The inaugural Lubbock and West Texas Women in Leadership Symposium was hosted Wednesday in the Merket Alumni Center.

This year’s theme was “Women in Leadership: Rising above the Ordinary.”

Adrienne Cozart, vice president of human resources for the University Medical Center Health System and a speaker at the event, advised women to come to events like the symposium to meet other leaders and find ways other than books to improve their leadership qualities.

Five women from the area with experience in business and service organization leadership spoke at the panel on topics ranging from “Being Your Best Advocate” to “Breaking Through to Middle Management.”

The speakers included: Cozart; Irasema Velasquez, chairwoman of the Lubbock Chamber of Commerce; Linda Gaither, a real estate agent for Westmark Realtors; Stephanie Massengale, co-owner and vice president of Advanced Graphix; and Esther Peña, vice president of American State Bank.

During the panel, the speakers answered questions from the audience covering issues relating to women.

Cozart, a leader who pursued building relationships with college students, answered a question about why she thought it was important for community leaders to work with college students.

“They are definitely our future,” she said. “When they come through my door looking for a job, they are naive to what the real world is about, and I’d like to take them under my wing.”

Velasquez said she would like to have her family tree filled with college graduates, and she welcomes the opportunity to give back to the younger generations.

An important topic of discussion for the panel was “women helping women.” Massengale advocated setting up a personal network of mentors who could provide experience and coach an employee to success.

“I just try to share as much experience and knowledge that I have,” Peña said. “Whenever there is a teaching moment, I try to take advantage of that.”

Recalling one interview with a potential employee, Peña told the story of a recent college graduate. The graduate had no working experience apart from a few months of waitressing, but believed she was entitled to a high-paying position at the bank because of her degree.

“You have to get there eventually,” Peña said. “It doesn’t come right away.”

The panelists encouraged college students not to get caught in the weight of school and work.

Cozart advised students to take advantage of the wealth of opportunities available to them while they’re in college.

“So many are missing the mark by having senses of entitlement,” Velasquez said.  “They’re trying to hurry up and start their lives.”

The panelists also gave some final advice on career advancement.

Massengale told attendees to think outside the box and figure out what an employee specifically contributes. Peña counseled that the right perspective did a lot for getting promotions.

“When I say, ‘Smile,’ smile,” Cozart said. “When I say, ‘Hold your head up,’ do it. You never know who is watching you.”                                                                               

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