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Event: Saturday, December 11: Building Effective Networks

Saturday, December 17, 2016
1:00 PM to 2:30 PM

3510 Pentagon Blvd, Beavercreek, OH (edit map)

Lean In Ohio's Coffee Shop Circle is coming together for the very last time in 2016! There is no better way than to end this year with a powerful tool and discussion to prepare you for the New Year! In this meeting, we are toasting our mugs to "Building Effective Networks". 

Just scratch off traditional forms of networking. Lean In introduces something new! In this meeting, learn how to build a strategic network that benefits you, your organization, and your contacts.

Join us for coffee, hot chocolate, and Winans chocolates!

In the spirit of this occasion, feel free to wear your ugly holiday sweater or Lean In colors- red, white or black!

See you there!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

What's a Lean In Circle? 

This Meeting's Moderator: Katie Ruef

Saturday December 17th, 2016 1 p.m. -2:30 p.m.
5837 Far Hills Avenue, Dayton, OH 45429 

RSVP on Meetup!

Join the Lean In, Coffeeshop, Ohio Circle online at

(29) Interview with Senator Charleta Tavares

"You can have a career, follow your passion or your purpose and serve."


Having fulfilled roles in public service for more than twenty years, Senator Charleta Tavares tells us how she is leaning as an Ohio Senator while executing an appointment as CEO for an Ohio organization. In spite of the purported challenges of being a public servant, Tavares explains how she is fulfilling her purpose and hopes that she will inspire more women to lean in as elected officials.

Lean In Ohio: For Lean In Ohio readers who may be wondering, what are the responsibilities and role of an Assistant Minority Leader?

Senator Charleta Tavares: The responsibilities are based on the needs of the Caucus. I am a part of a leadership team which develops an agenda for the Caucus, help extends its message and what it represents as well as define the legislative priorities of the Caucus. Also, I am a part of a team that identifies potential candidates to run for office. We have an overall caucus agenda but we also support the needs of individual members who have an agenda for the communities they serve.

Lean In Ohio: Senator Tavares, you served as Executive Director of the Multiethnic Advocates for Cultural Competence (MACC) and President/CEO of Primary One Health. What led to pursuing a career in public office?

Senator Charleta Tavares: My career in public office was in advance of serving as executive director of the Multiethnic Advocates for Cultural Competence. I served in the House of Representatives from 1993 to 1998. Also, I served in the House of Representatives as the minority whip and was a full-time legislator. In 1998, thirteen days after the death of my term within the House of Representatives, I ran for Secretary of State. I had to decide whether to run for re-election or to run for secretary of state. I chose to run for secretary of state which meant at the end of my term, I would no longer be in office. There was an opening on the Columbus City Council. I interviewed and was appointed to the City Council in January of 1999 and served for 11 years. It was a part-time position which enabled me to take on the position as Executive Director of the Multiethnic Advocates for Cultural Competence in 2006. I served in that role until December 2014. Finally, in February 2015, I was recruited into the Primary One Health Organization. I am fulfilling that role while serving as a senate member.

Lean In Ohio: You are a graduate of Spelman College. In Spelman’s mission statement, it describes the prestigious institution as “a historically Black college and a global leader in the education of women of African descent, dedicated to academic excellence in the liberal arts and sciences and the intellectual, creative, ethical, and leadership development of its students”. How do feel this has helped prepare you for leadership today?

Senator Charleta Tavares: I attended Spelman College for a year. My dad bribed me with a car to return to the state of Ohio. From there on, I attended Ohio State. I am very proud of my attendance at Spelman and I'm certainly an alumnus because I satisfied a full academic year. But it was probably meant for me to come back home because my dad passed away that next year. My dad died of a massive heart attack and that's one of the reasons I've focused on health and human services issues. My dad had a stroke at the age of 38 and a heart attack at age 48. Health care issues have been in the forefront of my life. Sometimes out of that sort of pain comes your passion.

Lean In Ohio: LeanIn.Org promotes women having peer support which is a powerful tool for both personal and professional development. What does your peer support network look like?

