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OWLC in Action

Ending the Concrete Ceiling for Women of Color

4 weeks 1 day ago

Women of color are the most likely demographic to earn poverty wages because of conscious and unconscious social biases, personal confidence gaps, and an overall lack of opportunities. There is ample data focusing on the challenges women at large face in the workforce, but there is glaringly limited discussion about how it relates to challenges women of color face. Awareness of these factors on all sides is crucial in creating change.

These were facts raised by the Women's Leadership Alliance (WLA) of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce in the introduction to their panel discussion, Concrete Ceiling: Challenges Women of Color Face in the Workplace at the Boardman Road Branch Library in Poughkeepsie, New York.

Organizer Dr. Lubna Somjee encouraged everyone to action, saying, "This issue is persistent, pervasive, and quiet. Let's start a conversation so we can go back to our institutions and make some noise!"

Sarah Urech, manager of the Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC)—a cosponsor the event—called attention to the importance of intersectionality in her introduction. "As women take on more leadership and gain more power, we are interested in how women can use that rise in influence to be transformers of power itself—from a force that is based on domination to one based on cooperation," she said.

The event description spoke to the need for local conversation and gave a definition of the concrete ceiling, stating, "For decades people have discussed the glass ceiling—the barrier that prevents women as a group from moving up the corporate hierarchy. The concrete ceiling is an even more formidable barrier that women of color face in the workplace." 

While it's true that women increasingly obtain positions at the tops of corporate and government hierarchies, these are the exceptions and are not reflective of growing equity. The concrete ceiling is an added burden for women of color, who confront additional issues such as racism, lack of role models, exclusion from networks, and a lack of opportunities to showcase a full range of skills.

The event speakers featured several women of color leaders, including Mecca Santana, Sarah Lee, Lisa Ghartey, Jen Brown, Cindy Smith, and Karla Jerry, who shared personal stories of hitting the concrete ceiling. With intimacy and clarity they illuminated how to deal with various issues, such as recognizing discrimination based on color or gender; identifying and coping with microaggressions in the workplace; increasing recruitment and retention in women of color in the workplace; and seeking professional support and mentorship. 

Mecca Santana described how her uncle would say, “You’re not going to be a lawyer,” and how she was sure to invite him to her law school graduation. She attributed an abundance of job offers to her confident attitude, saying, “They’d be lucky to have me.” She also called on organizations to institutionalize a culture of diversity. "Be a place where people of color want to work and educate your workforce on implicit bias,” she said. 

Karla Jerry reminded the audience, "We need diversity to serve all kinds of communities.” She shared that she focuses on knowing her own strengths and ignores discrimination by being “too busy working."

“Believe in yourself, know your self-worth. You can learn from your bad experiences and ask for support from a mentor,” she said.

Jen Brown drew a historical line tracing the United States' past of slavery to a present culture still racialized. Being from the school of “find a way or make a way,” she described part of her journey as spiritual and also emphasized the importance of believing in yourself.

"You can transcend what you are facing and find your part in difficult situations,” said Brown. She also firmly stated that white people need to take the lead to teach white people cultural literacy, and drew attention to the fact that the pathways she and her fellow panelists followed to success are not available to all.

Lisa Ghartey implored everyone to ask where the women of color are in their workplace. "Homogeneity is not good because it’s not who we are. Diversity will lend to the cohesiveness of our teams."

Sarah Lee encouraged women to talk to each other. “Preconceived notions start to wash away as you get to know people. Know employees as people, know their stories,” she said. 

“Treat everyone the same, regardless of their position or role in the organization,” Cindy Smith added, suggesting one way to retain staff is through education and encouraging everyone to network.

The final advice from the panelists included finding a mentor and trusted advisor whom you can trust; to be unapologetic and tell the truth in an authentic way; and to work smart, do your homework, and be fearless.  

“I learned I should be me. I am valuable. I am wonderful even though prejudice says we need to look, act, talk a certain way,” said audience member Dr. Anesta Vannoy-Kwame, president of the Southern Dutchess NAACP Branch 2132, which will be celebrating its 50th anniversary in October.

