Val Harrington was awarded Young Woman in Leadership during the second annual Women in Leadership Luncheon at The Inn at Manchester, Wednesday, May 17, 2023. 

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MANCHESTER — Women can do it all. We might feel like imposters much of time, winging our decisions. We sometimes get overwhelmed trying to balance work and home. But we have mentors who have helped us overcome the challenges, and nobody works harder than we do. That was the message Wednesday from some of Southern Vermont’s women leaders, speaking to about 130 mostly women from throughout the county at the Inn at Manchester’s Celebration Barn. The event was the second annual Women in Leadership Luncheon, hosted by the Southwestern Vermont Chamber of Commerce and Berkshire Bank. Keynote speaker Ashley Austin, the new co-owner of the Northshire Bookstore and CEO of her own company, ALG, outlined her rise through the professional ranks in the music industry. Her client roster includes Daryl Hall & John Oates, Iggy Pop, Bootsy Collins, The Blues Brothers and the estates of Sam Cooke, John Belushi and Dean Martin; and she has worked with The Doors and other legends. “I have experienced misogyny,” Austin said, describing her early work experience in which she tried to be the best, but was passed over for a key promotion by a less-qualified man. The music industry “was a boys’ club,” she said. “But being in a leadership role now does not mean all of that disappears,” Austin added. She spoke of one female boss who belittled her; she quit. Another lifted her up, supported her work, and remained an important mentor for several years. She recalled making a significant mistake under that boss, and the woman’s reaction: “Do not apologize because this was a learning experience for you.” After living in San Diego, New York and Los Angeles, Austin returned home to Manchester. With the advice of her sisters, Cathleen and Nicole Ihasz, she first opened her own business – ALG – and later acquired a majority stake in the Northshire Bookstore with them. That decision, she said, was fueled by a mentor’s advice: Say yes to anything that feels right. “It’s the physical and cultural soul of our community,” Austin said of the bookstore. It’s where she bought her music albums as a teen, and books throughout her life. Owning the store is not a job, Austin said. “It’s a privilege.” Her lessons have brought her success – success she now works to “pay it forward.” The Chamber also presented awards to some of the county’s female leaders. Val Harrington of Coggins Auto Group, who is seen by her peers as a woman on the rise, was presented the Young Woman in Leadership award for outstanding leadership and service. Harrington talked about the challenge of raising four children (all now under age 10) while also working at Coggins. She joked that “fear of failure” is her motivation, and she thanked the women who have reached out and acted as mentors in her career. Lani DePonte-Disorda of Pangaea, Prospect Coffee and Powers Market in North Bennington was awarded Woman of the Year for her outstanding leadership and service to her organization, community and career. She noted that professional women occasionally fall, “but we get up, dust ourselves off and continue the charge.” “We are here … we are making it,” she added. “We are making it better.” The Lifetime Achievement Award was presented to Lana Hauben, who founded Manchester Designer Outlets with her late husband, Ben Hauben. They opened their very first building in the summer of 1985. She, too, cited advice that helped her succeed. “Don’t wait for your ship to come in. Row out and meet it,” her sister once told her. “We’ve got a lot of experience,” she told the crowd of women. “You get up every single day … and you go fight the fight. … You’ve become a person you didn’t know existed.” Matt Harrington, executive director of the Chamber, said the event was sold out. “With attendance 60 percent higher than last year, you have shown us the awesome power of women coming together to transform their communities,” Harrington said in a release. “We will continue to support and grow this great event.” Sponsors of the event included Coggins Auto Group, At Home Senior Care, Green Mountain Academy for Lifelong Learning, Shires Young Professionals, the Bennington Banner & Manchester Journal, Silver Therapeutics, Northshire Bookstore, VNA & Hospice of the Southwest Region, Old Mill Road Publishing, William C. Deveneau Attorney At Law. Zoey’s Deli and Fancy Pants Cakes provided lunch; Abuela’s Plant Boutique and Floral Design Studio provided floral arrangements; Tomasi’s Sports and Awards provided the awards, and the Inn at Manchester hosted the event. GNAT-TV filmed the event, and coverage will air on GNAT-TV’s Comcast Cable channels and its website,




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