Panel tackles how to help women succeed in business

Panel tackles how to help women succeed in business

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Never say you’re sorry, Gail Ruopp told a room of more than 50 people gathered March 29 at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts.

“Women have a tendency to over-apologize,” said Ruopp, executive director of the law firm Flaster Greenberg. “The better thing to say if you made a mistake is, ‘We’ll fix it. I hear you.’ To say I’m sorry is like saying a four-letter word. Just get it out of your vocabulary.”

The third-annual Women in Business Panel hosted by the Independence Business Alliance, the region’s LGBT chamber of commerce, featured the theme “From Partnerships to Power: Women in Business Today.”

“I have a slightly different perspective,” said Katherine Sprissler-Klein, deputy director of community engagement with Philabundance. “When you’re building a movement, you have to be vulnerable.”

“You have to highlight vulnerability when you’re selling a good or a service to someone who will never receive it,” she said, noting she has to cull donations to stock the Philabundance food bank that feeds 750,000 hungry people in the region. She formerly worked as the major gifts officer for the Human Rights Campaign in Washington, D.C.

Jazzy Gray-Sadler, who moderated the discussion, said their differences could be explained by the fact that one works in a for-profit environment while the other in a nonprofit.

“That’s what you’re hearing from these ladies who are hugely successful in their own right with regards to the type of corporations they work for,” said Gray-Sadler, CEO of Gray-Sadler Enterprises and producer of LesBe Real Radio Talk.

Also on the panel were Jennifer Vrana, a 25-year veteran of the Philadelphia Police Department who helped form the Gay Officers Action League in the region; and Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania’s first transgender physician general.

Every woman on the panel agreed that mentorship was the best thing women could do for each other in the workplace. They said it’s important to seek out younger female professionals and help them on their paths.

Gray-Sadler started the evening by talking about three glass ceilings she faced when she began working in Philadelphia more than 25 years ago: regarding her gender, race and sexual orientation.

Vrana acknowledged 2016 as the 40th anniversary of women working in Philadelphia law enforcement. When she joined the force in 1990, she was one of four women. Within five years, Vrana said, there were more than 30 women in her district.

She said she was out as a lesbian at work, but didn’t talk about it a lot. Now, her colleagues make suggestions for her to consider as she plans her wedding.

“I feel there is no ceiling right now in law enforcement,” Vrana said. “If you want to make change, change comes from within. You get hired, you get on the job and you create policies or you change the policies and you work your way up doing that.”

Levine acknowledged how people treated her before and after her transition, which she said happened slowly over 10 years while she worked at Penn State Hershey Medical Center. Levine said she didn’t run into any glass ceilings when her name was Richard and she was a white, male, Jewish physician.

“My family was deathly afraid that I would be fired [after transitioning], which unfortunately you can be in Pennsylvania, or that I would be marginalized,” Levine said. “I was accepted; in fact, I was welcomed.”

She said she didn’t expect Gov. Tom Wolf to appoint her as the state’s physician general, but she was happy to take on the demanding task, especially since her children have gone to college.

“Even after my transition, I have been tremendously fortunate,” Levine said, while bringing people’s attention to the many murders of transgender women in recent years. Last year, 23 transgender women were killed, representing a record high.

“At the same time that I have been fortunate, we have to remember the struggles and challenges that other members of our community have,” she said. 

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