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Panel Track 2
Lateral Mentors 1:15 pm - 2:00 pm
As women, we tend to downplay our successes. And, we sometimes struggle to ask for help. If we create and maintain a small group of lateral (or peer) mentors with whom we can celebrate our achievements, and rely on for guidance, we can empower each other to achieve our goals. Find like-minded women who are chasing similar aspirations and agree to support one another. Together, discuss how hard you’ve worked and exactly how you accomplished your dreams. You can rely on each other for encouragement and accountability.
Your peers can also contribute invaluable job-related and technical knowledge they gained from their personal experiences. This is the kind of guidance that is not formally covered in the company’s orientation. These lateral mentors can provide you with career advice, teach you about the organization, develop your knowledge, and prepare you for leadership roles. Peer mentors are essential­ not because of their professional titles or status within the company, but because of their expertise and experience. This type of mentor can also provide invaluable insight into the organization’s culture.
We all have questions about our jobs, but we are not always comfortable admitting that lack of knowledge with a supervisor. It is considerably less daunting to seek guidance from a peer mentor versus a traditional mentor. Peer mentors can also contribute emotional support, similar to what individuals might receive from close friends and family members. That support can create mutual personal and professional development, especially when peers work in similar roles.
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Kirsten Gladen

Regional Manager

Catholic Charities of North Louisiana

Kirsten is a transplant to the Twin City area and relocated from her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia in 2011 to join her family in West Monroe. Her father, Ret. Colonel Herbert Sanders, Jr. served as the JROTC instructor for Grambling State University, University of Louisiana Monroe, and Louisiana Tech University. In 2003, she enrolled at Columbus State University, which is 90 miles outside of Atlanta. She studied Professional Writing with a minor in Communications (Public Relations emphasis). 

Upon arriving in Louisiana, she was interested in exploring other career options in the social services field. She applied for and was hired as a Placement Specialist for Goodwill of Northeast Louisiana wherein she assisted persons with mental and physical disabilities secure gainful employment by equipping them with job readiness skills. It was her first job in social services, but it wouldn’t be her last. In her nearly 11-year career in the field, she has furthered her education and experience in Psychology and Applied Behavior Analysis, as well as recently completing a vocational rehabilitation program at University of North Texas in Workplace Inclusion & Sustainability. She has also worked as a Case Manager servicing the state’s top 3% at risk youth by facilitating wraparound services, as a Mental Health Specialist providing Psychosocial Rehabilitation (PSR) and Community Psychiatric Supportive Treatment (CPST) to mentally ill adults and children, a substance abuse instructor providing services to individuals with both mental health diagnoses and substance abuse issues, an ABA Therapist providing therapeutic services to children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), and as a Psychometrist providing clinical assessment for children with ASD. 

She is currently employed at Catholic Charities of North Louisiana as a Regional Manager where she oversees the day-to-day operations of the satellite office's programming within Region 8, which include providing financial literacy training and providing low-income individuals with rent and utility assistance.  Kirsten is also the owner of Hustle & Grow, LLC, a vocational rehabilitation agency that assists individuals with documented disabilities by providing community-based assessments, job readiness skills, and job placement services. Hustle & Grow's sister agency PAIR Supported Employment provides extended follow-along job coaching services and integration into the community for persons with severe disabilities, as well as pre-employment transitional services to high school students in Region 8 to prepare them for the workforce post-graduation.


