Type to search

Meet 2021’s Power Women of the Main Line and Western Suburbs

Share
Photos by Tessa Marie Images

Our 2021 Power Women honorees—20 in all—are an outspoken bunch. Here’s what each of them had say when we put them on the spot with the same three questions.

By Hobart Rowland and Melissa Jacobs

Click here to learn about Main Line Today‘s Power Women Summit.

Kelly Andress Stephanie Ayanian Marian Baldini Gerianne DiPiano Tara Dugan Rose Fennell Kim Fraites-Dow Katie Hansbro Michelle Histand Dr. Cynelle Kunkle Peggy Leimkuhler Claire Mooney Kizzy Morris C. Virginia O’Hayer Chinwe Onyekere Diana Robertson Deb Ryan Pearl Somboonsong Dr. Monica Taylor Kathleen Wilkinson

power women

(From left) Diana Robertson, Katie Hansbro, Deb Ryan, Rose Fennell and Stephanie Ayanian.

Kelly Andress

Founder and President, SageLife Senior Living

How do you define power?

Power is multifaceted. Power also means having the agency to directly control or significantly influence others in a given context. As business leaders, we must consider and weigh the impact of our decisions in the work environment—and how those decisions impact our associates’ and customers’ home lives, as well.

What was the key turning point in your career?

In my 20s, I made the decision to leave a position because I was out of alignment with the character of the organization. I had a small financial cushion, but it was very stressful. The next day, I got a call from two clients who wanted to continue working with me. They were the first two clients for what came to be my solo consulting firm. Having the courage of my convictions paid off.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

Being in the senior living space, it changed immediately. Where we’ve always been responsible for the lives of our frailer residents, the mandated prohibition of family members from seeing loved ones increased the pressure on us exponentially. The increased emotional support and communication required to ensure our residents, their families and our associates were all in alignment was as onerous and draining as the enhanced PPE and safety-measure requirements. It was a huge relief for us to open our doors so that communication and human contact could resume face to face.

2021 awardees

(From left) Kim Fraites-Dow, Tara Dugan and Claire Mooney.

Stephanie Ayanian

Producer and Director, storyshop LLC

How do you define power?

I define power as having the responsibility to pull together the right people to get a job completed on time, on budget and professionally, with a level of impact that inspires an audience. When we hit an obstacle, we find a solution that makes us stronger. And when we complete the task, everyone who had a hand in its creation is celebrated.

What was the key turning point in your career?

In 2003, I moved to Philadelphia from the Bay Area to pursue an MFA in film and media arts at Temple University. Having three years to focus on my craft and experiment with concepts and techniques laid the foundation for me to get hired at WPSU, Penn State University’s PBS station, as a full-time senior producer and director. At WPSU, I was given the lead opportunity to create feature films and projects for a national audience. These experiences enabled me to start a small production company, where we focus on creating “real people” stories with impact and documentaries for a national audience.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

In March 2020, just as the pandemic was shutting everything down, I was releasing What Will Become of Us, a feature documentary on Armenians in America. I was scheduled to be in cities across the country for on-camera appearances, panel discussions and premieres. It was bittersweet to cancel those travel plans. While I absolutely wanted to celebrate this film and its stories, I also didn’t want to risk my health or the health of my family. As it ends up, our film had large audiences and even earned a number one Nielsen rating when it premiered on PBS in San Diego—a great honor.

Marian Baldini

President and CEO, KenCrest

How do you define power?

To me, power is the influence you have over the behavior of systems, communities and people. You often witness power through methods, consequences, allocations of resources, or execution of authority. But the reality is, everyone possesses that influence. My goal is to always use it for good and moral purposes that give others full regard for the choices they need to make in their life.

What was the key turning point in your career?

