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An Interview by Larisa Miller
As a woman who is CEO of a global consulting firm, doing business on five continents, I’ve had the honor of meeting and interacting with many visionaries, innovators, and strong women leaders from around the world. I always say that where women are, that’s where leaders are. When women work together, supporting one another and mentoring each other, we are unstoppable.
It is critical that women recognize the important role that they must play in our sustainable and resilient global business future, and we have a responsibility to work together in the spirit of collaboration and sisterhood, knowing that we are stronger together. Those of us who have access to resources and opportunity have a responsibility to be the voice for the voiceless, and work to provide opportunities for those for whom opportunity would not present itself naturally.
I’ve met many impressive women around the world who differentiate themselves as leaders or future leaders, and one such woman – one of the most impressive young women I’ve had the privilege to know, is Meghan Sinisi, Miss Pennsylvania 2021. Meghan has the attributes of a progressive leader, recognizing that the traditional attributes of leadership are important, but even more so when accompanied by emotional intelligence, empathy, tolerance, gratitude, and integrity. She recently competed as Miss Pennsylvania 2021 in the Miss America Competition, where she was the winner of the Women in Business Scholarship Award through the Miss America Foundation. She is the Founder and President of From a New Perspective, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization committed to creating a more inclusive world for autistic people and their families. I’m honored to call Meghan my friend, and to introduce the philosophies, mindset, and motivation of this visionary young leader.
Larisa Miller: Meghan, what is your background? What led you to compete in the Miss Pennsylvania Scholarship Competition?
Meghan Sinisi: I am a native of Altoona, Pennsylvania where I grew up in a household with three brothers and as the daughter of two incredible, working-class parents. I twirled baton since the age of three, a sport and activity that quickly became one of my earliest passions. I set my sights on one day becoming the feature twirler for a collegiate marching band. In 2013, I was accepted into Syracuse University (SU) and was offered to serve as the Orange Girl feature baton twirler for the Syracuse University Marching Band, a 70+ year tradition at the university. I excitedly accepted the offer and embarked on one of the most remarkable experiences of my lifetime – being a representative and ambassador for my university while living out my childhood dream.
During my freshman year at Syracuse, I was excited to watch the Miss America competition because I learned that the young woman representing New York, Nina Davuluri, was a Syracuse native. I witnessed Nina be crowned Miss America 2013 as the first Indian American woman to earn the prestigious title. A few weeks later, I had an opportunity to meet Nina in person and her intelligence, charisma, kindness, and beauty were astounding to me. For a fleeting moment, I considered getting involved in the Miss America Organization. I wasn’t convinced, though, as I was intimidated by the thought of being judged based on subjective standards of “beauty”. It wasn’t until the following year when I met Miss New York 2014, Jillian Tapper (a fellow baton twirler), that I learned all that the Miss America Organization offers young women opportunities to create change through a social impact initiative, to develop professionally as a female leader, to highlight commitment to excellence through a chosen talent, and to earn academic scholarships. I immediately registered for my first competition, and a few months later, I earned my first title at a local preliminary to the Miss America competition.
Larisa Miller: Why did you choose to pursue a degree in health science, speech, language, and hearing sciences?
Meghan Sinisi: Throughout my whole life, I knew I had a special desire to help others. When I was young, I thought about being a nurse, but in my senior year of high school, I became curious to learn about students with disabilities. I asked my aunt who worked in the special education department if I could visit the students in her classroom. Prior to this experience, I shared a much-too-common misunderstanding about disabled people. Society had taught me that most people with disabilities cannot live independently or achieve the same level of success as non-disabled people. I quickly learned how terribly false these ideas are. That day, I met a classroom of students who showed me that if our world viewed disabilities from a new perspective and gave every single person a fair opportunity, a person could accomplish anything they desire. I was frustrated that it had taken 18 years for me to be given the opportunity to see people with disabilities as more than meets the eye and I started to understand how our world does not adequately empower disabled people. I enrolled at Syracuse University with thoughts of pursuing special education or social work as a career. When I explored communication sciences and disorders, I fell in love with how being a speech-language pathologist would allow me to help people with autism and other disabilities find, strengthen, and actively use their voices to achieve success.
