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Panel Track 1
Leading Ladies
Girl Interrupted: Mental Health and the Battle of Anxiety in the Workplace 1:15 pm - 2:00 pm

Since the Covid pandemic, America has witnessed a mass exodus of women from the workplace - 2.2 million fewer women in the workplace in October of 2020 as opposed to October of 2019, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Increased responsibilities at home and career-related changes due to the pandemic and its economic impact have radically altered women’s lives.

Added pressures at work and at home take a significant toll on women’s mental health. For working women, these pressures manifest in added stress, increased anxiety, and psychological ramifications, including being paid less money than men for equal  work. The same can be said for women not working outside the home, where domestic responsibilities are quantified by children attending school remotely and the social expectation of women always saying “Yes!” or being vilified for claiming/reserving their time and energy. 

While women experience microaggressions at home and in the workplace, women’s work is often deemed trivial and not treated with the respect afforded to the adage “dignity of work.” While women lead diversity and inclusion efforts, and contend that working in places that prioritize such practices is important, the organization and defense of workplace equity has left women exhausted and mentally depleted. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 in 5 women experienced mental health issues in 2019 - prior to the Covid pandemic. Undiagnosed and untreated mental health concerns can result in depression, anxiety, and increased instances of substance abuse. As the last three years have forced us all to consider the value of work and home life, in addition to mental health concerns, women especially are on the precipice of demanding and instituting radical changes to the societal standards and expectations of women’s work, both at home and in the workplace.

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Dr. Martha Phillips

Nurse Practitioner


Dr. Phillips is a board certified psychiatric mental health nurse practitioner. She is employed as a mental health provider at NEDHSA since 2015, as former Director of Clinical Services and currently as a PMHNP. She has been married to Foster Phillips Jr. for the past 32 years and they have 6 children. She is a healthcare provider, nursing educator, business owner, and entrepreneur. She is a two-time graduate of Grambling State University with a BSN in nursing and MSN in nursing education. She is also a two –time graduate of the University of La. at Lafayette with a master’s degree in psychiatric nursing and Doctorate of Nursing Practice. 

Dr. Phillips enjoys spending time with her family, decorating, reading, surfing the Web for new information, vacationing at the beach, and giving advice. She prioritizes her faith, family, and focus on empowering people to strive to live their best lives. She mentors young teens and college students who are interested in pursuing a career in the nursing profession. Dr. Phillips has received numerous accolades, honors, and awards, but reflects her greatest accomplishment is being married to her wonderful husband for the past 32 years. 

Her inspirational quote is “He thought I was worth saving, so He came and rescued me, every day I strive to prove I was worth it”. She describes herself as a masterpiece made of mistakes and precisions, trials and triumphs, rejections and embraces, joys, pains, sorrows and successes. There are no perfect masterpieces.


Sarah Hoffman

director of Development

Food Bank of Northeast LA

Sarah Hoffman has been with the Food Bank of Northeast Louisiana for over seven years, and now serves as their Director of Development. She relocated to the Monroe area from New Orleans in 2011 when she joined the local brokerage of John Rea Realty to lead their marketing efforts. Sarah’s desire to help others eventually led her to move into the non-profit sector. Throughout her career, she has specialized and focused on community engagement, event planning, brand awareness, and social networking. During her time with the Food Bank, Sarah has created and managed several events, including the popular Empty Bowls, Rock & Box, and Do Good Date Night™ events.

In addition to being passionate about hunger relief, Sarah is an active member of the local arts community. She currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council and the Twin City Arts Foundation. Sarah is trained in the Dare to Lead program based on Dr. Brené Brown's research and the Search Inside Yourself program, which focuses on emotional intelligence, mindfulness, and leadership skills. Sarah’s personal journey in recovery from addiction and living with anxiety has also given her the opportunity to help others who are facing similar difficulties and break the stigma surrounding these issues. In her spare time, Sarah enjoys making pottery and outdoor activities like hiking, camping, and rock climbing with her boyfriend Sam and their dog Falkor.

Crystal Fox

CEO & Founder, Registered Dietitian

Healing Nutrition Therapy

I graduated with my Master's in Nutrition and Dietetics from Louisiana Tech University. As an RD, I specialize in working with individuals who struggle with eating disorders, disordered eating, chronic illnesses such as diabetes or anyone wishing to improve their overall relationship with food and their body. I practice from a non-diet approach, the Health At Every Size (HAES), and intuitive eating perspective. Being a recovered clinician, combined with my knowledge and experience of working with eating disorders, helps me treat my clients with compassion and understanding and meet them where they are in their recovery process. I truly believe full recovery is possible for many and it is my goal and mission to bring hope to those who struggle with eating disorders.