One of the WLA’s core tenets is collaboration: "When women work together, we are stronger, more powerful, and able to sidestep potential pitfalls." The OWLC is committed to being part of ongoing discussions on how local organizations can best support women of color in the workplace in the Hudson Valley, and hopes this conversation is the beginning of many more to come.

Doing Power Differently Internationally in Jamaica's Energy Sector

1 month 14 hours ago

Kelly Tomblin, president and CEO of the Jamaica Public Service Company talks about the impact of her time at Omega, the impetus to create the Women in Energy Conference: Doing Power Differently, and what #DoPowerDifferently means to her.

Omega: How were you impacted during your weekend at the Women & Power Retreat? What was the lasting takeaway? 

Kelly: As a leader and member of the energy industry, the theme "Doing Power Differently” really hit a cord. The takeaways were many. Talk about what you are afraid of and have a practice that brings it to the fore. Open up a space for others to confront, wrestle with, and move beyond the fear. My favorite image was Liz Gilbert saying, “fear—you can ride in the car with me, but you can’t drive.”

The experience reminded me that I am bold and that boldness is a necessary ingredient of movement from one place to another, and to embrace that. Also, the lack of a corporate presence made me think about what was possible in that arena. Finally, the reaffirmation of “sisterhood.” Like a lot of corporate women, I had steered away from the idea of sisterhood, embracing the notion that “I am not one of them.” But I am clearly one of them…and am proud and honored to be one. 

Omega: Why did you feel compelled to plan your own program with a "Do Power Differently" theme? 

Kelly: As we say in Jamaica, “Bwoy, I am not getting any younger, so I best make my big move now.” So many of us know we can have a greater impact but think small in our quiet hours, or that it is just too much work. But after being with women from across the Caribbean and U.S. and hearing their (often horror) stories, I was changed and reminded of what I had endured. But more than that—what potential we have! I was blown away by what my young women put together when given the opportunity and saw how their hearts longed for leaders to "Do Power Differently." I felt a sense of honor and duty simultaneously. The need to “Do Power Differently” and the double entendre was hard to resist. 

The theme of Women in Energy: Doing Power Differently resonated with everyone I talked to because it calls upon us, as we take the mantle in this industry, to rethink and often reject what we have seen. When I asked the question, “How are you doing power differently?” no one hesitated. It was like Brené Brown (vulnerability) meets Einstein (everyone is a genius). Corporations and institutions can be the most toxic places on earth…or they can be a place of healing and growth—leadership and culture determine which.  

Omega: What was the program meant to address and how did it go?

Kelly: The theme was "Passion, Power, and Promise" and our goals were to help women discover what is in their hearts, what excites them, what their gifts are, and how to bring it all together to make a positive impact. We discussed what women do to cause our own pain and some practical strategies for living more fully. Leaders in pain are toxic. Of course, we also wanted to reimagine the energy sector (wind, water, sun, economic prosperity) and expand the definition of “energy.”  

We did it our own way from start to finish and the program was wildly successful. More than 350 attended and we had to turn people away. We received a 98% satisfaction rating and many people said to me that their lives were changed forever. A magazine was published with the event and the minister of energy came directly after he was sworn in. Because of the conference, I was invited to a webinar with Chelsea Clinton and took a young women mentee to New York for the event.

Omega: What is the most important contribution women have to make in the energy sector?

Kelly: Women are returning the industry to the customer and they are bringing Mother Earth deeply into the conversation. All work gets done in relationships—we are bringing that reality to the front and banning the term “soft skills” from our vocabulary. We are also asserting wellness into corporate goals as a business imperative. Because women tend to be long-term thinkers, we are helping the industry see that “when the world does well, we will do well”—in areas of energy efficiency for instance. You can’t outrun the economy in which you live. It really serves both the industry and the consumers to think holistically and globally.

