DenX recap: Female execs discuss leadership and what inspired them

DenX Panel 2020
Presented by Berg Hill Greenleaf and Ruscitti

This week’s DenX — BusinessDen’s networking event for women — looked a little different than the usual mixing and mingling we’ve hosted in the past.

Guests sprawled out across the outdoor space at Exdo Event Center in RiNo to listen to four female leaders in Denver discuss their unique personal and professional journeys, trends in their industries, and words of advice for the next generation.

The four panelists were Susana Cordova, superintendent of Denver Public Schools; Vanessa Diaz, senior director of marketing automation at Transamerica; Gretchen Rosenberg, president and CEO of Kentwood Real Estate; and Danielle Shoots, vice president and CFO of The Colorado Trust.

The event’s presenting sponsor was law firm Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti, and Ashley Cawthorn, the firm’s marketing director, moderated the panel discussion.

Cordova started the conversation by opening up about her leadership style in the face of a pandemic and her struggles guiding the city’s largest school district.

“This is a challenging time for everybody with no clarity on what is the right choice,” Cordova said. “I’m frequently looking at options and thinking ‘These all suck.’ So what do you do? Well it’s taught me a couple things and continues to. One is you can’t always make the right decision. You have to make the best decision with what you have, and you can’t wait for all the indication that you need. Another thing it’s taught me is in the middle of incredibly challenging times, it’s important to invest in my own health and wellbeing.”

Business has been booming, meanwhile, for Kentwood Real Estate, with limited supply in the local housing market and consistently rising demand. Rosenberg has worked in the industry for nearly 25 years, and shared a story about why her mom is her mentor and the one who shaped her determination.

“My great grandfather founded this Miss America pageant, which my mother absolutely abhorred,” Rosenberg said. “She said that’s the worst way to judge women; judge them on their merit. So in high school, I wanted to become a cheerleader. … I told my mom, and she snorted and said, ‘Girls don’t stand on the sidelines cheering for boys. They get in the game.’ I knew she was right, so I ran for student council and became the sophomore class president instead.”

Diaz, who emigrated from Bolivia, agreed that the generation of women before her have allowed her to have a voice and feel comfortable taking “a seat at the table.”

“The women in my family were a powerful presence,” Diaz said. “Many of them were entrepreneurs and have built this future to pass down to the next generation. I was fortunate enough to see that, however, it wasn’t so easy. They put in hard work, hours and grit, but didn’t receive the same praise as a man. But I didn’t know that until I was older, so I grew up with the courage that I could conquer anything.”

At 34 years old, Shoots has quickly worked her way up the ladder. Before working for nonprofit The Colorado Trust, she served as VP of finance and business operations for the West Division of Comcast, managing a billion-dollar capital portfolio and a team of 60 employees in seven states. She also had her first child at 16.

“What I reflect on the most is that I wish all moms were treated the way I was,” Shoots said. “Because I was 16, people expected me to be an idiot and I was. People didn’t know what I was doing, and I didn’t. As I was building my career, people celebrated when I got a title or new leadership position because I came from a place where you’re not supposed to do that I guess, and we don’t treat other working moms that way.”

“I recognize there’s privilege that came with that, but I wish all moms got treated the way I did in their careers,” Shoots added. “How do we celebrate them instead of making them feel guilty?”

Be on the lookout for the next installment of DenX later this year. If you have location ideas or are interested in being an event sponsor, please email Samantha Baldwin at Samantha@businessden.com.

Enjoy perusing photos from the night from photographer Alyson McClaran.

And a special thanks to all of our event sponsors:

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