I thought the last company I worked for would be where I retired. I was doing good work and creating opportunities for people to shine, but I felt the organization had lost focus. In my role, I was spinning in circles instead of having a clear direction of where to go. Around that same time, I got a call from a recruiter who was helping KenCrest in their CEO search. I thought they’d called me for recommendations on candidates, not realizing they were calling to interview me. I went from a position where I thought being second in command was good to realizing I could be the one leading, inspiring and creating focus.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

I had to find ways to keep mentally solid and emotionally resilient. I created routines and rituals that I didn’t deviate from that really aided in my overall health. I kept to my running schedule—the same time, three times a week. I set goals for two 10-mile races. Instead of gaining the “pandemic 15,” I lost the pandemic 18.

Gerianne DiPiano

Founder and CEO, FemmePharma

How do you define power?

Power is not control. I believe in empowerment. Empowering others is the energy exchange that propels us forward. It’s through collaboration, education and influence, with honesty and integrity, that you create positive change.

What was the key turning point in your career?

We made the decision to collaborate with a multinational, publicly traded pharmaceutical company early in the history of FemmePharma. That collaboration—and ultimately the decision to sell “FemmePharma #1”—was a key turning point for the company, its shareholders and for me personally.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

My life has always been very simple. I keep my priorities in order by focusing on God, family and business. The pandemic reinforced the value of peace, love and selflessness, with daily reminders to keep paying it forward, giving back and being a person for others.

power women

(From left) Dr. Cynelle Kunkle, Kelly Andress, Peggy Leimkuhler and C. Virginia O’Hayer.

Tara Dugan

Founder, worKS

How do you define power?

It’s the ability to inspire others. The only “power” I really have is in my role as a connector. I created worKS to bring artisans and curators together to create a fantastic shopping experience that not only benefits the makers but makes good business sense. By coming together, we all do better. That’s the mission: community, creativity, collaboration. I think that’s the only power worth having.

What was the key turning point in your career?

I opened my first store as a side business, and then it grew large enough to force a choice between my secure job and entrepreneurship. That first store (Scout & Annie) led to the connections that ultimately inspired me to bring other similarly situated people together to create worKS, an artisan-centered retail collective.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

I’ve learned that flexibility is necessary in every aspect of home and work life. Everything is harder and requires twice as much work as before the pandemic. But all you can do is your best.

Rose Fennell

Superintendent, Valley Forge National Historical Park, Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail

How do you define power?

It’s the ability to feed, nurture and ignite others into being the best version of themselves. Power is understanding how to affect change, having the ability the affect that change, and knowing when to affect change.

What was the key turning point in your career?

Getting plucked from obscurity as an extremely content program manager in our headquarters office in Washington, D.C. I was temporarily assigned to be superintendent at Abraham Lincoln’s Home in Springfield, Ill. I went from writing policy to figuring out how to implement it. That was a game changer.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

I moved here from Boston in September 2020, and my family just got here in February of 2021. I only know life here during COVID. As I tell staff, “I’m neither informed nor burdened” by the “before times.” This is all I know.

power women

(From left) Kizzy Morris, Marian Baldini, Michelle Histand and Kathleen Wilkinson.

Kim Fraites-Dow

CEO, Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania

How do you define power?

Power is confidence through knowledge and having the faith to listen, to assist, to act, to delegate, to pause, to learn, to influence, to gather, to separate, to motivate, to grow, to stabilize, to sit in discomfort, to change, to evolve, to step aside, to let go, to be grateful.

What was the key turning point in your career?

I’ve had several inflection points in my life that have led me to where I am today.

There’s the root system of faith and family where I began that continues to anchor me, feed me, prune me, celebrate me and ensure that I feel the warmth of the sun. There was a bold move to New York City. There was a leap of faith to move to Philadelphia. There were great coworkers, mentors, volunteers and friends who became champions. There was a pivot out of classical music. There was a disappointment that pushed me outside my comfort zone. There were more mentors, more tough lessons, more growth opportunities. There were champions—and there are champions.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

There were significant decisions I made through the first 18 months to reassess how I was spending my time, to increase my physical activity, to decrease my intake of comfort foods and wine, to increase the time I spent praying, reflecting, growing, and having fun. Our Girl Scouts of Eastern Pennsylvania community took good care of each other, staying connected weekly through staff meetings, online lunch-and-learns, discussion groups, social meet-ups and more. Our organization became much more knowledgeable about budgets, plans, decision making, interdependencies, accountabilities, etc. I think we’ve all become more comfortable with not knowing what the next normal will be, while also moving forward with purpose and intention today.