Girl Stop Apologizing – What’s Wrong with Being Confident 2:15 pm - 3:00 pm

When walking down the street or in a hallway, women are often the first to step aside to oncoming foot traffic. Women can be heard on the perimeter of any playground apologizing for their kids being kids. They can preface a comment in a board meeting with “I’m sorry, but…” or “Correct me if I’m wrong…”. Women are often conditioned to take up as little space as possible, all while messages of female self-confidence permeate our discourse. 

Do you ever catch yourself apologizing for something that really didn’t need an apology? Are women socially conditioned to apologize, or do women assume minor infractions are deserving of continuous apologies? If women are conditioned to apologize freely, how are those messages presented to young women and girls? When we do see women exhibit assertive personalities free of endless apologies, they are often perceived as rude and/or unaccommodating. It makes us wonder how a woman's self confidence plays into this dialogue. 

We are told that self-confidence comes naturally with age, but children seem to be born with confidence. Studies show that a girl’s self- confidence starts to diminish in middle school, despite girls outperforming boys in elementary school. As women, we are wondering how to manifest self-confidence within ourselves and how to promote self-confidence in others. We hear the saying, “Fake it till you make it,” but one might ask what that looks like and if it even works.






Heather Grant


Functional Designs

Heather Grant is a Monroe native and owner of Functional Designs. She has three children, Griffyn (7), Lake (19) and Hunt (16) and is married to Dr. GG Grant. Her concept for Functional Designs originated from a passion for design and functionality that showcases personal style. After working in the pharmaceutical industry for years Heather sought change that prioritized her love for interiors. As a design consultant she offers a practical approach to home updating and organizing that utilizes existing décor in combination with cost effective purchases to achieve a modern and livable interior that is as functional as it is appealing. If you are considering putting a fresh touch on an existing space or rethinking a room’s purpose Functional Designs can help you transition your everyday environment as well as help with decluttering and organizing home spaces.

Melinda Minniefield


Junior League of Monroe

Melinda Minniefield is the President of The Junior League of Monroe (JLM). The Junior League is an organization of women whose mission is to advance women’s leadership for meaningful community impact through volunteer action, collaboration, and training. The Junior League of Monroe provides a venue for women to move beyond societal limitations, obtain training and skills to address pressing social issues impacting women and children in Northeast Louisiana.

 Melinda is an analytical thinker and problem solver passionate about developing the potential of women. As President, Melinda leads all facets of JLM serving as the face of the organization, advocating in both the public and private sectors to further The Junior League of Monroe’s community outreach initiatives. Prior to becoming the President of JLM, Melinda served as President-Elect, Planning and Research VP, Technology Committee Chair, Nominating and Placement Committee Member, and Done in a Day Committee Member. Melinda has also served on the Junior League of Monroe's Board of Directors since 2020. In 2020, Melinda received the Volunteer of the Year Award. This distinction is awarded annually to a member who demonstrates a strong commitment to our community and organization. 

Melinda delivers a high standard of excellence within her personal and professional life. She continuously acts with integrity and pride while nurturing empathy and intentionally in everything she does. Melinda is a true pacesetter for all women who know her.


Diane Tabulog

Managing Director of Technology Talent & Client Solutions


Diane Tabulog is the Managing Director of Technology Talent & Client Solutions at Vaco, a global recruiting and talent solutions firm where she has worked for more than 16 years, building a career from Associate Recruiter to executive leadership. Prior to joining Vaco, Diane specialized in Information Technology working as a database developer, project manager and business analyst. Originally from Memphis, TN, Diane relocated to Monroe, LA in 2016 when she joined 2 other partners to form a recruiting startup, 1Link Technology.  After 18 months, she returned to Vaco and created a satellite location in Monroe to invest in expanding the tech corridor in Northern Louisiana.

