From left, Karen Frank, executive vice president of HBM Prenscia; Teresa Ferraro,...

From left, Karen Frank, executive vice president of HBM Prenscia; Teresa Ferraro, president of East/West Industries; Anne Shybunko-Moore, CEO of GSE Dynamics; and Gwen O'Shea, president and CEO of CDCLI, speak at HIA-LI's Women Leading the Way event in Commack Thursday.  Credit: Johnny Milano

Women thinking of leaving the workforce to start a family or raise children should strive to "always keep a toe in the game," a panel of female executives said at a forum in Commack Thursday.

Karen Frank, vice president and general manager for the New York office of United Kingdom-based technology and engineering software firm HBM Prenscia, said she had to work "extra hard" to re-establish her career after spending five years caring for her young children. 

"If you're planning to be away for some time, try to make sure you keep an elbow, a toe, or even just a nail in the game," said Frank, one of four panelists who spoke at the HIA-LI trade group’s eighth annual Women Leading the Way leadership event. "It's so difficult to go back in and do so in the capacity that you left." 

Part-time jobs and reduced work hours are one way to stay connected to the business, she said, adding that male counterparts and higher-ups sometimes question whether women are "on the mommy track." 

It's important not to "give them that ammunition," she said. 

Panelist Gwen O'Shea, president and CEO of the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, a nonprofit that grants residential and small business loans and develops affordable housing, recalled when she was ready to apply for a position previously held by one of her male mentors. 

"Some people in that company at that time were saying, 'You know, she's a youngish woman. This is the time when they have families,' and they didn't think I could do it," she said. 

O'Shea said she is now "happily divorced" and has a nice relationship with her stepchildren but does not have children of her own. 

"It was definitely not the only factor" in not having children, O'Shea said. "But the pressure of feeling like I had to choose one or the other did play a role internally." 

Panelists Teresa Ferraro, president of East/West Industries, which manufactures aircraft seats and crew life-support systems primarily for the military, and who has two children, and Anne Shybunko-Moore, CEO of Hauppauge-based defense manufacturer GSE Dynamics and mother of four boys, said women can have fulfilling, meaningful personal lives and run successful businesses.

The key, they said: Do it on your own terms. 

When her daughter was a baby, Ferraro said, she set up a nursery in the room next to her office. 

"I could hear her bouncing in her jumper while I worked," she said. 

Shybunko-Moore recalled bringing a baby son to a meeting in his carrier. 

"Older women looked at me with a glare of shame that I had brought a baby," she said.

"I walked in not asking to be judged, doing the best I could, to make it all work. But I find there's this shift now, that we need, where it is OK to blend it [career and family] all at once in one meeting. That's how you make it work." 

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