Katie Hansbro

CEO, Design Science

How do you define power?

I define power as having the respect and trust to lead a supportive team through both good times and bad, as well as the ability to make positive impacts in the lives of others.

What was the key turning point in your career?

I was a director at Design Science when the company’s first CEO was hired. It quickly became clear to me that this new CEO did not have the work experience and ethic to lead and grow the company. I realized that I was doing C-level work and that I could excel as CEO. I positioned the owners for a COO role and then was quickly awarded the CEO role.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

I’ve refused to give into the pandemic on a professional and personal level. This means working longer hours to overcome the business challenges the pandemic has brought as I also lead my three young children, with the help of my supportive husband, through this without getting bogged down in all its complexity. In summary, when can I sleep again? (Joking … but not really.)

Michelle Histand

Executive Director, M. Night Shyamalan Foundation

How do you define power?

Power is being comfortable with yourself and what you bring to the table, which I believe allows you to advocate for yourself. That’s so important, particularly for women. You have the ability to shape your path. Knowing that—and owning it—is power.

What was the key turning point in your career?

I wasn’t technically eligible to apply [for a position] because of internal policies related to how long I’d been in my current role. But I still sent my resume to the hiring manager, said I’d be available in three months and explained why I was perfect for the job. Getting that role completely changed my path. I’m now an expert in areas I didn’t even know existed.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

In a word, a lot. So much of my work relied on getting people together in a room—and virtual just isn’t the same. The past year and a half has had me reassessing what I want to do with my time. As a result, I’ve made a career change to the nonprofit world, which I’ve always wanted to do. I’m constantly thinking about what’s next.

Dr. Cynelle Kunkle

Medical Director, Female Pelvic Medicine, Crozer Health

How do you define power?

Having the tenacity and courage to pursue your dreams while inspiring others to be their best. It’s a person who believes there’s no limit to their potential.

power women

Pearl Somboonsong (left) and Dr. Monica Taylor.

What was the key turning point in your career?

When I became a mom. It’s amazing how much you can accomplish when you have a single focus. When you’re a parent, single-mindedness is no longer feasible. You’re forced to let your guard down and readjust your priorities. Being a mom has taught me how to look at things from many different perspectives, and how to be a more patient and empathetic physician.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

This experience has reminded me to live with intent and purpose—‚ and never take for granted the precious moments I have with family and loved ones.

Peggy Leimkuhler

COO and Executive Vice President, Firstrust Bank

How do you define power?

I struggle with the word, to be honest, because standalone power is not always a force for good. Power can be misused, as well. My hope, of course, is that “Power Women” use their power for good—to help build the pipeline of young female talent, use their voices to lift and spotlight others, and escalate and amplify the amazing breadth and diversity of approach that characterizes female leadership.

What was the key turning point in your career?

In my early 20s, I worked for a senior vice president who was very supportive of my ideas to improve our business. I was comfortable with taking the associated risks, and what I learned in that time was priceless to my future career—accountability, measured risk-taking, the importance of communication and influence, how leadership can be manifested regardless of age, title or position, the power of a good idea, the criticality of continuous learning, and the fact that there is absolutely no substitute for hard work.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

None of us chose this or would’ve wanted it, but it’s been a most extraordinarily significant, humbling yet astonishing period of time. Many of us learned that we—and our companies—had reservoirs of resilience that were previously unrecognized. We learned to recognize and rejoice in the silver linings that came along with the unprecedented challenges. In many ways, we forged deeper and more personal connections with our work colleagues.

Claire Mooney

President and CEO Tower Health, Brandywine and Jennersville Hospitals

How do you define power?

It’s the cultivation of the right mindset and a clarification of your purpose for power. The ability to have influence and real power is about presence and the energy of knowing your authentic self.

What was the key turning point in your career?

