Women’s Leadership Panel Recap

Employers across the Monterey Bay region are working to create stronger, more diverse organizations, but the struggles women still face when it comes to work-life balance, access to affordable childcare, and advancing in their careers show there’s much work yet to be done.

On March 24, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership hosted “Celebrating Women’s History Month: Today and Tomorrow,” featuring a cross-sector of seven accomplished female leaders who currently serve on MBEP’s Board of Directors. Moderated by MBEP President & CEO Tahra Goraya and incoming MBEP Board Chair UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive, the panel discussion looked at various aspects of female leadership: why it matters from a social and economic standpoint, how role models and mentors influence success, how female leaders strive (and sometimes struggle) to integrate their career and personal lives, and how much we all need to build up support systems that allow women to advance and thrive in the workplace.

“At the end of the day, we just have to be kinder to ourselves,” said Mickiewicz, who finds herself reminding her daughter, who now has an 8-month-old child, to ask for help and that no one really cares if your house is clean. “I think that we just need to be willing to be part of a village, to be flexible as part of that village, but also to just be kind to each other and ourselves, because life is tough but it doesn’t have to be.”

Dominican Hospital President, Nanette Mickiewicz on leaning on your village

Panelists included Katy Castagna, President & CEO, United Way Monterey County; Sandi Eason, Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer, Pacific Valley Bank; Rosa Vivian Fernández, President and CEO, San Benito Health Foundation; Nanette Mickiewicz, M.D., President, Dominican Hospital; Francine Rodd, Executive Director, First 5 Monterey County (F5MC); Krista Snelling, President & CEO, Santa Cruz County Bank; and  Susan True, CEO, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.

Each of those women holds a high-profile leadership role in organizations that are making a difference in the region, and in a compelling discussion, they shared their experiences and perspectives on what it takes to succeed as a leader in today’s business climate.

At MBEP,  nearly half of the board of directors are female, and women make up 75 percent of a team that closely reflects the region’s diversity. Nonetheless, the challenge of creating an equitable and diverse team is an ongoing one, not just for MBEP but for organizations across the region, said Goraya. “MBEP strives to have gender representation and equity to the extent possible. We are constantly learning and evolving as we try to exercise those values and principles.”

It’s those ongoing challenges that make MBEP’s women in leadership conversation — a first-of-its-kind event — so significant, said Larive.

At UCSC, which was recently named the top research university in the nation for racial and gender diversity, “diversifying our leadership at all levels is a campus goal,” said Larive, “because we know that with diversity comes excellence.” 

“We’re committed to using inclusive recruitment best practices, we’ve developed leadership programs for staff and faculty, we’ve focused efforts on creating diverse aptitude tools for all our searches, and that makes a tremendous difference,” said Larive. “Part of meeting the academic needs of our students is ensuring they can see themselves in the leadership, faculty, and staff of our university. It’s another reason why it’s important that we’re having this panel today.”

On the importance of role models, panelists shared deeply personal lessons learned from mothers who stepped up to improve their communities through action and involvement or who taught them about resilience and self-worth in the way they dealt with discrimination and adversity. Some also reflected on the lasting influences of brilliant, tough, and ruthlessly funny bosses and of nurturing mentors who spotted potential and helped them believe in their own capabilities.

Growing up in Puerto Rico, Fernández recalls being surrounded by a family of “amazing women who, through perseverance and positive thinking, moved their families ahead,” she said. “I grew up with the sense that women were powerful, and my mother thought that nothing was impossible and that if you do the right things, good things happen.”

Now, says Fernández, “I learn every day from the young women I come in contact with.”

In every sector represented, the daunting challenges facing women have been compounded exponentially.

“It’s discouraging to say, for someone who’s been in the workplace for 35 years now, that the biggest thing impacting us is balancing career and parenthood,” said Mickiewicz, “and especially in the last two years, COVID has really exacerbated that situation.”

“As employers, as leaders, we need to figure out how we support our employees with that integration… I’m not sure I’ve ever been able to strike that balance …What I have been able to learn over the years is the notion of not having to be perfect and everything not having to be perfect, asking for help, and being willing to say no when there’s too much on your plate. That’s been the hardest lesson, to ask my husband for help, to ask my parents for help. There’s no magic bullet. I think it’s also having this village of women around you to be able to have these conversations and allowing yourself to be vulnerable.”