Kelsea McCrary

Chief Economic & Cultural Development Officer

City of Monroe

Kelsea McCrary is the Chief Economic & Cultural Development Officer for the City of Monroe. Her style of telling Louisiana’s stories elevates the artistic and cultural threads woven throughout each community and ties them deeply into the economic prospects of Louisiana’s cultural richness. Kelsea’s background includes leading the Cultural Districts and Civic Design program for the Louisiana Division of the Arts, creating the Public Policy communications brand at LUMEN Technologies and building out their Employer Brand function. She’s held communications and branding positions in higher education and the private sector that you’ll just have to ask her about – like hawking cookies in a snowstorm and recruiting a stranger from the street to wear a collegiate mascot costume in a video shoot. Kelsea has grown arts organizations, programmed historic buildings, executed cultural events and quality of life initiatives, and led creative place-keeping projects throughout the state of Louisiana for over a decade. Her artistic background ranges from dance, to music, to design and visual art and her economic development areas of expertise focus on foundational aspects of the cultural economy in a community’s ability to thrive. She and her pup Murphy love to run levees and camp in state parks with her nieces, but there’s nowhere she’d rather be than sitting at her grandparents’ dinner table. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Louisiana Monroe and a Masters in Public Administration from Louisiana State University.



Sylver Sharp Malta,LPC-S

Clinical Director

Ascent Health, Inc.

Sylver Malta is the Clinical Director at Ascent Health, Inc., a Non-Profit based in Monroe, Louisiana that provides Wraparound and mental health services. Sylver obtained her Master of Arts Degree in Substance Abuse Counseling from the University of Louisiana at Monroe and her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Louisiana Tech University. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor Supervisor, a National Certified Counselor, a Certified Local Coach through the National Wraparound Implementation Center, and a Certified TCOM Training of Trainer in the Child and Adolescent Needs & Strengths Assessment. She has been working in the Mental Health field for 14 years. Working the last 9 years at Ascent has allowed Sylver to grow into different roles within the organization and grow personally and professionally. She has co-developed local and national trainings including presenting to clinicians from all over the country at the annual meeting of the National Wraparound Implementation Academy. Sylver is passionate about bringing creative, sustainable options to families to keep children with their families and thriving in their community. She developed a training on the effects of trauma on the developing brain.  The focus of the training is to increase understanding among healthcare providers, educators, and community members on interpreting behaviors using a trauma-informed lens.  She has conducted this training over 50 times since October of 2020 to well over 1500 people across the state of Louisiana. She is passionate about changing the way we view and treat mental health in order to help children that would otherwise fall through the cracks. 

Before being at Ascent, she worked in the mental health field at inpatient and outpatient treatment centers providing Substance Abuse Counseling and Trauma informed therapy focusing on individuals struggling with Addiction and Veterans diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. She also has experience working at a Non-Profit providing In-Home Multi-Systemic Therapy with children. This experience has helped her bring additional knowledge to her current role.

Sylver has been a member of the Junior League for the last 9 years, serving as the Co-Chair for Tools & Literacy for Children Committee, and on the Nominating & Placement Committee. She has been a member of Sigma Kappa Sorority for the last 19 years. She is an active member of Forsythe Church of Christ where she volunteers for the children’s ministry. Sylver and her husband, Anthony, live in Monroe, Louisiana together with their two sons, Everette (7), and Slade (3). When she is not working or volunteering her time in the community, she enjoys spending time with her family and friends, traveling, painting, and rooting for the New Orleans Saints.



Dare to Lead
2:15 pm - 3:00 pm
Have you ever observed children playing? While not always the case, little girls tend to play collaboratively and celebrate ways in which they are the same. Meanwhile, little boys play leadership games, focusing on who is the strongest. Boys brag about being named the winner. Conversely, little girls instinctively understand that being called “bossy” by another little girl is not a compliment. Georgetown University’s Dr. Deborah Tannen explains these childhood play patterns significantly impact adult behavior in the workplace as women tend to downplay their achievements and ideas.
Katty Kay and Claire Shipman, author of The Confidence Code, discovered that a significant number of women pursue perfection, which hinders achievement. The authors found that women only applied for promotions when they were sure they met 100 percent of the job requirements. Meanwhile, men sought promotions when they felt sure their skills aligned with 60 percent of the job requirements. 
Working in a male-dominated field can be especially daunting. However, women can practice several tactics to combat imposter syndrome or feelings of inadequacy. Establish weekly check-ins with other females in your organization. This support network will provide an invaluable resource—a sounding board for your ideas and even insecurities. Actively mentor younger females, and if you are starting your career, find a female mentor. When dealing with feelings of inferiority, it’s helpful to remind yourself of your accomplishments. List them on paper and review them whenever you need a reality check. If a project fails, or you miss the mark on an initiative, pause and reflect. Acknowledge what went awry, and practice positive self-talk. This practice will change how you experience future failures.


