Women’s History Month: Advice from Women Leaders in Pennsylvania
March 30, 2018
Our nation wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for the contributions from amazing women.
To honor the lives and achievements of American women, the U.S. Congress designated March as National Women’s History Month.
Women’s History Month recognizes women both past and present for their impact on our society and inspires other women to make a difference.
A Look at the Past – PSECU’s Founders
PSECU is paying tribute to the women who played an integral role in founding what is today Pennsylvania’s largest credit union with more than 430,000 members and over $5 billion in assets.
PSECU was founded by 22 state employees who decided to take control of their finances and make a better life for themselves and their families. They pooled their money, and with just $90 – equating to roughly $1,646 today – they started the credit union. Based on a review of historical documents, several women were among the 22 founders of PSECU.
“In the 1930s, women had fewer career options than they do today. That’s why it is so amazing to look back and see that even from PSECU’s start in 1934, women played an important role,” said PSECU President Greg Smith. “It’s an honor to say that women helped form our credit union and make us who we are today.”
PSECU continues the legacy that its women founders initiated. Today, approximately 68% of PSECU’s more than 850 employees are female. Women also continue playing strong roles on the credit union’s Board of Directors and executive leadership team.
Pennsylvania Women Making a Difference Today
It’s important to learn from our past and recognize the changes we, as Americans, need to make today to create a unified nation where every citizen can thrive.
There is so much we can learn from women who are leading in government, business, and non-profits. That’s why we interviewed some of the top women leaders in Pennsylvania on how to overcome roadblocks and make a lasting positive impact on our society.
Below, you’ll learn about nine women leaders who are making a difference here in Pennsylvania and discover what advice they’d give to the next generation of young women.
Advice for Young Women
Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker, Ninth Council District in Philadelphia:
“Get grit. No matter what you want to do in life, you’re going to need grit or resilience to overcome the obstacles and barriers you are going to face. Whether it’s internal forces (negative self-talk) or external forces (people who don’t want to see you succeed), you’re going to have obstacles in your way and that’s when you will have to draw on that grit – that attitude that says I will overcome in spite of the odds, in spite of what I don’t have, or in spite of how long it may take me to accomplish my goals.”
“Follow your passion. Find that thing that you’re passionate about, that thing you would do even if you didn’t get paid for it, and pursue it with everything you have. Don’t let someone tell you it’s illogical.”
“Don’t let anyone put you in a box. Don’t let anyone – friend or foe – tell you what you’re supposed to care about or what you should be. Remember that you define yourself, and your interests can be as diverse as you want them to be.”
Councilwoman Cherelle L. Parker proudly serves the Ninth Council District in Philadelphia. Cherelle’s mission to bridge the gap between the “haves” and the “have-nots” continues to be her driving force for change. She has dedicated her life to using her voice to advocate for the passage of forward-thinking public policies that will enhance the quality of life for the working class, senior citizens, women, children, and families alike while promoting job creation and sustainability, economic development, an equitable public school system, and consumer protection laws.
Dr. Jenifer Epstein, Partner at New York Life:
“My number one best piece of advice that I could offer to young women is to be KIND to yourself. As women, we speak to ourselves in a way that we would never speak toward another person. (I hope.) We kick ourselves when we are down, and in many cases, we allow temporary setbacks to shape the perception we have about our ability to succeed. It is this ‘self-talk’ that can ultimately rob us from taking risks and being exposed to opportunities. I would encourage young women to speak to themselves as they would a dear friend who needs challenged and encouraged.”
“Women are built from the inside out to CREATE LIFE, as well as be the epitome of strength, survival, and resilience. These traits position us for any seat at the table, and any level of any organization. It is because women excel at empathy, communication, and relationship-building that we are uniquely positioned to outperform in sales organizations and are an incredible asset to corporations that prioritize employee and client retention.”
“I would also say that everything you need is already inside of you, but what got you here today will not necessarily take you where you want to go. Be open-minded, bold, coachable, and innovative in all that you do. Protect your mind and your heart by following in the footsteps of those that have high integrity and live the life that you want. Don’t allow yourself to be swayed in life by what feels ‘easier’ or ‘faster.’”
“Everything you want will come to you through small decisions that you make every single day, so make the right ones and readjust when you make a mistake. Finally, remember that mistakes do not define who you are. They shape who you will become and will work to activate your extraordinary potential.”