MBEP President & CEO Tahra Goraya on navigating work-life balance

A disproportionate number of women left their health care jobs or took early retirements at Dominican Hospital because of the stresses of balancing so many demands, she said. The layers of impact run deep: from a staffing issue and the regional economic impact of so many jobs lost at one of the county’s largest employers, but also the challenges it can create for those professionals who may eventually try to reenter the workforce. That invisible casualty — the isolation of the pandemic — means that women have missed out on opportunities to network, build connections, and learn from seasoned mentors, says Mickiewicz, and that disconnect will make it much harder for many of them to move forward.

Child care policy has to be at the forefront of the conversation: Only 19 percent of parents can afford full-time child care with one child, according to a survey by the Central Coast Early Childhood Advocacy Network, and that drops to 10 percent of households with two children, said Rodd. 

“It’s really women that have held so much together for each other and for other families and other employees,” said True, “building coalitions and movements and really working to strengthen our communities, figuratively wrapping their arms around so much.”

To help women move into leadership roles, it’s crucial to create systems that support their advancement and professional growth, from networking and mentoring opportunities to lifting up female colleagues by recognizing their strengths and accomplishments. For Fernandez, that means creating pathways for advancement, even if it means that an employee may leave her organization. “Provide the opportunities,” she said, “and launch them into greatness.”

Those investments in women ultimately strengthen the region as a whole.

“Representation matters because role models are important, but also because diverse voices and perspectives lead to better decisions, to better outcomes, and to an inclusive vision of the future,” said Larive. “That’s true for the future of my university and it’s true for the future of our greater Monterey Bay region.”


Cynthia Larive, Chancellor, University of California, Santa Cruz

Cynthia K. Larive was confirmed as the eleventh Chancellor of University of California Santa Cruz by the UC Board of Regents on May 16, 2019. She began her tenure on July 1, 2019.

A common thread throughout Larive’s career has been her commitment to student success, inclusion and equity. She has led programs for undergraduate research and curricular innovation and has written over two dozen articles on active learning, mentoring and experiential learning. Larive has also been active in encouraging the participation and success of women and others who have been underrepresented in STEM fields, including service as co-PI of an institutional NSF Advance grant. She is a collaborative leader who is committed to the principles of shared governance.

An accomplished bioanalytical chemist, Larive comes to UC Santa Cruz from UC Riverside where she has been on the faculty since 2005 and is currently Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor. As Provost, she is responsible for the academic enterprise, managing large scale initiatives as well as the daily operations of the UC Riverside campus, developing academic and administrative policies, and working closely with the Chancellor, the Academic Senate, and the Deans of UCR’s colleges, schools, and divisions to formulate and realize campus goals. Since 2012, she has served in a variety of administrative roles including Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education, Divisional Dean of Physical Sciences and Mathematics, interim Dean of the College of Natural & Agricultural Sciences, and Chair of the Department of Chemistry.

Before arriving at UCR, Larive was a professor of chemistry at the University of Kansas, where she began what has become a productive and successful research career. She has over 155 publications, has mentored 30 Ph.D and M.S. students, and received funding to support her research from the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Environmental Protection Agency, and a range of foundation and corporate grant makers. Larive is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Chemical Society, serves an Associate Editor for Analytical Chemistry, and has received campus and national awards for her teaching, research and leadership.

Larive is a first-generation college graduate, having earned her Bachelor of Science from South Dakota State University and M.S. from Purdue University, both in chemistry. She is a product of the University of California, having received a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry from UC Riverside in 1992 while raising two young daughters, Erin and Megan with her husband Jim.

Tahra Goraya, President & CEO

Tahra will bring to MBEP strong skills in leadership, management, policy advocacy, and public affairs. She is knowledgeable in diverse issue areas across multiple sectors including nonprofit management, business, and government. Most recently, Tahra was an organizational consultant as well as an executive coach. Previously, Tahra served as the Director for Zero to Three Western Regional Office, a national early childhood public policy and research organization; District Director for California State Senator Carol Liu; National Director for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a national American Muslim civil rights organization in Washington, DC; and Executive Director of Day One in Pasadena, a substance abuse prevention and policy organization. Her familiarity in leveraging strategic relationships, building cross-cultural and cross-sector coalitions, crafting public policy, and organizing multi-faith and grassroots communities helped her to successfully get legislation passed for over a dozen policies.

