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May 4, 2015

Women share workplace experiences at symposium

By Ashli Speed

More than 400 women filled the Student Center ballroom at Cleveland State University on April 15 for the inaugural Women’s Leadership Symposium titled “Be Amazing.”

Those in the room represented women from a wide variety of professions, ages and stages of life.
About three quarters of the guests were Cleveland State alumni while the rest of the crowd consisted of faculty and students.

From 8 a.m. until noon, the women were treated to breakfast, engaging conversation, a keynote address from a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Connie Shultz and two panel discussions.

Shultz shared her experiences obtaining higher education and breaking into a career in a male-dominated profession. Her 40-minute speech included anecdotes of her childhood and her experiences growing up in a working-class family.

“It’s important to see obstacles as strengths instead of the things that made it hard for us,” Shultz said.

Following Shultz, the CSU Women of Achievement Panel consisting of Cleveland State alumnae and moderated by local news anchor Kris Pickel discussed their experience working in various fields.

The panelists were Kelly Falcone-Hall, president and CEO of the Western Reserve Historical Society; India Pierce Lee, program director for Neighborhood Housing and Community Development at the Cleveland Foundation; Valarie McCall, Chief of Government and International Affairs for the City of Cleveland; Radhika Reddy, founder of Ariel Ventures; Debbie Sutherland, mayor of Bay Village and Nina Turner, former state senator.

Turner described the frustrations of being a woman in politics.

“When female politicians are covered by the media, the focus is often on their hair or how they are dressed,” Turner said. “Tremendous amounts of talent are lost to this society because that talent wears a skirt,” Turner said, quoting former U.S. Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm.

Following the Women of Achievement Panel was a Young Alumnae and Student Panel featuring Hannah Belsito, vice president of Destination Cleveland; Brittan Davis, a counseling psychology doctoral candidate; Allison Dumski, president of the Student Government Association; Sarah Flannery, a partner at Thompson Hine; Alana Jochum, Northeast Ohio coordinator at Equality Ohio; Sunny Lurie, CEO of Fast Focus Careers; Maria Spangler, director of community engagement at Sherwin Williams and Arit Umana, director of the Cleveland State student chapter of the Society for Human Resources Management.

Umana, a senior management major graduating in May, has been participating on student panels since she began at Cleveland State.

“I was honored to be asked,” she said. “This was a nice way to reflect on my involvement at Cleveland State. It felt natural.”

Umana added that she felt inspired by the event and feels these are things significant to students’ success, especially women.

“It was amazing to realize these women have accomplished all these things with a Cleveland State degree, and have become great in their fields,” she said. “We have that in common.”

Cleveland State’s student population is 54 percent female and women are enrolling in higher education at a rate higher than males. Despite this, there is still a lack of women in the workforce. According to the Pew Research Center, women are paid only 78 percent of what their male counterparts are.

Pierce is no stranger to discrimination as a woman in the workforce.

“Many times I was told women didn’t belong here, but I thought ‘I am going to make this work,’” Pierce said.

Pierce spoke of how she often attends events and cannot help but notice the lack of women present. She encouraged women in the crowd to look out for each other.

There are already plans to bring the event back to Cleveland State next year.

Brian Breittholz, director of Alumni Affairs, was one of the people responsible for bringing the event to life.
Breittholz and Boyd Yarbrough, vice president of Student Affairs and dean of Student Life, came up with the idea as they were brainstorming ideas for programming.

The two wanted to create a program that would bring students and alumni together.

“This was an opportunity to engage students with alumni from different walks of life and make a difference,” Breittholz said.

Breittholz saw the event as a success. He said they were successful in engaging a lot of students and alumni, which is what the planners thought was important. He said he hopes all those in attendance felt empowered to be amazing.