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Empowering excellence: Defense Alliance of North Carolina hosts the Second Annual Women Business Leaders event

By Faith Hatton, posted May 30, 2024 on

Event Keynote Speaker Dr. Martha Kenney shares a bit about her background and family growing up in Ghana, West Africa - Photo provided by Grace Federal Solutions, LLC. Photo taken by Jerrell Jordan of Jordan Esteem Photography 

Business women and men from all around the Research Triangle gathered at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center in Durham on Thursday, May 9, for an afternoon of networking, fellowship and business based conversation. 

The Defense Alliance of North Carolina (DANC) was proud to host the Second Annual Women Business Leaders event, held in partnership with Grace Federal Solutions, LLC, to foster connections between women across a number of industries including the defense industry. A highlight of the event was the panelist Q&A session moderated by PBS North Carolina TV-Host and Producer Deborah Holt Noel. 


VIVIAN DENNIS – Advisory Board Chair, School of Nursing at UNC Greensboro 

DIONNE MCLEAN – Senior Manager, Supplier Diversity, Certified Supplier Diversity Professional 

HYANGSHIM (SHIM) MOIK – Vice President, Middle Market Commercial Banking, JP Morgan Chase 

IRIS PHILLIPS – President & CEO, Grace Federal Solutions, LLC, WBL Chairperson

These women were given the stage to provide business specific advice utilizing knowledge from each of their specific careers. Topics included: Advice for women in business looking to secure financing, navigating unique challenges faced by women in the healthcare and military sectors, how women entrepreneurs can leverage supplier diversity initiatives to access new opportunities and advice for women entrepreneurs who may be navigating male-dominated environments. 

Following the panel discussions, Keynote Speaker Dr. Martha Kenney stepped up to the mic.

Along with raising two young children, Kenney is a board-certified pediatrician and pediatric anesthesiologist who completed undergraduate education at Brown University followed by medical school, residency and fellowship training at Johns Hopkins University.

She is currently an assistant professor at Duke University where she leads the Pain Equity and Disparities Lab. Her research is focused on pain in people living with sickle cell disease and marginalized communities.

Outside of teaching medicine and conducting research, Dr. Kenney is a certified professional life coach and certified behavioral design consultant with a deep-seated passion for employee engagement, burnout prevention and career development amongst professional women. 

During her speech, Dr. Kenney shared a bit about her background and the challenges she faced starting out as a medical professional researching sickle cell pain. She described experiences many women in business have had.

“As a woman, oftentimes there's this heavy fog that is in front of us. That fog consists of the opinions of other people and our own struggles. And if you don't have clarity, about who you are and what you're seeking and your purpose, you can't break through that fog,” shared Kenney. “You actually have to search and find yourself on a regular basis. It's a constant journey of understanding who you are and understanding what you want from life.” 

She also shared the impact that motherhood can have on the next generation of leaders, sharing a moment between her and her own daughter that helped her rise to face a challenging time in her career. 

“As women, oftentimes there are these huge boulder blocks that are just placed right before us. And as I was weeping, I thought ‘What is going on?’ Then my two year old daughter walked into my room (she’s seven now) and she saw me weeping. She asked me, ‘Mommy, are you crying?’ And I looked at her, and I just could not stop crying. But then she did something unexpected, she started laughing. So I looked down and she came to me with her hands and then pried my eyes open. And then all of a sudden, I started laughing too. And I said out loud in that moment, ‘What did he see when he looked at me,’” shared Kenney.

“You will hit many walls along the way. Despite the fact that this man who was actually in charge of our entire research program, and the institution I was at at that time, when he said ‘No,’ I said, ‘Well, you know what? You may say no, but if God could part the Red Sea, I can find a way. I'll find my own way.’ I found other people who believed in my dream, because when I spoke to them about that dream and that vision, they understood that it was clear,” shared Kenney. 

The event ended with a longer networking opportunity and leadership with the DANC are excited to continue the event and potentially bring it to the Fayetteville and Fort Liberty area in the future. 

“It was such an honor and privilege to be among such inspiring women entrepreneurs to recognize their achievements, celebrate their success and learn from their experiences,” shared DANC Executive Director Tammy Everett. 

“Chancellor Darrell T. Allison has expressed interest in supporting the Defense Alliance of North Carolina Women Business Leaders and welcomes the opportunity to host a future event at Fayetteville State University.”


For more information and to keep up with new DANC developments and events, find them online at 


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