Tahra is a graduate of the University of California at Irvine with a degree in Biology, has a Masters in Organizational Management from the University of Phoenix, and a Masters in Public Administration from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government with an emphasis in management, leadership, and decision sciences. Notable achievements include recipient of the Barbara Jordan Award for Women’s Leadership from the Harvard Kennedy School Woman and Public Policy Program, Nonprofit Executive Director of the Year by the California State Senate and Assembly, Elected Town Meeting Member in Milton, Founder of Milton Muslim Neighbors, Advisor to Latino Muslim Unity, and Advisory Board Member for Center for Women in Politics and Public Policy at UMass Boston. A native of California, Tahra is a proud daughter of Pakistani Punjabi Muslim immigrant parents.

As the eldest of five children, she learned early the importance of hard work and the struggles of immigrant families, especially in farming communities. Tahra’s passion for health equity and
economic justice was shaped by her experience growing up in Bakersfield, and through her agronomist father, she grew to appreciate the tremendous agricultural contributions of Kern County. Tahra and her family are excited and eager to return to California after five years in Massachusetts.

“I am elated to lead MBEP during the next stage of its development and growth. MBEP’s triple bottom line approach centered around equity, environment, and economic vitality resonates strongly with who I am as an individual and as a professional,” said Tahra. “I cannot wait to partner with various stakeholders to build upon the great legacy of the founders to improve the quality of life and economic health of the region.”


Katy Castagna, President & CEO, United Way Monterey County
Katy has a Bachelor’s degree from Brown University with concentrations in Anthropology and Latin American Studies, and an MBA with an emphasis in nonprofit management from The Anderson School of Management at UCLA. She has over 35 years of experience working and volunteering in public and nonprofit organizations in Southern California and Monterey County. She has been with United Way Monterey County since 2004. During that time she has worked in community impact, developing services such as 2-1-1, The Volunteer Center, and the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance free tax prep service. She has also overseen resource development and been responsible for the major donors and grants, as well as general operations. Since 2015 she has served as President and CEO of United Way Monterey County and is leading the organization’s focus on financial stability for families through access to affordable quality child care, housing, and financial literacy.

Katy’s current community involvement includes the Rotary Club of Monterey (Board of Directors), the CSUMB Business Advisory Council (Member), the American Cetacean Society Monterey Bay Chapter (Treasurer). Katy resides with her husband Gary Ray in Monterey, where they raised their two children.

Sandi Eason, Executive Vice President/Chief Operating Officer Pacific Valley Bank

Sandi Eason joined Pacific Valley Bank in late 2020. Previously, Sandi spent 29 years with Wells Fargo before leaving to take the position of President and CEO at Coast Commercial Bank. She returned to Wells Fargo 8 years later in 2013, completing 35 years of service in total.

As a fourth generation resident of the Monterey Peninsula, she has a lifelong passion and connection with the Central Coast of California. She currently serves on the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, Executive Board of United Way Monterey County, Founding Board member of the Living Breath Foundation/Cystic Fibrosis, IMPOWER, a Monterey County organization supporting women’s initiatives and scholarships and a recent former member of the Board of Councilors, Division of Social Sciences for UC Santa Cruz.

Rosa Vivian Fernández, President and CEO, San Benito Health Foundation

Rosa Vivian Fernandez is the President and Chief Executive Officer of San Benito Health Foundation (SBHF), a non-profit community health care organization serving the San Benito County for over 40 years. She has been the President and CEO for thirteen years. Under her direction, SBHF serves more than 10,000 individuals annually at the main clinic in Hollister and the new satellite mobile unit, providing preventative and comprehensive medical, dental, vision, mental health, and health education services. In addition, Ms. Fernandez oversees a WIC program serving 2,100 women and children.

Ms. Fernandez has extensive experience in executive management, strategic program planning, policy development, finance, and operational management in the public sector. Under her direction, SBHF was one of the first community health centers to implement electronic health records in San Benito County as well as connect the dental and medical patient chart.

Ms. Fernandez is well respected nationally for her commitment to excellence, as well as for her business acumen. She proactively addresses social health and education inequities through various organized efforts locally and statewide.

In addition to a Master’s degree in Public Health from University of California, Berkeley, Ms. Fernandez holds three certificates in health administration from John’s Hopkins University, University of Southern California Sierra Health Foundation, and UCLA Johnson & Johnson. She is fluent in Spanish.

Nanette Mickiewicz, M.D., President, Dominican Hospital

Nanette Mickiewicz, M.D., was named President of Dominican Hospital in November 2006.  She has been a member of the medical staff at the hospital for 21 years, with specialties in infectious diseases and internal medicine. Nan also served as Chief Medical Officer, and has been a member of the executive leadership team for the past 14 years, while maintaining a medical practice in infectious diseases.

