In honor of Women’s History Month, on March 25th, SOS Illinois hosted its first-ever Women in Leadership Forum entitled: The Glass Ceiling – Reality or Perception? The goal of the Forum was to hear the journey of women into leadership, discuss the metaphoric “glass ceiling,” and consider strategies to improve opportunities for women in the workplace.
Delphine Rankin, Chief Operating Officer at SOS Illinois, served as the moderator for the panel discussion and shared, “On behalf of SOS Illinois’ Racial Justice Committee, we were truly grateful each of the women who served on our panel shared with us their words, journey, and success. The powerful discussion reminded me of the words from Kavita Ramdas, Director of the Open Society Foundations’ Women’s Rights Program.”
Delphine continued, “This quote captures the essence and the example of these six amazing women represented in SOS Illinois’ Women in Leadership Forum.”
- Jackie Sharp Akins, Chief Executive Officer, Lakeside Community Committee
- Ashley Hinton, Senior Director of Community Relations, Chicago Blackhawks
- Kimberly Hollingsworth, President, Olive-Harvey College
- Samantha Oliver Mitchell, Chief Operating Officer, TCA Health Inc.
- Essence Smith, Director of Operations and Communications, SocialWorks
- Elena Sotomayor, Executive Vice President of Sales, Cardenas Marketing Network
Reflection on the Forum by Kelsey Balk
As a conclusion for the event, Kelsey Balk, Chief Strategy Officer at SOS Children’s Villages Illinois, shared closing thoughts that we have modified and offer as a reflection for the event.
As co-chair of the Racial Justice Committee at SOS Illinois, with Delphine Rankin, who served as the Forum’s moderator, we were excited to be hosting our first-ever Women in Leadership Forum and hope this forum will become an annual event. At the end of the event, it was an honor to have the opportunity to thank everyone on the panel: Jackie, Ashley, Kimberly, Samantha, Essence, and Elena. We were so grateful for their time, as well as for the meaningful dialogue that shared such incredible insights, personal stories, and lessons learned with our forum participants.
On reflection, some of the most poignant discussion points were the following from each of the panelists:
Jackie set the stage by sharing on how the glass ceiling is created by societal unconscious biases. Jackie also shared an amazing quote, “Respect your future.” This was advice she would have given her younger self, that resonated with every participant and is so valuable for women, and people regardless of gender, at any age.
Samantha shared a story of a sliding glass door, speaking of how you may not see a barrier until you hit it, is an image that will stick with me. In addition, Samantha advised not to shrink yourself, that even if you are shy, you need to put yourself out there, network, and advocate for yourself. You must do this or you will be overlooked and bypassed for opportunities that you are deserving of. This advice was seconded by Jackie who also spoke on the importance of networking, mentorship, and sponsorship.
Kim spoke on breaking through the glass ceiling and getting a seat at the table, and how the journey does not end there. Having a seat at the table does not necessarily mean having a voice at the table; and therefore, advocacy efforts are ongoing. They do not stop when the ceiling is broken. Kim also talked about something she would tell her younger self is that you do not need to “act like a man” in order to succeed in leadership, that in fact, many of our feminine qualities make us more empathetic managers and enable us to see situations from multiple points of view and find best solutions to problems.
Elena advised us to use our resources, that our networks and connections are bricks we can use to shatter the glass ceiling. She advised us to find balance in our lives and to skip things that do not add value. Our time is one of our most precious resources. Elena also shared that many of the countries that handled the pandemic the most successfully are run by women, links shared below:
- Forbes Magazine – 8 (More) Women Leaders Facing The Coronavirus Crisis
- Catalyst – Women in Management: Quick Take
Essence spoke about the difference one person can make in another’s life and career. That one person can help another by showing them that they are valued and important. That can be all that is needed to set that other person up for future success. Additionally, Essence spoke on the struggle of personal self-care being sacrificed to put in so much extra effort to succeed, which tied into what Elena said about finding a balance and putting in the time on things that add value while saying “no” to things that do not.
Ashley shared the inspiring changes she is seeing occur in the very male-dominated world of sports. Women in leadership roles are becoming more and more prevalent there and in many industries. She encouraged us, saying “the time is now.” Ashley also spoke on “ally-ship” in addition to mentorship and sponsorship. We should be mentors and sponsors for other women, but we can also have men as allies, mentors, and sponsors. We can all play a role in making a more inclusive and equitable workplace.
Throughout the event, each of the panelists spoke of challenges they experienced. They also spoke of overcoming those challenges, of making progress, and of hope; and that is why we wanted to have this forum.
The forum allowed us to professionally and personally recognize the number of women who paved the way for each of us to be where we are today. Their efforts allow us to do the work we all are doing, and our work in building the road for future generations. We can make change happen, and we are making change happen.
Panel Discussion on YouTube
Interested in seeing the entire panel discussion? We have the video posted on YouTube. (Click link to view entire event.)
More About the Racial Justice Committee
SOS Illinois recognizes the existence of racial inequities and felt the need to create a committee to discuss how we are all impacted and what we can do to make a difference. As a Committee, our stated goal is: Advance the core mission of SOS Children’s Villages Illinois by critically assessing and creating strategies with a focus on innovative methods to create on-going plans for continued areas for education, training, and advocacy to promote equality, address racism and bias, and advocate for social justice reforms both within the organization and surrounding communities.
Read more about our committee, as well as the amazing events and activities they have hosted here.
If you are interested in learning more about SOS Children’s Villages Illinois’ Racial Justice Committee, please feel free to reach out to Kelsey Balk at firstname.lastname@example.org