Jenifer received her undergraduate degree in Biology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate from New York Chiropractic College. She transitioned into finance where she began as a top-performing sales producer, and now excels as an executive recruiter and mentor within a Fortune 100 Company. Her passion lies in coaching others for high performance and how to overcome self-limiting beliefs.
Jeri Sims, Regional Chief Executive Officer for the Red Cross Central Pennsylvania Region:
“There are three guiding principles that have served me well. First and foremost– find your passion. When you discover what is important to you at the very core of your soul, and allow that to guide your life and your decisions, you will live a rich and fulfilled life.”
“Oftentimes, especially with the influence of technology and media, we get caught up in measuring ourselves against others. Social media newsfeeds are packed with highlight reels of postcard-worthy vacations and newly purchased shiny objects. This measurement of success, while highly promoted in society today, is built on false illusions. Instead of comparing yourself to others, take time to reflect and identify what it is that motivates you and what you find rewarding, and then use it to help create your life’s journey. To me, that is the most powerful and impactful piece of advice that I can offer.”
“Secondly, I would like the next generation of women to ‘know no limits’ especially when it comes to their careers. If you are following your passion and it is guiding your career, the sky is the limit. Don’t allow stereotypes to pigeonhole your career choices, and don’t be afraid to take risks in moving through your career opportunities. As a woman who began her career in the early ‘80s in corporate America, moved into the arts, and now into humanitarian services as the CEO for Central Pennsylvania at the American Red Cross, it has been an exciting and challenging ride. And it has been one where I stepped out of my comfort zone, on many occasions, to explore opportunities that closer connected me to my passion for helping others and making a difference in people’s lives and in my community.”
“Lastly, please volunteer. It is the single best thing that you can do to enrich your heart and your soul. Choosing to give back and helping others is what makes our communities and our world a better place in which to live. I know that young women’s lives are busy, chaotic, and complicated, but if we each gave a few hours a month in volunteering, the benefit would be immeasurable. Volunteer organizations are recognizing and are striving to create opportunities for busy people to give of themselves in ways that work with their schedules. No longer does one need to sit in a meeting or work on a committee to volunteer. There are all kinds of nontraditional ways to volunteer, and new ones being created all the time. And I would be remiss if I didn’t also mention the social aspect of volunteering. An amazing byproduct of volunteering is that it opens a whole new world of friendships and business contacts. I met some of my closest friends through my volunteer work, and I was recruited for my last two jobs through people I met in my volunteer world.”
Jeri Sims has served as Chief Executive Officer for the Red Cross Central Pennsylvania Region since April 2016. As Regional CEO, she oversees the fulfillment of the Red Cross’ mission across a 22-county footprint – which is to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors.
Ellen Kyzer, MPA, Chief Executive Officer of Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania:
“Surrounding yourself with strong female leaders and mentors is really important. Especially as you start out in your career, build those friendships so you consistently have those influences to coach you and advise you if you come into difficult situations.”
“Always have a vision for what’s next and strive to grow and develop and continue to challenge yourself. Whether it’s taking an additional class, or a concept you need to understand, asking the right questions, aligning yourself in a professional environment, and creating those resources for yourself so you can continue to be successful and grow.”
Ellen M. Kyzer, MPA, has been the Chief Executive Officer of the Girl Scouts in the Heart of Pennsylvania since 2016, bringing nearly 20 years of leadership experience in the nonprofit and fundraising field, to the role. Having been a Girl Scout in her childhood in Pike County, Ellen credits the organization with developing her strength as a leader. Ellen has served in executive and leadership roles with the American Red Cross Central Pennsylvania Region, the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, the Greater Harrisburg Foundation, and Goodwill Keystone Area. She holds a dual bachelor’s degree in Political Science and Urban Studies and a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Pittsburgh; and is a graduate of the Leadership Harrisburg Program, a Central Penn Business Journal “40 under 40” award recipient, and a member of the 2018 Class of YWCA Women of Excellence.
Jessica E. Meyers, President & Owner, JEM Group, LLC:
“When I began my career, I knew I needed to make my own breaks. No one was going to pave the way for me or give me a seat at the table. I had to earn it. For me, identifying mentors and champions, getting involved in the community, and embracing challenges were very important as I built my business.”
Jessica Meyers has spent the last 22 years in the construction industry. In 2003, she founded her own firm, JEM Group, with the purpose of building to improve lives. Her team of nearly 30 employees builds construction projects across all commercial markets throughout Pennsylvania.
