By Abigail Goldring, Media Relations Staff
In 2015, Denise Berger noticed something was missing at the Port Authority.
Berger, Chief of Operations for the Engineering Department, wanted to recognize the exceptional work women were performing at the Port Authority, and push for more opportunities for advancement and influence within the organization.
“I wanted to celebrate the Port Authority’s women,” she said. “Originally, I was just going to create the first women’s day panel for Engineering, but someone suggested doing it Port Authority-wide and launching it on March 8.”
That idea, developed in collaboration with Berger’s Engineering Department colleague Cynthia Lindner, morphed into an annual panel discussion hosted by the Port Authority Women’s Council to mark International Women’s Day, March 8, at the agency’s World Trade Center headquarters.
Since 2016, the first Women’s International Day at the Port Authority, Berger has looked for panel diversity to reflect the contributions of women, “from someone driving a bus in operations to an assistant director. They all have a story to tell and they all have a story about their career and some inspiration to share with us.”
The concept has been a big success, and a huge draw.
Earlier today, nearly 200 women (and men) gathered to hear the career journeys of five prominent Port Authority women: Treasurer Cheryl Yetka; Christine Weydig, Director of the Office of Environmental & Energy Programs; Mercedes Guzman, Executive Coordinator in the Executive Director’s Office; Portia Henry, Program Manager in Major Capital Projects/World Trade Center Construction, and Joy Chiu, PATH Assistant Superintendent of Ways & Structures.
The panelists embodied a wide range of professional and personal experiences. Weydig spent time working at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad in 2006-2007 – a stressful time under the best of circumstances. She was also the only woman at a meeting on rebuilding infrastructure and energy sources.
“I learned that you give it your all and hope for the best,” she said. “Not executing is not an option. I was in the room for a reason, and I have to be brave enough to speak up.”
Yetka has also learned to speak up during her professional journey, advising audience members to be contributors, not just listeners. Don’t be afraid to be a decision-maker and look for fresh ideas to advance the agency’s mission, she added.
Henry spoke of the importance of aligning herself with the right people at the agency, from whom she could learn and advocate on her behalf.
Chiu’s advice? Be a sponge. Absorb everything you see and hear, and listen and rely on your team for support and guidance.
For Guzman, the challenge lies in achieving a real work-life balance. “I don’t have the option to fall back. I have to give this job 100 percent,” she said. “And having three children, ages 13, 6 and 2, at different stages of their life is how I learned to multi-task.”
In comments before the panel discussion, Port Authority Executive Director Rick Cotton noted that 25 percent of the agency workforce overall are women, and 31 percent of Port Authority leadership positions are held by women – progress, he noted, but still room for improvement.
“Diversity and inclusion is something we continue to look at,” he told the group, citing the Port Authority’s ongoing efforts to diversify the agency by finding and developing new talent.