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Progress Report

By Janine Fondon

On March 8 (International Women’s Day), the 2021 On the Move Forum to Advance Women, presented by Bay Path University, Springfield Museums, and a host of local organizations, virtually hosted some 200 women of all backgrounds from Western Mass. and beyond. Through conversations and speakers, women voiced their hopes and elevated their concerns to support the future success of women in leadership at all levels.

Speakers noted there is much work to be done to change the trajectory of women in companies and organizations, given that women still operate in a world where they are paid less than men. Also, women have limited leadership opportunities in the C-suite and have experienced workplace challenges in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Also, black women and Latinas still make less than anyone in the workforce, and their opportunities for promotions are certainly limited. Where do we go from here?

The forum theme, “Women in Leadership: This Is What Change Looks Like — Past, Present, and Future,” offered attendees an inter-generational, cross-cultural, gender-inclusive, and history-infused conversation focused on advancing women, led by moderator Nikai Fondon.

The event presented voices and content that showed what change could look like — young, diverse, professional women on the move to create a new world; experienced leaders of all backgrounds who share their expertise; and college-aged women exploring new skills. Now in its fifth year, the event has engaged more than 1,000 women in community conversations and presentations on women’s history, empowerment, and advancement.

“The numbers also show us that change needs to happen to build more inclusive workplaces at all levels and in all industries. We must keep watch that our colleges and universities understand the magnitude of not only recruitment and retention, but belonging and mentoring.”

This year’s event aligned with the priority theme of the 65th session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women, “Women in Leadership: Achieving an Equal Future in a COVID-19 World.” According to Catalyst, “in 2020, women of color represented only 18% of entry-level positions, and few advanced to leadership positions. While white women held almost one-third (32.8%) of total management positions in the U.S. in 2020, Asian women (2.2%), black women (4.1%), and Hispanic women (4.5%) held a much smaller share.”

During the forum, the speakers and participants during the conversations voiced the sentiments expressed in these statistics. Most women still face obstacles in moving up the ladder at work. These statistics remind us that young women professionals who are rising to new opportunities in industry may have to pick up the path of experienced women today who still fight these trends after more than 20 years.

The numbers also show us that change needs to happen to build more inclusive workplaces at all levels and in all industries. We must keep watch that our colleges and universities understand the magnitude of not only recruitment and retention, but belonging and mentoring.

Also, as black women, Latinas, and women of color climb the ladder of success, they find that every step along the way may not come with the support they need or expect. A study conducted by Lean In and SurveyMonkey finds that, although more than 80% of white employees view themselves as allies to women of color at work, just 45% of black women and 55% of Latinas say they have strong allies in the workplace. There is more work to be done to build relationships that drive trust and transformation in the workplace, and more conversations need to confirm informal and formal sources of support.

 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

To help make a change in the workplace, educational institutions, companies, and organizations continue to underscore the importance of diversity, equity, and inclusion. While these efforts allow for some change, we need strategic approaches to systemic racism and inequities that address issues for companies and individuals. Many young professionals, consumers, and communities are at the forefront of social justice, so shifts in social responsibility, outreach, and accountability could drive change on many levels.

Bay Path President Sandra Doran noted in her speech that she has been committed to the advancement of women and the power of education. “I embrace these beliefs because I come from a family of educators and strong women. I have witnessed first-hand the power of higher education for women. My grandmother attended Barnard, a women’s college, and my mother returned to school to earn her degree at a women’s college as an adult learner. With such personal role models, I felt called to be the president of Bay Path.”

However, noting the effects of COVID-19, she noted that, “by now, we all know the burden of the pandemic fell harder on women than on men. Women make up the majority of front-line workers in deeply affected industries like retail, food service, hospitality, and healthcare, and also picked up a disproportionate share of the additional loads of schoolwork, housework, and elderly care. Black women have faced the highest rate of unemployment among women at 8.9%, followed by Latinx women at 8.5%. This pandemic has uncovered the fragility of our systems, from healthcare to daycare to education, and it is our calling, women — and men of substance — to create change. And the pipeline of women in leadership positions has shrunk.”

“As we move past International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, there must be even more commitment to revisiting practices in workplaces, classrooms, boardrooms, meeting places, and Zoom rooms to deliver equity, belonging, and dismantling ‘isms.’”

Doran also referenced an IBM study that “noted how women on corporate boards and in C-suites around the world have made no progress since 2019, when IBM did its first study on the subject.”

Another report, the 2020 Women in the Workplace study, conducted in partnership with Lean In and McKinsey, tracked the progress of women in corporate America. The data set reflects contributions from 317 companies that participated in the study and more than 40,000 people. According to the report, “the boundaries between work and home have blurred, and women, in particular, have been negatively impacted.”

