Bea Gonzalez, the dean of University College at Syracuse University, who received the Multicultural Diversity Achievement award.  Gonzalez’s work as dean, a position she has held for the past eight years, grants the community greater accessibility to the resources available at Syracuse University.  “People recognize the energy and effort that I’ve put into making this community as inclusive as possible,” Gonzalez said. 

Karen Bull, the manager of online programs and services at University College, attended the event out of support for Bea Gonzalez and the other 12 awards recipients.  “She’s so open and caring about the campus community and the community at large,” Bull said about Gonzalez.

Fanny Villarreal, the executive director of the YWCA of Syracuse and Onondaga County, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.  For Villarreal, a married mother of two, this kind of awards ceremony sends a message to both men and women from all walks of life. “This is a way to say to my community there is hope,” Villarreal said. Her work with the YWCA involves empowering women with the tools to become independent and overcome barriers ranging from domestic violence to homelessness. 

Villarreal said that she often brings her husband and her two sons, Carlos, 9, and Brian, 15, to her work-related events.  “It is a good example for them so they can do the same thing,” she said.  All three men attended the ceremony with her.

In a world where more women have become the family breadwinners and more women have started their own businesses, business events focused specifically on the needs of the female gender remain relatively new.  Tedford Doherty already aims to bring the event back next year.  “It will be a yearly event and it will grow,” she said. 

For the 13 awards recipients and the rest of the attendees, the event proved to mean something personal.  Towards the end of the ceremony, Polansky summed up the mood the best.  “What a group of outstanding women!”  


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