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Allison Johnson

Attorney & Shareholder

Gold, Weems, Bruser, Sues, & Rundell

Allison Johnson is a shareholder at Gold, Weems, Bruser, Sues & Rundell in Alexandria, Louisiana.  Allison focuses her practice primarily on employment law, representing employers in both litigation and compliance matters.  Allison received her B.A. in Political Science, magna cum laude, in 2009 from Centenary College and her J.D., summa cum laude, in 2014 from Mississippi College School of Law.  In law school, Allison was the Chief Executive Editor of the Mississippi College Law Review and a member of the Moot Court Board.  After law school, Allison clerked for the Honorable Leslie H. Southwick, United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.

Delia M Simpson

Craft Brand Manager

Choice Brands, Inc.

Delia Mary Simpson was born in England, but grew up in Monroe and West Monroe.  Delia moved to Jacksonville, Florida in 2000, where she worked for the home office of Stonewood Restaurant Group, before taking a position with Champion Brands as a Retail Standards Administrator.  It was there that she discovered a passion for craft beer.  

In 2009, Delia moved back to the area to be closer to family.  She began working for Choice Brands, Inc. in early 2010.  Her position grew as the market changed and geared more towards craft beer and specialty beverages.  Delia has been very excited to be a part of the growing craft beer culture in this community. 

Being a part of local events and supporting nonprofits is a big part of what Delia loves about her job.  Working with partners such as The Children’s Coalition, Chennault Aviation Museum, and The Northeast Louisiana Arts Council and being able to assist in their fundraising efforts has been hugely rewarding.  Delia has also served on the board of directors for The Strauss Theater and as a committee member for Downtown River Jam.

When she’s not working, Delia enjoys cooking and sharing recipes on social media and spending time with her two dogs, Jake and Sofia.

Wendi Tostenson, D.P.A.

Vice Chancellor of Education & Student Services 

Louisiana Delta Community College

Wendi Tostenson, D.P.A. is an experienced higher education administrator and powerful student advocate focused on removing barriers and creating pathways to success.  She possesses over fifteen years of experience in leading, developing, implementing, and assessing educational programs in higher education and corporate training.  Dr. Tostenson currently serves as the Vice Chancellor of Education and Student Services at Louisiana Delta Community College where she is responsible for the institution’s academic, adult education, and workforce and economic development programs, including planning, implementation, and assessments of the workforce curriculum aligned with industry needs. Her division also oversees student services, grants, and the library.  Prior to moving into the role of Vice Chancellor, Wendi served as the Executive Director of Workforce Development and her team was responsible for over 7500 training events each year with a $3.5 million budget.  

Since joining Louisiana Delta Community College in 2019, she has developed multiple new non-degree certificate programs to serve the demands of workforce development within healthcare, manufacturing, utilities, and construction sectors.  The partnership with Workforce Development Board 81 and Ochsner trains students as Certified Clinical Medical Assistants and serves as a pathway for students to increase their long-term career opportunities.  A partnership with Workforce Development Board 83, Northeast Louisiana Co-Op, and LDCC Workforce creates on-the job training for new linemen in Winnsboro and Bastrop.  Most recently, the gas technician program and utilities program were developed in partnership with Louisiana Energy Workforce Consortium where she serves as a member of the education committee.  

Under her leadership, Louisiana Delta Community College ranks #1 with LCTCS in the Reboot Your Career Initiative which trained over 750 students in high demand, high wage credentials in 2020-2021 and ranks #1 with LCTCS for total training events and #2 in Industry Based Credential trainings.  These training programs create economic growth and stability for the region and provide long-term career opportunities for students.  Over the last two years, Wendi worked with the Grants division to secure funding for a $500,000 USDA Rural Distance Learning Grant providing distance learning options for the rural campuses, a $215,000 Cyber Threat Analyst Grant which generates high wage, high demand jobs for our rural regions, and a $30,000 e-learning grant which extends healthcare and welding opportunities in a non-traditional platform. 