In the study, women of color were noted as particularly impacted by COVID. “Women — especially women of color — are more likely to have been laid off or furloughed during the COVID-19 crisis, stalling their careers and jeopardizing their financial security. Meanwhile, black women already faced more barriers to advancement than most other employees. This is an emergency for corporate America. Companies risk losing women in leadership — and future women leaders — and unwinding years of painstaking progress toward gender diversity.”

 

Adverse Impact on Black Women and Latinas

While many black women and Latinas have made strides and found success in corporations and organizations, far too many remain underutilized, left behind, not included, and overlooked for opportunities. The numbers document their trajectory in a world where, in most cases, they are paid less than everyone else. Also, according to a report by CNBC, “employment for black women is 9.7% lower than it was in February 2020. Employment for white men, white women, and black men is down 5%, 5.4%, and 5.9%, respectively.”

A report by Lean In also confirms the experiences of black women in the workplace, noting that black women are significantly underrepresented in leadership roles, much less likely to be promoted to manager (and their representation dwindles from there), more likely to see their successes discounted, and less likely to get the support and access they need to advance. In addition, black women face more day-to-day discrimination at work. They want to lead — and they are motivated to improve their workplaces — but often find themselves unfairly penalized for being ambitious.

These findings should cause us all to pause and revisit our workplace policies, practices, and procedures. While not every black woman may have these experiences, other personal scenarios that they face result in negative trends. Most of all, these findings should prompt us to think about how everyone is treated in the workplace and how we treat each other. Most of all, we should consider how we can understand what others feel and find ways to communicate. If we were all treating each other as ourselves, we would not have these trends.

 

LGBTQIA+ Equality

While many communities and individuals experience an uncertain landscape in the workplace, we must continue to stay vigilant about trends that impact inclusion. For LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, pansexual, transgender, genderqueer, queer, intersex, agender, asexual, and other queer-identifying) communities, the journey to equality continues to “ebb and flow,” as Kathleen Martin of Springfield College and her wife, Andrea Hickson Martin of Bay Path University, noted:

“There is no doubt that there have been tremendous strides over the past decade for LGBTQIA+ equality. In 2012, the Obama administration supported marriage equality. In 2015, in the Supreme Court of the United States case Obergefell v. Hodges, marriage equality was made federal law, paving the way for our marriage in 2017. In 2019, Congress approved a comprehensive LGBTQIA+ civil-rights bill, providing non-discrimination protections for the LGBTQIA+ community in employment, housing, public spaces, education, jury service, credit, and federal funding. During the Trump administration, however, LGBTQIA+ rights were rolled back through a ban on transgender military service, the appointment of anti-LGBTQIA+ judges at various levels of the judicial system, the rolling back of the Obama-era Civil Rights Act protecting transgender and non-binary workers from employment discrimination, and the rescinding of Title IX rules requiring schools, including colleges and universities, to address sexual harassment, including sexual violence.

“As with everything in life, there is a constant ebb and flow,” Martin and Hickson continued. “On the first day of the Biden-Harris administration, President Biden signed an executive order preventing and combating discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation, reinstating the LGBTQIA+ protections the Trump administration removed. More recently, the administration has directed the Department of Education to ‘review all of its existing regulations, orders, guidance, and policies to ensure consistency with the Biden-Harris administration’s policy that students be guaranteed education free from sexual violence.’ This includes an evaluation of the Title IX burden of proof issued under the previous administration.”

As stated, the ebb and flow of policy continue to take us away from setting a more consistent, inclusive world and workplace where all people can succeed.

As we move past International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, there must be even more commitment to revisiting practices in workplaces, classrooms, boardrooms, meeting places, and Zoom rooms to deliver equity, belonging, and dismantling ‘isms.’ Also, we must begin to employ new ways for engaging, recognizing, and retaining black women, Latinas, and women of color who are still hidden in plain view.

 

Janine Fondon is a writer, speaker, assistant professor, and chair of Undergraduate Communications at Bay Path University. She is a frequent contributor to publications and media outlets on the topics of social justice, women’s history, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. She recently curated and produced an exhibit and series of public events at Springfield Museums, called “Voices of Resilience: The Intersection of Women on the Move.” She was named a 2020 Difference Maker by BusinessWest, a 2020 Pynchon Award winner, and one of the top African-American female professors in 2018 by the African American Female Professors Assoc.

