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Women’s conference targets gender stereotypes

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Clad in a pale blue blazer with a slender American-flag armband wrapped around her bicep and her hair pulled straight back, Veronica Rose gave women attending the World of Working Women conference a glimpse of what a modern-day Rosie the Riveter looks like.

But while the World War II female icon was filling an employment vacuum left by overseas soldiers, Rose fought her way to success through a field saturated with men.

Rose, the president and CEO of Aurora Electric Inc. in Jamaica, was one of three Queens businesswomen who offered their insights at a panel discussion at the end of Friday’s daylong conference, sponsored by the Queens Women’s Center and the TimesLedger newspapers.

Rose, the first woman in the city to hold a Master Electrician license, founded a business that made it onto this year’s Inc. magazine list of the nation’s 500 fastest growing companies as No. 140.

“All of the greatest successes you can emulate didn’t come from that warm fuzzy feeling,” Rose told women gathered at the conference. “It was either from desperation or perspiration.”

The conference, which also featured seminars and a job fair, was targeted at women who have never worked, women who are re-entering the job market and those who are changing careers, said Ann Jawin, the founder of the Queens Women’s Center.

“Unless a woman is economically independent, she cannot be free,” Jawin said.

Mary Murphree, the regional administrator of the Women’s Bureau in the U.S. Department of Labor, pushed the women in the audience to go for any of the countless construction jobs that will become available as the city rebuilds from the World Trade Center disaster.

“There is no reason, ladies, that we cannot have and perform those jobs,” she said.

The gender stereotypes preventing women from entering the construction trades were only one of many conventions the women who attended the conference were encouraged to defy.

Mary Murphy, a correspondent for the WB 11 News at Ten, recalled during her keynote address how unlikely her dream of entering broadcast journalism had been when she was growing up in Woodside.

“A career in television did not seem like a possibility to me,” said Murphy, the daughter of a bus driver father and waitress mother.

Although the newsroom at CBS was intimidating when she first arrived as an intern from Queens College in the early 1980s, she soon gained enough confidence to disprove the nickname of “Sister Mary” that had been coined by coworkers amused by her Catholic school background.

“You cannot stay shy and timid and succeed in the news business, or any business for that matter,” she told the audience.

Still, some conventions are so pervasive that neither women nor men are likely to escape their grasp. Thus a fashion show and beauty seminars showed women how to dress the part in a world where first impressions are based on appearance.

Sabahat Anwar of Fresh Meadows, who had her hair done by Bayside stylist Lynne Schillino before a small crowd, attended the conference as part of a three-month job training program in which she had enrolled to get a boost entering the work force.

“My family is done, so now I can do something for myself,” said Anwar, the mother of 6-month and 3-year-old daughters.

For all the women at the conference, the forums and job fair offered ideas and inspiration for new directions to turn in their careers.

“I’m sort of at a crossroads,” said Deborah Harper of Forest Hills. “I know I need to do something more or different, but I can’t figure out which direction to go in.”

For many women, however, the conference provided at least one employment idea they had never before considered.

Before leaving, they grilled Rose about how to earn an electrician’s license.

Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.

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