Senator Charleta Tavares: My strongest support network is those friends that I grew up with. From middle school on, they have been my constant and the people that when you really need a shoulder to cry or lean on, to kind of give you the space to be who you are. You don't have to put on a strong front. Certainly, my mother has been a big supporter but also a role model for me. In addition, there have been female legislators who were not necessarily mentors but certainly, I have looked up to them. Also, there have been women I've admired not only for their strength or ability to get things done but how they've managed not only being a woman in a male-dominated profession but how they used their skills and talents as a woman, sometimes being underestimated.  

Lean In Ohio: What do you think is holding African-American women back from running for public office?

Senator Charleta Tavares: Disproportionately, women of African descent are single parents of households. Many are multitasking while managing their families. Those that are interested in serving are trying to maintain their careers and/or seeking an employer that will support their running for office. There is a better chance in recruiting young African-American women but it's getting harder to convince them that a public service is an appropriate place for them to start their careers. The process has gotten very difficult and has become vicious. I've faced challenges in recruitment because I play a role in mentoring young African American men and women for public service. Once they learn how cutthroat the world of public service can be, they begin to feel that, “This isn't for me.” If they have a family, they don't want to put their family through that.

Lean In Ohio: How do you feel your leadership has helped women?

Senator Charleta Tavares: I think and hope what I have been able to show women that they can do both. You can have a career.  You can follow your passion or your purpose, and serve. You don't necessarily have to do it full time. You can do it as the office calls for--part time. I think I am fortunate here because I live in the state’s capital. So I don't have to travel like many of my colleagues do. They have to go back and forth to Cleveland or Cincinnati. What I hope I've been able to show them is that you can maintain who you are, hold your integrity, your character and your principles about  fairness, equity, and service and still have a private life.

Lean In Ohio: Our country has had a polarizing election year. What sort of plans do you have beyond this election to bridge the gap between your constituents?

Senator Charleta Tavares: I think I am fortunate to have a district that leans more progressive than most. We have the second or largest LGBTQ community, a large Somali, Sudanese, Latino, and African American community. Additionally, there are a couple family farms that are located in the outskirts of the senate district. The income bracket also varies within my service district. It is a microcosm of the state.

Also, there were many Bernie Sanders supporters that may not have been in love with Secretary Clinton but they don't hold the same belief as supporters of Trump. So I don't think I would have to do as much to bring together my constituents. There are other issues surrounding my community such as police relations and violence that are polarizing the community.

Lean In Ohio: What advice would you offer your younger self at the start of your career?

Senator Charleta Tavares: I think if I were to do anything different, it probably would be to spend more time with seasoned legislators, to gather from them what worked most effectively.

Interviewed by Julene Allen

Nayah Kathurima discusses the Coffee Shop Circle!

Nayah Kathurima is a  Own Your Greatness Mentor, Business Coach and Transition Strategist. 

"I absolutely enjoyed every moment at our last Lean In Circle meeting. The location was warm and cozy, everyone was friendly, open-minded, from different walks of life, and at a different stage in life which made the conversations very interesting. It was nice to share our experiences. It was evident that even though we are all different, we have been faced with something similar. In addition to all the wonderful conversations and connections, a member offered to babysit so my husband and I can have some intimate time together.  Also, I made a business connection. Connections and collaborations like this can only happen when there is trust, mutual understanding, and acceptance. I felt at home."

The Coffee Shop Circle meets in various locations throughout the Dayton region! Members meet to build connections and to establish peer support. 

Join the circle online at

Event: Saturday, November 19: Establishing Powerful Connections Part 2!

Date: Saturday, November 19, 2016
1:00 PM

Location: Curious Styles and Coffee shop
16 S Main St, Miamisburg, OH 45342

Our last meeting was simply energizing. And we could not have held our Coffeeshop Circle Meeting in a better space. Surrounded by  art, delectable choices of coffee, bottles of wine and whimsical clothing, we were immersed in the moment of sharing, establishing good connections in a room full of fascinating women.
This next meeting picks up on where we left off. Join Lean In Ohio's Coffee Shop Circle for a powerful meeting as we dive deeper into a personal Q and A. 
This meeting is all about making connections, planting roots of togetherness and establishing support.
We ask everyone who attends to download the pdf from the attached link.