People on the Move

Rachel Rubinstein

Holyoke Community College (HCC) recently welcomed Rachel Rubinstein as its first vice president of Academic and Student Affairs. Prior to her arrival, Rubinstein spent 16 years at Hampshire College in Amherst, where she was a professor of American Literature and Jewish Studies and from 2010 to 2018 served as dean of Academic Support and Advising. At HCC, she will oversee the divisions of Academic Affairs and Student Affairs in what is a newly unified role at the college. Rubinstein holds a bachelor’s degree in English from Yale University and a Ph.D. from the Department of English and American Literature and Language at Harvard University. A child of Mexican-born, Jewish immigrants, she grew up in a Spanish-speaking household and also studied Yiddish. Her academic studies, professional scholarship, and teaching have largely focused on immigration, migration, and multi-lingualism. She was the recipient of a Fulbright Fellowship and a Whiting Foundation Travel Fellowship. She has taught at Smith College and Mount Holyoke College and also taught adult learners and high-school students through community organizations including the Jones Library and the National Yiddish Book Center in Amherst. Her scholarly work includes two co-edited volumes, Arguing the Modern Jewish Canon: Essays on Literature and Culture in Honor of Ruth R. Wisse and the forthcoming Teaching Jewish-American Literature. She is the author of Members of the Tribe: Native America in the Jewish Imagination, which earned a Jordan Schnitzer Book Award honorable mention.

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Dawn Forbes DiStefano

The Massachusetts Council on Compulsive Gambling announced the appointment of Dawn Forbes DiStefano to its board of directors. DiStefano is the executive vice president at Square One, where she manages contracts and annual budgeting of $9 million. Square One is a private, nonprofit organization that provides early education and care to 500 children each day, as well as a range of family-support services to 1,500 families each year. Founded in 1983, the Mass Council on Compulsive Gambling has been instrumental in bringing the issue of gambling disorder to the attention of the public and policymakers. With the gambling landscape evolving and expanding, the council has continued to play a leading role in protecting and educating the public. DiStefano r eceived her master’s degree in public administration and nonprofit management from Westfield State University. She serves on several boards, including Dress for Success of Western Massachusetts, the Springfield Regional Chamber, and Baystate Community Relations at Westover Job Corps. In addition, she chairs the Hampden County Commission on the Status of Women and Girls.

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The National Science Foundation recently awarded two grants to support research by two Western New England University faculty members — Robert Barron, assistant professor of Industrial Engineering and Engineering Management, and Amer Qouneh, assistant professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering — and their collaborative partners. Barron is a co-principal investigator on a project titled “INFEWS/T2 FEWtures: Innovation Analysis Framework for Resilient Futures, with Application to the Central Arkansas River Basin.” The project will develop strategies to promote resilient small-town and rural (STAR) communities using renewably powered fertilizer production and wastewater treatment. FEWtures will equip STAR communities to face urgent challenges such as low crop prices, high prices for energy and fertilizer, pollution, and depleting water supplies. Barron is among a team of researchers led by the University of Kansas and including Western New England University, Kansas State University, and Washington State University that have been awarded $2.5 million to craft a creative, multi-faceted set of responses to these challenges. The focus of Qouneh’s research is “SHF: Medium: Collaborative Research: Enhancing Mobile VR/AR User Experience: An Integrated Architecture-System Approach.” This research will open the door for next-generation mobile platforms that provide high-quality, low-power applications for virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). It seeks to develop a synergetic architecture-system approach to improve the user’s experience with AR and VR by addressing performance, battery life, and thermal issues. The project is a collaboration effort between Qouneh and faculty at the University of Florida and the University of Houston. The total amount of the grant is $1.1 million.

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Melissa Fales

Kerry Homstead

NeighborWorks America, through its affiliate Way Finders, has awarded Congressman John W. Olver Scholarships to two individuals — Melissa Fales, program manager for Quaboag Valley Community Development Corp., and Kerry Homstead, community facilitator for the Treehouse Foundation — to attend the NeighborWorks America Training Institute (NTI). The scholarships provide travel, lodging, and tuition to a catalogue of more than 100 topic- and skill-focused courses. NTI creates an opportunity to network with other community-development organizations from across the country to share ideas and learn best practices in their field. Two scholarships are awarded annually to NTI attendees. The Congressman John W. Olver Scholarship recognizes outstanding individuals and organizations that demonstrate leadership, dedication, and commitment in the housing and community-development field in Hampden, Hampshire, Franklin, and Berkshire counties. Olver retired in 2012 after more than 40 years in public service, including 20 years serving in the U.S. House of Representatives. While in office, he not only provided strong support for NeighborWorks America, but also increased funding for housing vouchers, community block grants, and other affordable-housing programs. He was instrumental in the establishment of the National Foreclosure Mitigation Counseling Program, which assisted more than 1.5 million distressed homeowners through May 2013.