A pivotal turning point was when I was at a crossroads regarding expanding my clinical expertise versus honing my leadership expertise. A colleague reached out to me and heard that I was considering a nurse practitioner program at the University of Pennsylvania. She told me it would be a disservice not to pursue a calling in a leadership position, and that I was displaying the expertise needed to create change and lead people.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

It has really pushed me to be more creative in finding solutions, and to leverage the resources around me. It also reinforced the need to explore networking and the expertise of colleagues.

Kizzy Morris

University Provost and Chief Academic Officer, Cheyney University of Pennsylvania

How do you define power?

Power is the ability to influence and have an impact.

What was the key turning point in your career?

The new provost at one of my former institutions took me to lunch. During that conversation, he shared that he’d observed my work and saw how I interacted with students, faculty and staff. He asked me what I wanted to do with my career. I told him I had a plan to help the departments work better together for our students. At the end of lunch, he asked me to document what we’d discussed and send it to him in two weeks. I emailed him a plan I’d already drafted. I was promoted and placed on track for senior leadership.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

I’m more conscious of making sure everyone is more than OK. I take a longer pause to really check on how my people are doing.

C. Virginia O’Hayer

Clinical Associate Professor and Director, Jefferson Center City Clinic for Behavioral Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior

How do you define power?

I conceptualize power as the privilege to support and elevate both myself and others so we can live our best lives possible. I use dialectical behavior therapy to empower my patients to build a life worth living. With Jefferson Healthcare professionals, I offer the coping skills, tools and space needed to empower them to take care of others effectively while also taking care of themselves. Within my community, I use my voice to amplify the voices of those who often go unheard regarding issues of diversity, inclusion and protecting our children from transmission of COVID.

What was the key turning point in your career?

Undoubtedly my career changed forever in 2019 when the Boomer Esiason Foundation awarded me a million-dollar research grant to conduct a three-year multi-site randomized controlled trial that tested two different talk-therapies for people living with cystic fibrosis. This opportunity allowed me to reach a wide audience of patients, healthcare providers and other researchers. Most recently, this partnership resulted in our launch of the Esiason O’Hayer Institute for Behavioral Medicine, devoted to the development of cutting-edge disease-specific mental health interventions for populations with serious illness and rare disease.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

In every possible way. My whole operation has been fully remote since March 2020. In addition to my usual work, I’ve also made it my mission to provide coping skills and support to Jefferson Healthcare providers throughout the pandemic.

I’m immunocompromised, so our family has had to live very cautiously, which has separated us from much of our community who seem more comfortable with risk, while greatly strengthening our relationships with other families who are similarly COVID-conscious.

Chinwe Onyekere

Director of Equity and Inclusion, HealthSpark Foundation

How do you define power?

I see power in living your authentic life and bringing your whole self to your work. Power means speaking your truth and speaking truth to power, even when it’s difficult.

What was the key turning point in your career?

A key inflection point was during my time at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. While in graduate school, I gained a deeper understanding of the social determinants of health and the impact of structural racism. This understanding solidified my commitment to health equity and justice and has been a driving force in the work that I do today at HealthSpark.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

There’s been a sense of profound urgency to address health inequities that were amplified by COVID-19. I’m committed to taking bold steps that fight against the status quo in how we improve health outcomes for our most marginalized communities. I’m also deeply committed to supporting and learning from the community, as I believe the community has the answers and solutions to solve these complex social issues.

Diana Robertson

President, NAACP Main Line Branch

How do you define power?

Being knowledgable enough about a variety of subject matters and forging important relationships with those in authority so you can influence outcomes on matters important to you. Exuding power means that people from different entities recognize your strengths, your areas of expertise and your ability to remain firm in your beliefs, so others value you as a person of influence who can effect change.

What was the key turning point in your career?

While working for a criminal law firm, the partners acknowledged my ability to extensively research cases and prepare briefs. This led to an opportunity to go to paralegal school. Early on, I realized how much research in a particular legal case can impact the outcome. I worked with an attorney on a criminal case, providing critical assistance. This pivotal moment taught me how valuable my work was—and that attention to detail can make the difference in protecting an individual’s civil rights.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

I’ve been able to spend more quality time with my family. My work as a paralegal has grown even more, and I’ve positioned myself to do more civil rights work and educate others. I believe that the more people know, the more they’re able to make better decisions for themselves and their families. I’ve had the opportunity to help people broaden their thinking and embrace diversity so people of color don’t feel they have to apologize for who they are. I realize more than ever that God is ultimately in control, and real change will only come through the transformation of the mind.