Currently, Wendi serves as the secretary for LCTCS workforce functional group, chair for Louisiana MEP, co-chair for the industry-based credential program assessment with LCTCS, and the Banner transition team for LCTCS.  She also serves on the Monroe Chamber of Commerce board, NOVA board, and Louisiana energy workforce consortium education committee board. She is a recent graduate of the Certified Workforce Development program hosted by LCTCS and a graduate of Leadership Ouachita and Leadership Colquitt.  Previously, Dr. Tostenson served on the Southwest Georgia Workforce Development Board for ten years, the Colquitt Chamber of Commerce for seven years, and she served as the chair for Education and Workforce with Colquitt County.  Dr. Tostenson also served as the Colquitt County high school/college pathway chair for three years with the Colquitt County Board of Education.

Prior to joining the LDCC family, she served multiple positions with Southern Regional Technical College including Director of Career Services, Director of Financial Aid, Director of Student Services, and Registrar.  During her time with SRTC, she created articulation agreements with the University of Georgia and Thomas University, strategies to increase retention and graduation rates, and data analysis programs to reduce receivables. She has served as the strategic planning chair, graduation, and retention chair, and as the SACSCOC student affairs liaison. Wendi has been an instructor for Political Science and Marketing for over a decade and continues to be a passionate online teacher. She earned her B.A. in psychology from the University of Georgia, a master’s in business administration from the University of West Georgia and a doctoral degree in Public Administration with a concentration in Public Policy from Valdosta State University.  Dr. Tostenson is a champion for students and recognizes that it is the responsibility of higher education to create pathways to success through strategic planning, intentional focus, and continued program accountability.  Her work in education began as a stay-at-home mom and that passion has continued throughout her career.  She and Kyle have three amazing children, Lyle (23), Mary Logan (22), and Lucas (20) and four very well-fed fur babies.



 How to Start Making Money Moves as a Female Entrepreneur or Business Owner 3:15 pm - 4:00 pm
Define your entrepreneurial dream. Why are you passionate about your business idea? What services or products do you sell, and who is your target audience? What differentiates you from your competitors? What impact are you hoping to have and on whom? When you can answer those questions, you will have your company’s mission statement. Do you have a vision statement? The purpose of your vision statement is to motivate. Imagine that five years from now, your business is experiencing enormous success. What do you see? Is it a vision that inspires you?
Budget, budget, budget. Consult with a professional accountant, preferably someone who has experience with start-ups. Costs, especially seemingly small ones, amass quickly. Instead of immediately hiring an established marketing professional, consider hiring an intern (with references) from your local university. Minimize your fixed costs. While it may be tempting to lease an upscale office space in a high-traffic area, your funds will suffer. Did you know Louisiana offers low-cost office space options? Or, you may be able to work from home. A new computer would be great, but can you use your current one for now? A financially lean operation will allow you to invest in future growth opportunities.
Understand the value of your time. It can be beneficial to calculate your "hourly rate" based on the value of your skills and the average income you generate in one hour. If your hourly rate is $75, hiring a marketing assistant for $45 per hour is logical. While she streamlines your social media presence, you can focus on efforts that create a higher Return on Investment (ROI), such as identifying new clients.  
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Ashley Ambrew


THLT Realty

Ashley Ambrew is a passionate realtor who values the trust that clients place in her and strives daily to ensure every individual happily and legally owns a home where they can make special memories. It sparks a personal drive that obligates her whenever she sees people struggling with home buying and selling. Ashley believes that with the right knowledge, everyone has the ability to shift from being a tenant to a homeowner. In order to exceed the client’s expectations, she will go the extra mile to located the perfect property that suits the needs of the client and negotiates the best deal at the closing table. As a member of The National Association of Realtors and Northeast Louisiana Association of Realtors, she is exposed to the latest local market trends, technology, and connections that the client will greatly benefit from.