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Brian Benson, CPA has joined the investment-management team at St. Germain Investment Management as a financial planner, while Kathy Stewart has joined the firm’s client services group. Benson has extensive experience in accounting, risk assessment, audit procedures, and planning methodologies, and adds client relationship management to his quantitative and analytical competencies. Previously, he was a senior audit associate at Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C. He also held accounting and auditing responsibilities at Menzel & Associates, P.C. Benson earned bachelor’s degrees in accounting and business management as well as an MBA with a concentration in financial planning from Elms College. He is an active volunteer and organizer involved with charity golf tournaments as well as sharing his time with Junior Achievement and the MSCPA. At World Sports Camp in Easthampton, he produced individualized coaching lessons for golfers and tennis players. Stewart brings skill and experience in communications, corporate administration, client engagement, and secondary research. Most recently, she was the executive assistant for the operations & production manager at WWLP-TV22 News. She also held responsibilities as an executive producer for As School Match Wits, as well as administrative coordinator for the FCC 398 Children Television’s programming quarterly reports. Prior to her broadcast television experience, she worked in the Community Relations and Marketing department at the Sisters of Providence Health System. She earned an associate degree in administration from Bay Path University.

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James Garvey

Garvey Communication Associates Inc. (GCAi) announced that James Garvey, a digital marketing analyst with the company, has recently earned a digital marketing certificate from Cornell University’s online certification program. “I viewed it as a retreat of sorts where I could isolate the tactical and focus on overall strategy development,” Garvey said. “In turn, our emphasis has now become working with our clients to identify the key performance indicators (KPIs) prior to planning the tactical considerations. It sounds simple, but tactical is always the shiny object. Which platform to use and what creative often takes precedent over what the actual objective is. That tendency underserves the client and the potential of digital marketing, and is something we are working hard to avoid.” According to Cornell University, the objectives of the program are to learn and implement proven frameworks, assess opportunities and strategies associated with leading channels, and create integrated digital-marketing plans based on priorities and resources.

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Scott Foster, partner at Bulkley Richardson, has been recognized as a New England Trailblazer in American Lawyer Media’s (ALM) inaugural publication. ALM recently introduced New England Trailblazers, a special supplement developed to recognize professionals in New England who have “moved the needle” in the legal industry, are “agents of change,” and have made significant marks on the practice, policy, and advancements in their sector. Foster’s nomination notes that “he is recognized as a trailblazer because of his unwavering commitment to the business community in Western Massachusetts, providing the resources for emerging businesses that encourage growth, provide education, and make collaboration possible. As a partner at Bulkley Richardson, he is responsible for the recent launch of important practice areas, including cannabis, cybersecurity, emerging businesses, and craft breweries.” All of the honorees are featured in the Nov. 4 issue of the Connecticut Law Tribune.

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Leadership Pioneer Valley (LPV) recently welcomed Michelle Barthelemy of Greenfield Community College, Calvin Hill of Springfield College, Gladys Lebron-Martinez of MassHire Holyoke and the Holyoke City Council, Callie Niezgoda of Common Capital, Tony Maroulis of UMass Amherst, and Yemisi Oloruntola-Coates of Baystate Health to its board of directors. In addition, Francia Wisnewski has been elected clerk. Each brings a passion for both the work of the organization and the continued success of the Pioneer Valley, said Lora Wondolowski, LPV Executive Director. “We are delighted to have these dynamic community leaders join us. They will bring important skills and experience to the board and will help to fulfill our mission of building and connecting more diverse, committed, and effective leadership for the Pioneer Valley.”

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Dr. Said Nafai

Dr. Said Nafai, professor of Occupational Therapy at American International College (AIC), has been selected to receive the American Occupational Therapy Assoc. (AOTA) International Service Award at the 2020 annual conference in Boston in March. The AOTA International Service Award recognizes occupational therapists who demonstrate a sustained, outstanding commitment to international service in this field; promote and advance occupational therapy abroad in regard to occupational health and/or occupational justice in underserved countries, thereby promoting a globally connected community; and provide incentive to extend international relationships and contributions to address global health issues. Nafai, known as the ‘father of occupational therapy’ in his home country of Morocco, returns several times a year to volunteer, teach, and raise awareness of occupational therapy as a profession and a tool for empowering people of all ages who face physical, cognitive, or behavioral challenges. Students and faculty from across the U.S. and Europe frequently accompany him to learn about Morocco’s healthcare system. Among his credits, Nafai is the Moroccan delegate to the World Federation of Occupational Therapists; co-founder of the OT Project in Morocco; founder and president of the Occupational Therapy Assoc. of Morocco; vice president of Emmanuel’s Dream, a nonprofit for children with special needs; and a board member of the Lymphedema Advocacy Group, which currently has the most co-sponsored healthcare bill in the U.S. Congress.

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