Diane is passionate about 3 things - technology, workforce development and empowering women. She serves her community in many ways including leader of NELATEK, member of Monroe Chamber of Commerce Technology Council, Monroe Chamber of Commerce Ambassador, graduate of Leadership Ouachita Class of 2021, an active member of NLEP, business partner of Techby20, an active NELASHRM member, Technology Chair of the Junior League of Monroe, and a host of other varied community organizations. Diane is a sought-after speaker and writer who offers expert thoughts on workforce development, DEI advocacy and building tech communities. Diane attended Christian Brothers University in Memphis, TN and obtained IT certifications (MCP, ITIL, and A+), recruiting certifications (ASA CSP, AIRS ACIR) and was recently accepted into the McKinsey Executive Leadership Academy. She is a proud wife of 27 years and mother to 3 children and 2 grandchildren.



The Power of No 3:15 pm - 4:00 pm

Women are consistently praised for doing it all- grinding themselves to the bone in the service of others. And it’s not just encouraged in many cases, but expected. In a world that moves a million miles per hour, women find themselves performing as if they are hamsters on a wheel, sprinting to a destination unknown and rarely realized. Our society glorifies busyness and criticizes rest and relaxation. As a result, women suffer from overcommitting - spreading themselves so thin that living morphs into mere survival. 

Do you find yourself overcommitting when it comes to familial responsibilities, work commitments, community projects, or social events? Women are conditioned to be agreeable and well-liked, which may seem like a natural human instinct. But studies consistently show that one’s inclination to acquiesce, to make room or time when there is none, and to avoid disappointing others can negatively influence women’s ability to focus on what matters most in their lives. Are you a people-pleaser? Are you lauded with comments about selflessness? Selflessness, by definition, denotes an absence of self, not exactly a worthy goal. How do we make room for ourselves and our desires and maintain social connections? How can we become okay with letting people down? 

Society expects women to bear the grunt work, to be in constant motion to make the world a better environment for everyone else. When women dare to say “No,” particularly without a bevy of excuses, society often condemns that response, making it less likely that other women will follow suit. Speaking up for ourselves, prioritizing our needs and desires, means often sidelining the needs and wants of others. The gender bias associated with saying “No” maintains the status quo of limited use by women. Additionally, we need to discuss when and how to say “Yes.”




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Ashley Hubenthal


John Rea Realty

Ashley Hubenthal is a realtor with John Rea Realty, serving as a 318 enthusiast in everything that she does. She enjoys not only helping people find homes in our community, but sharing her passion with the community and believes our area has the best to offer, from the landscape to the locals, and everything in between. Born and raised in Monroe, she have a passion for this community and has created local events to support and promote the area. A self dubbed “serial volunteer,” Ashley has worked with numerous local non-profits, as well as created and founded the Bayou Desiard Dragon Boat Festival, the Downtown Pub Crawl and The Cinderella Project of Monroe.

Prior to becoming a realtor, Ashley worked at BayouLife Magazine, where she grew as an Account Executive to the General Manager. She worked with a variety of clients, many of which were local business owners, helping them create concepts to market their business to the community. Ashley has nearly two decades in marketing, sales, public relations and communications, and uses these on a daily basis.

Ashley received her Bachelor’s Degree from Louisiana State University and a Master’s Degree in Hotel, Restaurant and Tourism from the University of New Orleans. She resides in Monroe with her husband, Andrew and little boy, Cully. She is an active member of First Monroe Church, where she serves on the Children’s Committee and assists with community outreach. She is a member of the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council and sustaining member of the Junior League of Monroe. In 2022, she received the Lisa Miller Distinguished Leader Award and has been recognized as a Top 20 under 40 Young Professional by the Monroe Chamber of Commerce. 


Hannah Cavendar

Hannah is a LA Tech graduate and completed  her Veterinary Doctorate in 2010 at LSU.

She has had a career with local Vet clinics as well as adventuring out into "travel vet" work. 

Her hobbies include all things outdoor, reading,  supporting local events and her animals. 



Kimberly Essex

Special Projects Coordinator & Executive Assistant to the COO

City of Monroe

Kimberly Essex was born in Shreveport, Louisiana and raised in Monroe. She attended Ouachita Parish High School where she cheered on the Lions until graduating in 2000.

Kimberly then attended THE Grambling State University where she continued her cheering career. She graduated in 2005 with her Bachelor’s of Science in Business Management.

She loves her community so much and is always trying to contribute and give back to the town she grew up in; she considers herself one of Monroe’s biggest cheerleaders!

Kimberly now works as Special Projects Coordinator and Executive Assistant to Chief Operating Officer for the City of Monroe.

When she’s not working, Kimberly enjoys spending time with her wife Emily, their fur babies Roxy and Evie, and her tribe of close friends that she considers family.