What's a Lean In Circle? 
This Meeting's Moderator: Bloom Beloved

Next meeting:
Saturday November 19th, 2016 1 p.m. -2:30 p.m.
2 Cups Coffee
9985 Camp Trail, Miamisburg, Ohio 45342 

Event: Saturday, November 19: Establishing Powerful Connections Part 2!

Date: Saturday, November 19, 2016
1:00 PM

Location: 2 Cups Coffee
9985 Camp Trail, Miamisburg, OH

Our last meeting was simply energizing. And we could not have held our Coffeeshop Circle Meeting in a better space. Surrounded by  art, delectable choices of coffee, bottles of wine and whimsical clothing, we were immersed in the moment of sharing, establishing good connections in a room full of fascinating women.
This next meeting picks up on where we left off. Join Lean In Ohio's Coffee Shop Circle for a powerful meeting as we dive deeper into a personal Q and A. 
This meeting is all about making connections, planting roots of togetherness and establishing support.
We ask everyone who attends to download the pdf from the attached link.

What's a Lean In Circle? 
This Meeting's Moderator: Bloom Beloved

Next meeting:
Saturday November 19th, 2016 1 p.m. -2:30 p.m.
2 Cups Coffee
9985 Camp Trail, Miamisburg, Ohio 45342 

(28) Interview with Councilmember Elizabeth Brown

" The only proof that we were ever here is the footprint we leave behind."

First, witnessing the benevolent work of her grandmothers and the fortitude of her father, a long-time respected public servant, Councilmember Elizabeth Brown inherited a mission of public service. 

On top of her list of priorities, she proposes to establish a Family Paid Leave Program for the city of Columbus and advocates for a national paid leave standard for American citizens. In a Lean In Ohio Interview, Councilmember Brown explains how Paid Family Leave would increase the earning potential of low-wage workers, women, and their families. Additionally, she shares how the vision for a national family paid leave program has impacted the current presidential election.

Lean In Ohio: According to LeanIn.Org, “Mentorship and sponsorship are key drivers of success, yet women can have a harder time finding mentors and sponsors, especially ones with influence.” Who or what has been instrumental in your professional development?

Councilmember Elizabeth Brown: As far as personal development, I am passionate about the work I do and it stems from how I grew up and formed as a person. In addition to my two wonderful parents, I was inspired by my two grandmothers. Both were born in 1920 which was the year that the 19th amendment was ratified. They were leaders, courageous, and involved in public work centered on contributing to their communities. Observing them instilled in me the realization that when we are all gone from this world, the only proof that we were ever here is the footprint we leave behind. I’ve asked myself, “What do I wish to leave behind?” That question is my guidepost for the choices I make in my profession as well. In terms of professional mentors, I’ve had the incredible good fortune of knowing women and men, not necessarily in my field, who care about my success. I’d tell every woman to look for these people because they are out there. People who can introduce you to interesting people and ideas, and who are willing to make the extra call or introduction just to help. I’ve had very few career-long mentors because at different times in my career I have different needs. Instead, people have mentored me – likely when they didn’t even realize it – based on what I most needed at that unique time.

Lean In Ohio: Studies say that women who run for public office are just as likely to win as men. Plus there is no disparity in their performances. However, women have a lesser interest in running for offices. Why do you think this is the case?

Councilmember Elizabeth Brown: My understanding is that studies have also found that women are less likely to be asked to run for office. So, while women are just as likely to win and do just as well on the job, the infrastructure within the political system speaks of men first and prioritizes their impulse to run. This is a driving factor for the dearth of women stepping up to political office. I think women feel they need to check all the boxes of their qualifications more than men do before they become officially qualified to do something such as run for office. Running for office is inherently self-promotional. You have to talk about why you are great and why you're the best for the job. I think women are less prone to that sort of self-promotion especially – if they feel like they haven't checked all the boxes. You see that playing out in the presidential campaign right now. Hillary Clinton is the most qualified person to run for President, certainly in my lifetime. Yet she is running against a man who is not just under-prepared but flagrantly dismissive of the need to prepare – and her preparation is being mocked and degraded as “calculating” rather than remarkable competence. Women notice this. No wonder we are less likely to stick our hands up and say, “I want to run.”