Our industry suffers from a lack of diversity in all ways—not just gender—which has stifled the progress that can form a foundation of prosperity, economic development, and wellness. Those of us who now lead can change this reality and we haven’t pushed enough. It’s unfortunate that 20 years into my experience we are still talking about this.

Omega: How do you feel you'll keep evolving this event and your understanding gained from the retreat?

Kelly: We have announced the dates and a larger venue for next year’s events and are lining up sponsors. Several local events, our web series, and a daily Whats App group are underway. The big learning was “get out of the way”—let young people do their work—and respect the culture. But the real magic is that the conversation is still strong months after the conference. That will continue to push it forward. 

Omega: Do you see relationships between issues of environmental "power" when it comes to energy and corporations, and the issues of "Women & Power"?

Kelly: There is a big misunderstanding around goals for environmental power, if you mean Mother Earth. As more diverse voices lead energy companies, we become less conflicted in our real concern about the impact of our actions. We will always have to manage the balance of affordability, sustainability, and the security for the energy sector, so we need to advocate for all three. The energy industry grew up without concern for either women or the environment. Now we have to reimagine the roles of both in the sector, which is changing dramatically. The power of environmental concerns and the re-engaged power of women have real opportunity to be at the head of the board room now.

Omega: What does the phrase #DoPowerDifferently mean to you?

Kelly: The above picture sheds “some light” on what it means. But to enumerate it: 1. Knowing that power is infinite—and that the more you give it away the more you have. 2. Admitting when you are wrong or you don’t know. 3. Using the word love…and meaning it. 4. Crying and laughing and being exactly who you are and giving everyone the space to do the same. 5. Believing in everyone’s genius. 6. Bringing your true strength to each conversation. 7. Expecting the best…and getting it.

Historic Black Women’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission at the UN

2 months 3 days ago

For four days this spring, the United Nations did something they've never done before. They hosted the Tribunal of the U.S. Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (BWTRC) as a part of the International Decade of People of African Descent at the United Nations. The BWTRC is the first organization to focus on rape and sexual assault against black women in the United States. 

On April 28, Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC) manager Sarah Urech attended the opening event, which was hosted by Black Women’s Blueprint, a nonprofit organization that attended the OWLC's Women Serving Women Summit in 2012. Black Women's Blueprint envisions a world where women and girls of African descent are fully empowered and where gender, race, and other disparities are erased 

Three by three, women came to the stage and spoke testimonials of abuse by family and community members, as well as by the institutions that are designed to protect and defend them but don't necessarily do so. After each testimonial, one of the commissioners would come up from the side of the stage to issue a formal acknowledgment: "We see you; we hear you; we thank you," followed by an individualized appreciation. Many of the women stated, "This is my story, and my experience. But it does not define me." Then they proceeded to narrate what did define them—the perseverance to get a college degree, the courage to break the cycle of violence in their family, the capacity to help others through motivational speaking, the love of music, and more. 

Urech was greatly moved by the event, saying, "Much of the day, there were tears running down my cheeks. Certainly they flowed in response to the sheer horror of and grief for what the testifiers had survived, especially the ways in which the law enforcement and justice systems failed to support them. But more powerful than that, I felt courage welling up inside me; strength from their strength, hope from their hope. The initiative felt like a rising up—rising up in the face of trauma, violence, and systemic, long-term, cruel racism and sexism. Rising up as individuals and rising up as a community. Rising up to take charge in this world of systemic inequities and, as we teach at the OWLC, truly Do Power Differently®, for the good of all of us."

Women from around the world attended the BWTRC event, which was five years in the making and involved national grassroots activism, direct service healing practice, and participatory action research by Black Women’s Blueprint and survivors across the country. 

The BWTRC was born from discussions between women and girls of African descent—many denied access to or assistance from the criminal justice system—who felt that public recognition and acknowledgment are necessary for personal and collective transformation. The BWTRC first took place in New York City, and later in other cities, including Washington D.C., New Orleans, Mississippi, and Chicago. Their mandate is "Truth. Justice. Healing. Reconciliation." 
 
