Networking and mentoring are two of the most important factors in a successful career in finance, according to a panel of executives at the Women Making a Difference in Finance event held Sept. 14, part of the Institute for Executive Education’s Life-Long Learning Series.

Co-hosts Boston Women in Finance, Inc., Suffolk Alumni Association and The Institute for Executive Education brought together a distinguished group: Penny Weeks, Senior Vice President, Northern Trust; Marybeth Celorier, Director of Finance, Foley Hoag, LLP; Lourdes German, VP, Municipal Finance, Fidelity Investments; Bonnie Monahan, VP and Treasurer, Dunkin’ Brands, Inc.; Donella Rapier, CFO, Partners In Health. After brief introductory remarks by Morris McInnes, Associate Dean of the Sawyer Business School, the panelists engaged in a frank discussion about the challenges and rewards of working in finance in the midst of a sluggish economy. Over 100 people attended the event, and their evaluations reflected their enthusiasm: “The breadth of experience among the panelists was impressive” “... great to hear similar experiences across business lines and common themes applicable across various situations.” Audience members also enjoyed the format in which Moderator Weeks gave the panelists questions from the audience. Many found the panelists’ positive attitudes inspiring.

“We need to stop thinking of doom and gloom and starting thinking and speaking positively. We need to be leaders, or help others become leaders,” said Celorier. “Part of making an organization successful involves supporting your team and making a difference for each other.”

At Dunkin’ Brands, which has an aggressive growth plan, Monahan said “the economic environment encouraged us to narrow our focus and help our franchisees with quality, efficiencies and relationships, with both customers and business partners.”

Despite the dominance of men in finance, none of the women said they’d experienced discrimination. “If you project confidence and leadership, you can stand out,” said Monahan, “And you have to see it that way.” German said she always came to meetings overly prepared. “That’s a good business strategy in general,” she said. “I’m trying to convince a client that working with us is the best choice. By being prepared, I prove it.”

All panelists emphasized the importance of flexibility in their careers. Rapier moved from Price Waterhouse to Vice President for Alumni Affairs and Development, of Harvard Business School, and now CFO of international not-for-profit Partners in Health. “Finance is a great career because it allows you to be involved in every part of the business,” she said.

In addition to their passion for their work, all admitted to a commitment to the people they work with. “My passion is in managing people,” said Monahan, “seeing them succeed, and operate independently with critical skills I’ve helped them with, is very rewarding.”