Deb Ryan

District Attorney, Chester County

How do you define power?

Power is the ability to influence others and make an impact. Although women have made enormous strides in assuming influential roles, we still have a long way to go. As district attorney, my goal is always to seek justice and to serve the community with integrity. I’m able to use my influence to ensure that we do the right thing for the right reasons at all times.

What was the key turning point in your career?

As deputy district attorney in charge of the child abuse unit and Children’s Advocacy Center, I learned about leadership and the value of teamwork. By collaborating with many different stakeholders, we were able to ensure that children and their families were provided with all the important referral services, including medical and mental health assistance. We also helped them navigate the criminal justice system.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

Everyone who works in my office is considered an essential worker because, sadly, crime doesn’t take a day off during a pandemic. So, for most of us, nothing changed too dramatically. Although jury trials were on hiatus for several months, prosecutors continued to facilitate plea deals while detectives still investigated crimes and our support staff kept the office running. I’ve always appreciated the people on my team, but I’ve never been prouder than during the pandemic. Their resilience, flexibility and outstanding teamwork showed the best of human nature.

Pearl Somboonsong

Director of Development, WIN Signature Restaurants

How do you define power?

To me, it’s the ability to have influence and make a difference. It’s also the ability to contribute to diversity and share it with the community.

What was the key turning point in your career?

Being able to fully envision, design and open my own restaurant concept, the Blue Elephant, was a pivotal moment personally and professionally. Growing up in the hospitality industry as the daughter of restaurateurs, I’d see how my parents worked on new concepts. So it was very special to be involved in my own project with their support.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

We were so incredibly lucky that the type of food we offer at our restaurants transitioned so well to takeout. The entire team quickly learned that we needed to act fast and be flexible. We streamlined operations and found more efficient ways of doing business, creating experiences through technology.

Dr. Monica Taylor

Vice Chair, Delaware County Council, Associate Professor of Kinesiology, University of the Sciences

How do you define power?

I’ve always believed that your title or position doesn’t define your power. Power to me is the ability to affect change and make an impact. It comes from the relationships you build and the impact you have on your organization.

What was the key turning point in your career?

Serving on the Upper Darby school board was an eye-opening experience that helped me better understand the inequities that existed in our county. Public education is truly the pillar of our society, and the work of our school boards and school administrators is amazing.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

Learning to navigate my roles and responsibilities at council and as a university professor has been trying at times, especially while learning to adapt as a mother of three children. I’ve learned to embrace the pivot, understanding that we can plan but also need to be able to assess and readjust those plans depending on the situation.

Kathleen Wilkinson

President, Pennsylvania Bar Association

How do you define power?

I’m viewed by lawyers and judges as the representative of the legal profession—someone who embodies professionalism and civility. It’s my responsibility to speak on behalf of our over 23,000 members, and I take that duty very seriously.

What was the key turning point in your career?

By working hard and developing business, I became an equity partner at Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker. Through my bar association work, I was able to become the sixth woman chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar in 2013, which was a helpful experience on the road to later being elected to serve as the sixth woman president of the Pennsylvania Bar in 2021.

How has your life changed since the COVID-19 pandemic?

Being able to work remotely during the pandemic has enabled me to work more efficiently. It’s also afforded me more time with family and friends. Within the Pennsylvania Bar, we’ve made effective use of virtual technology for continuing legal education programs, happy hours, networking, board of governors meetings and other events. We’re also presenting in-person programs throughout the Commonwealth while following local and state guidelines. We’ll continue to be creative and use virtual technology and outside venues as much as possible.

Keep a pulse on local food, art, and entertainment content when you join our Main Line Today Newsletter.

Stay up-to-date with our free email newsletter

No thank you