 

Resting, Reflecting & Reprioritizing for Women

2 months 3 weeks ago

 

Taking time to rest, reflect, and reprioritize is critical to the creative process. This was the case for Milka Milliance, who recently launched the "goddess leadership" program We R Artemis after time spent in an Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC) Juno Women's Leadership Residency, which had 39 participants in 2015. The OWLC is welcoming 42 participants in 2016.

REST

In her inaugural newsletter, Milka described her journey as a process of learning to put her values and wisdom into practice in the deepest way possible. "My identity was so tied to my job that it took me two months to muster up the courage to hand in my resignation. It was the first step of many that I would take in the coming months that brought me to different stops on my heroine's journey where I had to stop, pause, and listen to an inner voice that I had silenced for so long." An important stop on that journey was the OWLC residency.

REFLECT

During a visit to the Sanctuary on Omega's campus, Milka says, "[I] decided just running away from a toxic environment was not enough. I wanted to do something meaningful with my experiences and knowledge.... Inspired by the work of Jean Shinoda Bolen, I chose Artemis, a one-in-herself goddess archetype, the protector and champion of women, as the namesake of We R Artemis."

REPRIORITIZE

Motivated by her time of rest and reflection, as well as subsequent travels in Europe, Milka's vision slowly crystallized until she was ready to put her inspiration into action. She is now creating a community that helps women across the world to become more accepting and loving of themselves by simply showing up more authentically.

The organization's tagline is "Narrating and Living Your Heroine's Journey." They seek to elevate the lives of all women through immersive experiences and retreats through coaching, workshops, and locally organized social events in leadership skills, community building, meditation, and more.

The workshops incorporate mindfulness teaching, Jungian psychology, body movement, creativity, and play to help participants reach a deeper level of consciousness and awareness through interactive learning.

By applying the power of mythology to personal lives, We R Artemis is reawakening the deeper knowing that lives in each of us—if we take the time to listen and the courage to act. 

 


Changing Lives in Newark, New Jersey

3 months 1 day ago

Mahatma Gandhi said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” Norma Bowe created a group focused on community service and activism in Newark, New Jersey, called Be the Change, that is working to do just that.

Newark’s crime rate is five times above the national average. It’s also the second-to-last in the nation for green spaces and parks compared to other U.S. cities of the same size.

The group began their work in 2010 with students from Kean University and other local volunteers who were dedicated to community service projects in their hometown and across the country. They helped to address issues of social justice, food justice, and human rights, including taking abandoned lots and turning them into pocket parks and gardens.

The Omega Women’s Leadership Center (OWLC) has been a support to Be the Change along the way. In addition to the organization's participation in the Women Serving Women Summit nonprofit retreats during Omega Service Week, the OWLC has provided scholarships to young women (and some young men) from Be the Change to attend a number of programs, including multiple Women and Power conferences and the Taking a Leadership Leap workshop. Since 2011, 75 people from Be the Change have participated in these retreats, conferences, and workshops. 

"I have never realized how much I can inspire other people with the things I do and the things I've gone through until this weekend, being able to share with complete strangers and…to connect with the other women on a level I didn't think was possible. I learned a lot about myself and that I can do anything I put my mind to. I have learned not to let fear hold me back," said one Be the Change participant in the Taking a Leadership Leap workshop.  

Be the Change attendance at Omega events has had a major impact on the organization. Since Omega Service Week 2014, they have completed 501(c)(3) status, created a board and an executive committee, and have been selected to present their plans at the Clinton Global Initiative in 2016 to research the therapeutic effects of gardening on PTSD, among many other accomplishments.

“None of this would have been possible without all of the opportunities OWLC has provided for us," Bowe said. "You have grown and supported us, and we are ever so thankful.”

To see what working for change in Newark looks like, watch Be the Change’s thank you video.