Larisa Miller: As Miss Pennsylvania, what impact do you hope to have on other young women? What do you hope to achieve with this platform that is now available to you?
Meghan Sinisi: Being Miss Pennsylvania has awarded me the incredible platform to serve as a role model for women of all ages and backgrounds. I wish to not only make an impact for those on the autism spectrum, but also to inspire women to pursue their wildest dreams and uplift one another. I never would have imagined that I would compete for Miss America, but through the opportunities that life has presented me, and by listening to the calling that God has placed on my heart, I have discovered exactly who I am destined to be through my role as an advocate in the Miss America Organization. As a person who is not disabled herself but advocates for disability rights, I want to demonstrate to others how powerful it is to care about the things that do not impact us directly. Through this we develop empathy for others’ lived experiences and become allies to the people we share communities with.
Larisa Miller: As an advocate for those on the autism spectrum, please tell us a bit more about your non-profit, From A New Perspective?
Meghan Sinisi: As an autism advocate, I want to continue developing From a New Perspective (my 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization) to become a nationally known autism resource. Our main objective is to challenge the misconceptions surrounding autism and what those on the spectrum can accomplish. I want to help venues in public spaces implement sensory rooms that would allow more people with autism and other disabilities access meaningful community experiences. I want to equip law enforcement officers and first responders with trainings that adequately prepare them to respond and appropriately assist people with autism in overwhelming and stressful situations. I hope to also provide training to employers to make the workplace more accessible for those with autism and to educate employers on the value of hiring neurodivergent employees. Finally, I hope to train college campuses to make similar accommodations and to award annual academic scholarships for students with autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders to successfully pursue higher education. Currently, I co-host a podcast series titled Spectrum Sundays, which is now streamed in 17+ countries, and equips autism professionals and self-advocates with the platform to share their stories and inspire acceptance, respect, and inclusion for people with disabilities.
Larisa Miller: As a role model for women in business, what do you see as the greatest challenges facing women in business, and what can we do to alleviate these challenges?
Meghan Sinisi: The greatest challenges facing women in business are underrepresentation in positions of leadership and significant gender wage gaps. Globally, women only hold 24% of senior leadership positions and in the U.S., only 8% of CEOs at Fortune 500 Companies are female. Additionally, women earn roughly 82 cents for every dollar a man earns. On a global scale, we must continue to fight to inequity and discrimination against women in all spaces, especially in the workplace. It is a complicated and systemic issue to combat, but the ways I believe we accomplish this is for women to relentlessly demand for legislative change and accountability that ensures fair opportunities.
Larisa Miller: As a role model for young adults, what advice do you give them to keep them motivated through these challenging and unprecedented times?
Meghan Sinisi: The advice I give to young adults during these challenging and unprecedented times is to strive every day to make your future self proud, and to remain motivated in how your unique skill sets and strengths can benefit the world around you. Each day is a new opportunity to inch closer to your aspirations and change the trajectory of your future.
Larisa Miller: What are your goals for the future and where do you see yourself in the next five years?
Meghan Sinisi: My career ambition is to own and operate an interdisciplinary clinic for children with disabilities and communication disorders. I want my clinic to be a place where families feel confident in the care their children receive and for it to be an avenue of hope for a child’s future, independence, and success. My graduate program at the University of Missouri placed high priority in interprofessional collaboration. Through this, I was able to learn how other professions can work toward a common goal to improve a person’s quality of life. I loved the concept of combining unique and specialized fields of expertise to offer the best possible care for a client. Understanding how each therapy professional and health care provider contributes to a child’s well-being inspired my dream of opening a private practice that works across a variety of disciplines. I especially aspire for this clinic to provide reliable diagnostic and therapy services to communities who do not currently have access to high-quality care. Until this goal comes to fruition, I will provide therapy services as a pediatric speech-language pathologist, immerse myself in learning all there is to know about being an impactful woman in business leadership, and begin to pursue a doctorate degree. In the next five years, I hope to be a wife and mother who, like many females across the globe, demonstrates that a woman can be a loving and caring pillar of support in a family while also being a trailblazing, ambitious, and successful professional.
- The Q&A / Interview was originally published in Career Ahead January 2022 issue.