Claudia Williams, Chief Frientorship® Officer:
“The next generation of women needs to support each other every step of the way. They need to lead before they are put in a leadership role. They need to form strong workplace relationships with both women and men. Most of all, they need to use their voices. Ask questions. Ask for a better starting salary. Ask for a raise. Ask for a promotion. Importantly, don’t strive for ‘balance.’ Instead, strive for ‘fulfillment.’ Balance is often an unattainable goal, which means we end up feeling like failures. Fulfillment, however, enables us to appreciate what we do well on any particular day. That appreciation is what propels our continued ability to succeed.”
After serving as Associate General Counsel for Global HR & Litigation at The Hershey Company, Claudia founded The Human Zone. She helps companies develop great leaders, build thriving workplace cultures, and deliver business results. An author and speaker, Claudia delivers keynote addresses and workshops designed to inspire people to be their best at work and in life.
Leah K. Clarke, PhD, LPC, NCC, Associate Professor of Counseling; Assistant Director, Graduate Program in Counseling:
“Recognize that there are seasons to life. You do not have to have and do everything right now. There were times I was anxious that opportunities were passing me by but looking back, I see that there was value in waiting for the right time or focusing on one thing instead of too many things. There can be seasons of focusing on your family, on your own well-being, or on different aspects of your career. Sometimes those things can all come together but sometimes you have to prioritize.”
“We all need and deserve support. We thrive and are successful when we work in environments where we are valued and encouraged. I became depleted and insecure over time when I worked without a real support system. If you cannot get this in your immediate work environment, consider branching out.”
“Keep an eye on the role that fear plays into your decisions. We cannot necessarily get rid of our fears, but if we know when they are affecting us, we can choose how to deal with them. I have not regretted the times when I have moved forward in spite of being nervous and unsure.”
Leah Clarke received her Master’s in Community Counseling and PhD in Counseling and Counselor Education from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor and serves as a faculty member in the Graduate Counseling Program at Messiah College and as a counselor for Safe Harbor Christian Counseling. She is currently serving as the elected Chair of Messiah College’s Community of Educators and Senate. Her research and clinical interests include women’s issues, cross-cultural counseling, and empathy.
Amma Johnson, Founder of the AMMA JO Brand:
“My advice would be to hold on to your value and never take unnecessary ‘shortcuts’ to achieve success. Success is the journey of ‘becoming’ who you truly are. As people, and especially as women, you may be presented with the opportunity to compromise your values in order to get ahead. That is a short-term opportunity. Hold on to your value and go through the necessary process to get to where you want to go because it is the process of going through certain challenges that bring out the greatness in you. Once you discover the greatness inside of you, you are literally unstoppable and you can recreate more successes and wins… within your own life and in the life of others. Do not undervalue yourself. If you feel like you deserve more pay, ask for it or go where you can get it. Don’t take shortcuts. Don’t lose your integrity. Life is more than fans, followers, and likes. Don’t be enamored by the ‘short road’ to success. Build your life day by day. Go through the process and discover your greatness.”
Amma Johnson (aka AMMA JO) is a designer, singer, and entrepreneur. After 15 years experience in her corporate career in retail and executive management, Amma launched the AMMA JO brand, a women’s accessories and women’s empowerment brand. The AMMA JO accessories brand is featured in over 60 retail stores across the U.S. and when Amma is not promoting her brand, she is inspiring women through speaking and singing as an independent artist. “My life mission is inspiration.” She inspires others through her career, her music, and her voice.
Charity J. Hughes, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, President and Managing Director of Pathfinder Leadership Group, LLC:
“I often find myself mentoring young women and girls, and I am in awe of their passion and potential. The advice I share with young women is to strive to always improve yourself while remaining unapologetically true to who you are.”
Charity J. Hughes, PhD, SPHR, SHRM-SCP is the president and managing director of Pathfinder Leadership Group, LLC. She has taught leadership, human capital development, and emotional intelligence for various colleges and universities. Charity was recognized by the 2015 Pennsylvania Diversity Conference as one of the most powerful and influential women and was nominated for the 2012 Delaware Valley Human Resource Person of the Year award. She stays grounded through her community involvement in various organizations including Graduate!Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Regional Chapter of the Society of Human Resource Management, and her church community.
Take time to learn about some of the incredible women in our nation’s history and those who are making an impact today, right here in Pennsylvania.