UWF College of Business hosts ninth annual Women in Leadership Conference

The University of West Florida College of Business Executive Mentor Program hosted its ninth annual Women in Leadership Conference on Thursday, March 30, reaching a sold-out crowd of more than 430 students, young professionals and executives in attendance, as well as over 470 who attended online via live stream.

“It has been my great honor to be the founding chair of this conference,” said Dr. Sherry Hartnett, author, professor and founder of the UWF College of Business Executive Mentor Program. “I appreciate the University of West Florida for allowing me to create and lead this powerful life-changing experience for thousands of people over the years.” 

The conference educates the next generation of business leaders destined to positively impact the state of Florida, resonating with experienced professionals and those just beginning their careers. Remarkably successful women, including senior leaders from across the state and nation, shared their stories through inspiring speeches and panels dedicated to both personal inspiration and practical application.

Stephanie White, Florida Adoptions, PLLC founding attorney and UWF Trustee, UWF College of Business dean Richard Fountain and Hartnett welcomed the sold-out crowd. The in-person emcee for the event was Kristie Tobias, consultant, coach and national speaker. Mollye Barrows, journalist, author, and television news contributor served as virtual emcee.

The morning keynote speaker was Siri Lindley, world champion triathlete, Sirius Athletes Inc. owner and head coach, author, speaker and cancer survivor. Lindley’s address, “Winning Big and Living Fearlessly,” focused on how to conquer your fears and master your mindset to create a winning culture and a culture of accountability.

“Decide to be the champion of your own life in every single moment,” Lindley said. “That means loving yourself, advocating for yourself and believing in yourself. Now is the time to step into your power, to claim your magic and to shine your magnificent light in this world.”

The morning panel session was titled “Lessons for Success,” featuring leaders representing four branches of the U.S. military. Nicole Bastian, Lieutenant Colonel, U.S. Marine Corps served as moderator. Panelists included:

  • Sandra Stosz, Vice Admiral, U.S. Coast Guard, Ret.; founder, Sandra L. Stosz, LLC 
  • Ann Burkhardt, Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy, Ret.; executive consultant, Dynamic Integrated Services
  • Leslie Maher, Brigadier General, U.S. Air Force, Ret. 
  • Sandra Donaldson, president and CEO of D-Edge Consulting led a mid-morning fireside chat with Rep. Michelle Salzman.

During lunch, attendees participated in roundtable discussions moderated by Madrina Ciano, entrepreneur and philanthropist, or participated in networking opportunities with other attendees. Roundtable discussion topics included:

  • Balance or integration — the many demands of parenthood, caretaking, career and life
  • Career pivots — managing shifts and milestones in your career progression
  • Prioritizing professional development — how to put you first
  • Courageous conversations in the workplace
  • Advocating for yourself — how to negotiate and advocate for your compensation

The afternoon panel discussion was titled “Keys to Success: Understanding Yourself and Using Your Insights to Build Your Future.” Kara Bloomberg, COO at LandrumHR, moderated. Panelists included:

  • Kara Cardona, executive vice president of Greater Pensacola and contact center operations, Navy Federal Credit Union 
  • Dr. Lusharon Wiley, vice president of corporate culture, Innisfree Hotels
  • Jill Stinemetz, associate vice president of field operations, Cox Communications

Deb Boelkes, leadership expert and award-winning author presented “Heartfelt Leadership: Inspiring Passion and Engagement,” in the afternoon.

The closing keynote, “Three Cs of Leadership,” was delivered by Dr. Fran Mainella, 16th director and first female director of the National Park Service and Clemson University visiting scholar. She shared how courage, communications and connections have been essential components of her professional success.

“If you’re going to succeed, you’ve got to have the courage to take risks, to be bold, and to possibly fail,” Mainella said. “You have to be willing to ask for help and accept help. It’s not a weakness. It’s a strength.”
For more information about the Women in Leadership Conference, visit