Dr. Mickiewicz earned her undergraduate degree in biology from St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, and went on to study medicine at Chicago Medical School.  She fulfilled her residency at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, where she also served as Chief Resident, and completed a fellowship in infectious diseases prior to beginning her practice in Santa Cruz. Among her many interests and responsibilities, Nan also sits on a number of committees including the Executive Committee of the Health Improvement Partnership Council, whose purpose is to identify and resolve important health care issues in Santa Cruz County and to promote and improve health care for the uninsured, underinsured, and publicly insured.  Dr. Mickiewicz is also a Board member of the Hospital Council of Northern and Central California, a member of the Santa Cruz Business Council, Women in Philanthropy, and the Infectious Diseases Society of America.  In 2011, Dr. Mickiewicz accepted the role of co-chair of the United Way of Santa Cruz County campaign.  In 2012, Becker’s Hospital Review named Dr. Mickiewicz among the 100 Physician Leaders of Hospitals and Health Systems.

Nan is married to Michael Ellison, MD, a specialist in pulmonary medicine and critical care at Dominican Hospital.  They are the parents of two boys and twin girls, ranging in age from 18 to 26.  The family lives in Santa Cruz.

Francine Rodd, Executive Director, First 5 Monterey County (F5MC)
Francine Rodd has been the Executive Director for First 5 Monterey County (F5MC) since January 2004. The vision for F5MC is to ensure that all children reach their unique potential in a family and community that values, respects and invests in early childhood. F5MC supports children from the prenatal stage through age five by promoting child-friendly policies and practices; advocating for changes in systems that are holding problems in place; and by funding quality, coordinated programs. F5MC is committed to actively creating a community where race, gender, sexual orientation, and physical ability do not determine access to opportunities or outcomes. F5MC has supported over 600,000 children and families since its inception in 1998.
Francine grew up in Marina. She has a BA/BS in Broadcast Journalism and Political Science from the University of Southern California. She has a Master’s Degree in International Economics and Latin American Studies from Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies. Prior to returning home, Francine worked overseas developing and implementing programs supporting women and children living in vulnerable communities. She lived and worked in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean for more than 15 years – including in Haiti for 5 years as the Peace Corps Country Director.
Krista Snelling, President & CEO, Santa Cruz County Bank

Krista Snelling joined Santa Cruz County Bank in March 2021, bringing nearly 25 years of strategic financial and operational expertise to the role.

Snelling is leading Santa Cruz County Bank’s expansion into Monterey County, with a focus on regional strategies that best support the Bank’s mission to build lasting relationships and be a trusted partner to empower growth and economic vitality.

She established her banking career in Northern California, serving twice with Five Star Bank, first as Chief Financial Officer, and then returning as Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer and Chief Financial Officer. Snelling also served as Chief Financial Officer of Allworth Financial (formerly Hanson McClain), Chief Financial Officer of Inspire Communities, and spent several years serving audit clients with Arthur Andersen and KPMG.

In 2019, Snelling was recognized by the Sacramento Business Journal as a CFO of the Year. The following year she was named as a Sacramento Business Journal Woman Who Means Business and was awarded the Nancy Hotchkiss Woman of Impact Award by Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW), recognizing her impact on the commercial real estate industry.

Snelling graduated from the University of the Pacific with a Bachelor of Science degree with a double major in Mathematics and Economics. She also holds a Master of Arts degree in Economics from UC Davis.

She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Western Bankers Association and Santa Cruz County Bank, and on the Executive Advisory Council of University of the Pacific’s Eberhardt School of Business.

Susan True, CEO, Community Foundation Santa Cruz County
Susan True is an accomplished social impact leader. She excels in bringing communities together to solve problems and she finds great joy in rolling up her sleeves and working with others to create meaningful change. In her role as Chief Executive Officer of Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, Susan continues her lifelong commitment to work that makes life measurably better for those that she serves.
She recently led the Kenneth Rainin Foundation’s education investments – creating programs that dramatically increased literacy skills among Oakland children. She led the design of the Bay Area Council’s early childhood Talk, Read, Sing campaign – winning an Effie award for the work. Formerly, she served for eight years as Executive Director of First 5 Santa Cruz County where she led the county’s investment in children birth to five years old. Prior to leading First 5, she served as the Executive Director of CASA of Santa Cruz County. Susan was elected to the Cabrillo College Board of Trustees in 2008 and reelected in 2012, serving until 2014.