Network for female finance professionals launches

As she rose in her career on the way to becoming chief financial officer of the Johns Hopkins Home Care Group, Vicki Semanie didn't find much professional guidance that was relevant to her as a woman in finance. "There wasn't always a lot of support and mentoring, coming up through the ranks," she says. Most of the support she did find "came from female professionals who were peers."

Those ideas were in the back of Semanie's mind as she brainstormed last year with some female colleagues at Johns Hopkins about creating a new networking group. After a few months of planning, that group, the Female Finance Professionals Network, will officially be up and running this week.

The network—open to anyone working in financial roles across Johns Hopkins University and Health System—is starting off with a breakfast meetup from 7:30 to 9 a.m. on Thursday, Jan. 28, in Johns Hopkins at Keswick, rooms A and B. For the future, there are ideas for lectures and educational events, networking and social gatherings, and possibly a virtual book club.

It was a conversation about a book, in fact, that helped inspire the network's birth. A group of women who participated last year in the Johns Hopkins Medicine Finance Mentoring Program, including Semanie, got to talking about the resonating impact of Sheryl Sandberg's book Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead.

Semanie, the only female CFO in the Johns Hopkins Health System, had a lot to say about the book that she says "spurred me to think more about how I, as a leader in finance and as a female, might be able to help others."

There were other conversations, too, among the women, who candidly shared both personal and professional experiences. Stella Liang, a young project administrator for the Financial Analysis Unit at Johns Hopkins Medicine, found these exchanges with her more-seasoned colleagues particularly valuable. "At that time, I was looking for female mentors to share perspectives," she says.

That mentorship program was ending its cycle for the year, but "we didn't want the relationship to stop there," Liang says. So the women put their heads together and formed a steering committee to build the framework for a new network geared specifically toward women in finance.

To help inform them, the committee members this fall took part in a relevant local event: the Women in Leadership session held by the Maryland chapter of the Healthcare Financial Management Association. "From that event, we got pumped," Liang says. "We knew we should really do this at Hopkins, to create this women-talking-to-women space."

Though the group expects input from its new members to help map out its future, a few events are already lined up for spring. On March 23, Ann-Michele Gundlach, an adjunct assistant professor of health policy and management at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, will drop in for a talk. And sometime in April, there will be a networking event modeled after speed dating, with quickly rotating one-on-one conversations among members.

Semanie says that naming and honoring a Female Finance Professional of the Year is also a goal. "One of the things we'd like to do is recognize women who have made a difference," she says.

The network also hopes to see input from male professionals at Hopkins. "This is an initiative that will benefit both genders," Liang says.

Liang says she believes the new program can naturally fill a void that's present across the institution. "I feel like this is something that's much needed at Hopkins," she says. "I'm kind of surprised that it hasn't been done before."

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