Ashley started her career as a Program Director for the YMCA of Northeast LA after which she ventured into hospice marketing and business development. These experiences equipped her with communication, customer service, and entrepreneurial skills that are contributing to her success as a realtor. As the owner of Lola’s Breakfast and Brunch Food Truck, Ashley has been natured into a patient, keen and determined agent with the proven ability to understand clients’ needs in detail, multitask and work under pressure. With the expertise she has gained in digital marketing and sales after 10 plus years of extensive training, she is able to reach a wider market of buyers and sellers through targeted marketing solutions for every property. It’s not all about business. Ashley’s aim is to make an impact on society by improving the quality of life for everyone who works with her. She is armed with ambition, loyalty, integrity, and professionalism to ensure clients enjoy high-end real estate services through a stress-free process. 

A proud mother of 2 and a wife, when Ashley is not holding an open house or searching for the perfect property for her clients, you will find her traveling or spending time with her family and friends. She prides in giving back to the community and serve as a member of the Junior League of Monroe. 

Jodee Bruyninckx

Attorney & Clinic Administrator

Bruyninckx Medical Clinic

Jodee N. Bruyninckx is an attorney, homeschool mama to her 4 children, Clinic Administrator of Bruyninckx Medical Clinic and Founder of Dark Horse Strategies, a political consulting firm. Jodee was born and raised in Monroe, graduating from Ouachita Christian School, Louisiana State University - Baton Rouge and Tulane Law School in New Orleans. 

After passing the Louisiana Bar Exam in 2004, Jodee moved to Washington, D.C. to serve as Legislative Counsel to Congressman Rodney Alexander (R-LA05). In 2007, she transitioned back to Louisiana to serve as Co-Director of Fundraising for Bobby Jindal’s successful 2007 bid for Governor. After serving a year as senior policy advisor for Governor Jindal, Jodee moved to Shreveport to found the Haynesville Shale Branch of the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, where she served as Director for 4 years. In that role, she coordinated the energy companies drilling the highly productive shale gas resources and worked with local governments and the Department of Natural Resources in setting guidelines for the new hydraulic fracturing process. 

In 2012, Jodee settled back in her hometown of Monroe with her husband, Dr. Kyle Bruyninckx. Here, she started working in her family business, the Joe Gear Companies, with her father and two brothers. In 2014, she returned to her political roots serving as Finance Director and General Consultant for Dr. Ralph Abraham for Congress. As founder of Dark Horse Strategies, she has served the campaigns of Dr. Ralph Abraham, Luke Letlow and Julia Letlow. 

While continuing her presence in the political realm, Jodee and husband Kyle launched Bruyninckx Medical Clinic in Rayville, LA in March 2021. Serving as Clinic Administrator has been an exciting new endeavor and a chance to partner with her husband in business. 

Kyle and Jodee live in Monroe and have four children - Joe, Mary Rose, Becca and Sam. They are members of Covenant Presbyterian Church. 

AIsha Jonson

Operations Supervisor

JP Morgan Chase 

AIsha Jonson was born and raised in Rayville, La. She has been married to husband Rev. Dr. A.B.Davis Johnson,Sr for 19 years this year and are the proud parents of Kamari(19) and Micah(14). She is an entrepreneur, small business owner of Kingdom Declaration Faithwear Bling N More T-shirt Company, Operations Supervisor at JPMorgan Chase, and a Playwright. She is currently continuing her education earning a B.S. in Business with a Human Resource Management Certificate as an associates degree wasn’t enough.

Aisha enjoys spending time with family, singing, reading, motivating and leading others. Her family attends Rose of Sharon B.C. where her husband is the pastor. As a pastors wife Aisha sees her primary role as a servant of God. She leads the Liturgical Dance Ministry for kids and adults, works with the youth, leads the drama team, and teaches Sunday School. She enjoys giving back to the community.  She often says you must have servitude to lead because true leadership is servanthood.