 

Women Serving Women Summit Participants Take Flight

4 months 1 week ago

Omega recently caught up with Women Serving Women Summit 2015 attendee Youth Media Project, whose members teach digital storytelling. We wondered, "What story do they have to tell about their experience?"

We Have Everything We Need

"One of the favorite lines that I kept saying and repeating to the group with the most resonance was 'we have everything we need,'" noted Mi'Jan Celie Tho-Biaz, then-director of the organization. "With such a mighty group of profoundly talented cultural workers, this is true. They are very gifted creative leaders and visionaries, and every obstacle they faced could be collectively solved." 

Direct Effects: A Grant & An Installation

Beyond that realization, there were direct ripple effects of the group's summit experience. Youth Media Project Advisory member Yolanda Wisher was honored with a Pew Center grant and member Karina Puente had her temporary mural installed at the Javits Convention Center. 

"Those are only two of the beautifully rich individual and community-based seeds that got tended to during our summit time," said Tho-Biaz.

Those seeds also positively impacted the day-to-day business of being an artist.

"Attending the summit gave me the practical tools to not only survive as a full time artist; my group taught me how to thrive. I met two mentors who continue to empower my business and creative trajectory to this day. I learned how to write client contracts, bill for my art services, and I landed a New York City job that turned into another opportunity in Minneapolis," said Puente.

More Success

Tho-Biaz, Wisher, and Puente were inspired at the summit to submit a workshop panel that was accepted for the fall 2015 feminist writer and media conference BinderCon. And, Tho-Biaz credits her time at summit for the momentum that led her to become the Visiting Research Scholar at Columbia University's Interdisciplinary Center for Innovative Theory and Empirics.

"Our summit time was phenomenal. It was my first time leading a residential retreat and we are all still flying high! I'm hooked, for sure. Everyone's creative practice is positively expanding, and the Youth Media Project community is far better for it," said Tho-Biaz.

Learn More About the Summit

The Women Serving Women Summit, part of Omega Service Week hosted by the Omega Women's Leadership Center, is a grant retreat program for organizations that support women and girls. They are invited to bring their teams of staff and board members to Omega to work and rest so they can return to their efforts replenished and invigorated. Organizations use their retreat time to develop strategies, cultivate leadership, and deepen connections to discuss challenges, ideas, and solutions.


Join Us On the Bridge Saturday, March 5

4 months 3 weeks ago

Join us to celebrate women's achievements while also acknowledging the challenges that women still face at the 6th Annual International Women’s Day Walk at the Walkway Over the Hudson in Poughkeepsie, New York on Saturday, March 5th. 

Cosponsored by the Omega Women’s Leadership Center (OWLC) and organized by the Women's Leadership Alliance of the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce, the event will begin on the Poughkeepsie side of the bridge at 9:00 a.m. This year, the OWLC is one of five groups nominated for 2016 Nonprofit of the Year, which will be announced at the event by Krista Jones of Sparrow’s Nest.

The 2016 theme is “Fit Women Make Fit Leaders” and features Dr. Pamela Edington of Dutchess Community College. Also speaking is Pari Forood of Miles of Hope Breast Cancer Foundation. Entertainment will be provided by the Poughkeepsie High School Choir, Kyleigh Rothmand, and the Evergreen Chorus of the Sweet Adelines.

Register for the Dutchess County Regional Chamber of Commerce's event at Walkway Over the Hudson

Learn more about International Women's Day 

OWLC Celebrates 20th Anniversary of Feminist.com

6 months 3 weeks ago

On December 2, 2015, the Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC) cosponsored the 20th anniversary celebration of Feminist.com, the organization Gloria Steinem credits for putting "the dot-com in feminism." Marianne Schnall founded the nonprofit in 1995 "to offer people around the world access to information about human rights, women's issues, health, grassroots activism, and pretty much anything that could possibly support a world where men and women are allied, empowered and equal." 

The one-day anniversary conference, held at the Lower East Side Girls Club in New York City, reflected on the last two decades of feminism and envisioned where to go in the next 20 years. Panel topics included gender, politics, activism, identity, race, and media. 

