Mrs. Gayle Benson Addresses Dominican Students About Women’s Leadership

In a surprise visit to the student assembly, Mrs. Gayle Benson gave an inspiring address about women’s leadership and how a strong foundation of faith has always guided her throughout her lifetime of leadership roles in several careers.

After her address, Dominican named Mrs. Benson an Honorary Alumna. Principal Carolyn Favre presented her with a diploma from the school. School President Dr. Cynthia A. Thomas presented Mrs. Benson with a Dominican pendant that features the senior class ring’s blue stone and the school crest. The students gave their special guest a Second Line sendoff with the Dominican Marching Band performing, “When The Saints Go Marching In.”

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Gayle Benson’s Address

Good morning students:

 I was asked to provide insight into how I view leadership, and, in particular, how it manifests in industries that are traditionally male driven. While it may sound daunting, it is my pleasure to tell you that we are living in an entirely new day and age, and those walls that once existed have either crumbled down or are nearing the point where the walls are collapsing under their own weight.

We are now living in an era where the reality is virtually anything is possible, both on a personal and professional level.  Today all businesses are the same, men or women and it boils down to one thing, the people.  We are all equal.  I begin my speech by fully acknowledging that our Lord has been the foundation of my life since I was very young, and in both good times and trying times, I relied on my faith and knowledge that the Lord loves and protects me, despite the challenges I faced. When I was young, I was shy and introverted, which gave me few friends, but I knew there would be a better life for me someday.  My faith began at an early age, around the age of 12, I knew the Lord was taking care of me. 

I could feel his loving arms around me, always in my presence, and the Blessed Mother had a cover over me, inspiring the actions and decisions which carried me through my adult life and today. I encourage each of you to continue your spiritual journey and get to know the Lord on a greater level. If you keep him and his word at the forefront of your life, you will experience greater joys than you know are imaginable. The Lord is very generous with the talents he gives us all, and I have always felt he has given me so much, even in the most difficult times in my life.  We all encounter challenging times, and we need to keep our faith, as we are tested on a daily basis, and with that confidence in the Lord, we can weather any storm. With the Lord, you are never alone.

Nothing is easy in life, we all have trials, but it takes faith, commitment and a strong will to stay focused and address the challenges of life as we receive them.  God did not give us a spirit of being timid, but a spirit of power, of life and of self-discipline. Persistence, commitment and hope lead to a good faith filled life.  Obstacles and challenges simply make it more interesting.  Many times when we get too many obstacles, we need to embrace them, and know with confidence that the Lord has another plan for us.  It may not be what we like or want, but he has a plan for our lives. 

You may hear, throughout your life, that people say they compartmentalize things in order to keep their priorities straight. People may say they live their lives in faith, their lives with their families and their professional or, in your case, your academic lives. And, they handle each situation as a separate entity, and they try to fit everything into its own separate folder and keep it all neat and tidy.  But it is my humble opinion that this way of thinking is a recipe for disaster. If you keep your faith, your family and your aspirations aligned, you will position yourself for happiness and fulfillment beyond your wildest imagination.

Professionally I am truly blessed that I was fortunate enough to work in a multitude of different business sectors throughout my life, ranging from managing a New York-city based costume jeweler’s operations in the New York area, to a career in property development and management in New Orleans, and also ultimately in the interior design industry. While also involved, of course, most recently, and currently, with the management of the New Orleans Saints and Pelicans and quite a few other exciting ventures.

I truly am blessed as I look back and see this varied and eclectic career journey that I’ve enjoyed, and I continue to give thanks to the Lord for the countless blessings He has bestowed on me and my life; I feel so very blessed and continue to give thanks and give back to the community, as I truly believe this is so very important to your spiritual success as well as your business success. 

Hard work, creativity, and the ability to adapt while all the time remaining true to yourself and your goals should be concrete foundations for you, regardless of where you are in your life.  Those of us that possess more experience and wisdom in life can assure the younger generations, that you will be tested on a daily basis, on your strength and the foundation you are building on daily.  Please remember to always check your spiritual foundation daily and make sure it is strong, and know it will get you through life.  My foundation is the strength I get daily from the Lord and that shall never fade.  My faith continues to stay strong and grounded.

There will always be skeptics, critics, criticism and much competition, but a firm belief in yourself, coupled with an unwavering work ethic and a high moral compass will lead you to many victories, both small and large, so long as your foundation is built on solid ground.  Remember, there are many short cuts in life, but always take the high road; it will and does pay off.   You never know where you will be 5-10-15 years from now.  It may seem like a very long time but one day you will be looking back on your life well lived and be grateful.

In my current executive management roles, not a single day goes by when I am not relying back on my past business experiences that I have been taught or learned.  Sometimes they were difficult lessons to learn because not everything is easy, but it was all worthwhile; I would not change anything. When you are in the business world long enough, you will learn a tremendous amount about people, adversity, economic turns, supply and demand, and so much more. It truly is the best school of hard knocks I have ever experienced, and would not trade my experiences, both negative and positive, for anything. 

People like to look at professional sports as this foreign world that exists in their own galaxies, but they are not.  It was once known as an only male dominated industry. I am here to tell you that it has certainly changed. At the end of the day, just like the things you are experiencing right now, it boils down to five very important elements: the people, the employees, productivity, dependability and the power of your relationships to ultimately be the drivers of your success and happiness.  You will never realize how much a kind word, a gentle look, or a sympathetic ear will touch another person’s life.  It doesn’t matter the gender, or whether it’s in business or your personal life, the principles are the same.

My advice is simple as it relates to obstacles that you may perceive to be out there or what people tell you; Create Your Own Path. Set goals and strive to be your own champion. You can achieve what you set your mind to; do not let anyone tell you it cannot be done.

Lastly, I would like to leave you with this thought today, and I don’t think it can ever be stressed enough when it comes to your life; strive to continue learning.  We all know how fast this world is evolving, particularly that of the roles of technologies and how they are incorporating themselves into the most ordinary and mundane aspects of our lives.  Continue to embrace learning and never lose that desire. It will take you great places. 

Of course it makes perfect sense to align your learning with your academic interests and goals, but test yourself and push your boundaries and think beyond the ordinary and you will surprise yourself and open new doors and new opportunities.

And in closing, I wish you all the best in your studies and personal pursuits.  May you always continue to hear and feel the presence of the Lord in your lives as you follow your heart and as you work with others that God will place in your paths through your life.  I have enjoyed my time here with you all this morning. I appreciate you asking me here today and thank you for your time and attention.