By Beth Lipoff
This year’s Day of Education and Inspiration from Hadassah Greater Philadelphia aims to shatter — or at least crack — the glass ceiling women face in the business world.
The April 25 event from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the William Penn Inn in Ambler will feature Jane Golden, executive director and founder of the Mural Arts Program; Pennsylvania Secretary of Transportation Leslie Richards; and Lisa Hostein, editor of Hadassah Magazine.
The idea is to “see … what they encourage as far as breaking the glass ceiling, whether they were discriminated against and how they worked it out,” event co-chair Elyse Topolsky said.
Each speaker will have an hour to present and answer audience questions. More than 200 people have signed up.
For Richards, a longtime Hadassah member, the chance to give something back to the organization is deeply personal and important.
“Hadassah’s a big part of why I’m where I am. … When I was a young stay-at-home mom, [it was Hadassah] who helped with mentoring and showed me what a leader is and gave me opportunities to do political advocacy, which really developed my approach,” she said.
Mentors at Hadassah taught her “the value of going outside of your comfort zone for things you believe in,” she said.
When she joined Hadassah about 25 years ago, Richards found public speaking terrifying. Then one day, she was at a Hadassah national convention where the group was debating whether to keep meeting annually or move to a biennial model. Someone pushed her toward a microphone and asked her to speak.
Richards spoke about having to miss the previous year when she was nursing her daughter and how, if the convention was biennial, she would have to go four years between events if she missed one.
“It was short and sweet and to the point, and the women of Hadassah made me feel like I had really been part of this larger decision,” she said.
As Pennsylvania’s first female transportation secretary, Richards feels that part of her position is to act as a role model for other women.
“All the women coming up in their careers will see a woman in the highest level of this agency and won’t second-guess how high they can climb,” she said.
After her confirmation, Richards said women came to her office “with tears in their eyes” to express how happy they were to see a woman in the job.
“I had been told by several of them that in the past, it had been uncomfortable for a female to even come up on the eighth floor, so this was a big change,” Richards said.
One thing she wants to get across is that you don’t have to follow a traditional career path to reach the highest levels. Richards spent most of her working life in part-time positions and was a stay-at-home mom for eight years.
She also emphasized the importance of building a support network, both in and out of the office. That can include soccer moms, running buddies and other women at Hadassah functions.
Though she didn’t befriend people with that in mind, “when I ran for elected office, it was the friends I made in all of those groups that really catapulted me to the top,” she said. “Ask for support when you need it. I think women are hesitant to ask others to help. … I learned early on … people are very eager to support you in any way they can.”
She tries to pay forward the mentoring she received through Hadassah by setting up mentoring groups for women in her department and at colleges across Pennsylvania.
Richards said she sees an increase in the number of women running for office and seeking spots that men have traditionally dominated.
She said she often thinks of a Golda Meir quote: “Whether women are better than men I cannot say, but I can say they are certainly no worse.”
Beth Lipoff is a freelance writer.