Carla Goldstein, Omega’s chief external affairs officer and cofounder of the Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC), moderated the panel Our Inner Lives: A Multi-Faith Dialogue on Spirituality, Religion & Feminism featuring Rabbi Dianne Cohler-Esses, Maria Ebrahimji, Chung Hyun Kyung, Latham Thomas, and Adriene Thorne. Other featured speakers included Imani Brown, Soraya Chemaly, and Ashley Ford, and performances were given by the Arts Effect, BETTY, Kaylo (Kerri Lowe), and Sarah Jones. 

As a library and networking engine, Feminist.com has been and continues to be an Internet "home" for millions of women all over the world, offering news, original articles, exclusive interviews, anti-violence resources, columns, activism alerts, event listings, and women-owned business listings. 

View photographs from the celebration by Kiana MacClellan.

Scholarship Recipients Talk About #DoPowerDifferently

8 months 4 weeks ago

The Omega Women's Leadership Center's (OWLC) annual Women & Power event has attracted wide audiences for more than a decade of conversation about creating a culture of equality and care. This year 86 women received scholarships to participate in the event and contribute to the dialogue. Below, three of them speak about their experiences and what the campaign #DoPowerDifferently means to them. 

Name: Gifty Blankson
Organization: CUNY
What was your biggest takeaway from the gathering?: "First of all, I would like to use this opportunity to thank you all for giving me this extraordinary life-changing experience. Miss Elizabeth Gilbert's message on how to go after our dreams even in fear, was an eye-opening moment for me. She made me realize that fear is always going to be a part of my creativity journey but that shouldn't stop me."
What does #DoPowerDifferently mean to you?: "Doing power differently to me means identifying my destiny and having the courage to pursue it."
View the CUNY photo album from the conference.
 
Name: Nirmala Singh (pictured above on right with OWLC manager Sarah Urech)
Organization: Go Beyond Greatness
What was your biggest takeaway from the gathering?: "My biggest takeaway was Bonnie St. John explaining how being underestimated and devalued in society did not bring her down but ignited the fire in her to go above and beyond for high achievement and life success. My experience being around amazing, talented, and strong women leaders has helped me to understand the true definition of what is means to be bold."
What does #DoPowerDifferently mean to you?: "As an aspiring international human rights attorney, I realized doing power differently means I must step out, be bold, and become an important contributor who balances the power structure within American society and the world." 
 
Name: Lila Montoya  
Organization: Be the Change
What was your biggest takeaway from the gathering?: "The biggest way to change the world is to follow one's passion and not let fear dictate our decisions, or lack thereof."
What does #DoPowerDifferently mean to you?: "At times, we are put in unfavorable positions that we cannot control. What we can control is our reaction and what we are willing to do to better the situation, for ourselves, and perhaps for other women."
View the Be the Change photo album from the conference.
 

Pioneering Media Literacy Activist Jean Kilbourne Is Juno Resident

1 year 6 days ago

Jean Kilbourne, internationally recognized for her groundbreaking work on images of women in advertising and for her critical studies of alcohol and tobacco advertising, recently stayed on Omega's campus as a Juno Leadership Resident with the Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC). 

Kilbourne's most recent film, Killing Us Softly 4, was screened at the Ram Dass Library to a large audience of staff, participants, and local residents. The film, which explores the dehumanizing images of women in mainstream advertisements, was followed by a question and answer session.

Jean began her work in the 1960s, exploring the connection between advertising and several public health issues, including violence against women and eating disorders. She launched a movement to promote media literacy as a way to prevent these problems, an original idea at the time that is now mainstream and an integral part of most prevention programs.

Jean has transformed the way organizations and educational institutions around the world address the prevention of many public health problems including smoking, high-risk drinking, eating disorders, obesity, the sexualization of children, and violence against women.

This year, Jean is an inductee into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca, New York, along with nine others, including Eleanor Smeal, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Barbara Iglewski, and Martha Graham

Find out more about Jean Kilbourne

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