Lean In Ohio: Your father, U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown has served in public office for over 42 years. How has your father’s work inspired your leadership?

Councilmember Elizabeth Brown: From the time I was a little girl, I always believed that government and elected officials can be a force for good. The reason I believe that is because I grew up watching my dad. He is still connected to the people he serves. When he makes decisions and confronts large issues that affect our state and country, he is always thinking about the people he is fighting for. I have a memory of when I think I was about ten, my dad, sister, and I were leaving Church. We left a little early and as we were walking out, a man followed behind. He called out to my dad, and said, “Wait a second, Congressman.” My dad turned around and the man held his hand out to shake his hand. The man said, “Thank you so much. You are a hero.” I saw the depth of his gratitude. I asked my dad what he was thanking him for. My dad explained to me that he had cast a vote in Congress that wasn't popular. There weren't that many people that cast the vote the way he did. I did not understand this at the time but it was the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which came before Congress in the 1990s. Only 60-something Congress people voted against DOMA. DOMA was the federal government's official stance that marriage was between a man and woman. It was a tough vote to cast and I'm proud of my dad for being principled and having those values and morals when it wasn't popular. In that moment as a kid, I learned a lot about what matters in public office. What you fight for matters not because you can talk about it later but because somebody's life is at stake. Every time we make decisions as public officials, it means something in our communities, in our neighborhoods and all across the country. That is the most important inspiration that he has given me.

Lean In Ohio: In light of such a polarizing election, what piece of advice would you offer women voters prior to going to the polls?

Councilmember Elizabeth Brown: I don't want this to sound cliché but so much is at stake and this election is about our values as a country in a way that few elections have ever been. We have such a stark choice to make at the top of the ticket between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. When women go to the polls, they should be mindful of the election that they are taking part in. Consider there is a woman on the ballot. Whether you are going to vote for her or not, that is pretty darn cool. As you are deciding who to vote, for there is more than public policy at stake. Our values are on the table. What our leader thinks about women and whether he or she values women’s place in the workplace, at home, and as humans is critical. It is a paramount concern to all people that live in this country that our leader understands how women fit in and thrive in our society.

Lean In Ohio: According to Innovation Ohio Women’s Watch, women in Ohio are paid 80 cents for every dollar their male counterpart is paid, and the wage gap is wider for women of color. What kind of work are you doing to ensure we are closing the gap in the city of Columbus?

Councilmember Elizabeth Brown: One issue that I am very passionate about and have been working on for a while now, prior to being elected, is Paid Family Leave. In the city of Columbus, we do not have a Paid Family Leave program, which I am working to change. Overall, Paid Family Leave is a critical issue for women in our country. Only 13% of the workforce has access to Paid Family Leave. When you look at low-wage workers, just 4% have access. Paid Family Leave makes sense economically, morally, and is good for the workplace. Access to Paid Family Leave helps women realize their earning potential because they have the ability to stay in the workforce. Across the board, a disproportionate amount of caregiving falls on women, which often means they are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars across their lifetime earnings. The fact that we insist on women choosing between the family they love and the paycheck they need at critical points in their lives is shameful. It directly affects their ability to move up the ladder in their careers and count on their partner’s help to have an equal playing field in the workplace. If we can address and achieve a comprehensive Family Paid Leave standard for our country, I really think that will contribute to narrowing the pay gap and other gender inequities in the workplace. I’m working on a plan in Columbus that will address our employees here but we need a national solution. While I can help make laws for our city, I’m also advocating on a national level for more to be done. I work with the Department of Labor on efforts to advance the national paid leave standard. I started a petition to call on the parties during the political convention season to officially make this a part of their platform. The Republican Party did not; the Democratic Party did. Hillary Clinton was the first presidential candidate to talk about Paid Family Leave and use it as a fundamental part of her policy platform. But there is so much more to be done. We can all do our part to advance the issue on a national level.

Lean In Ohio: Was there anything new that you learned along the way while developing as a leader that seemed valuable to you today?

Councilmember Elizabeth Brown: Early on in your career, while looking ahead, it’s very easy to feel like you just want to be a part of the exciting stuff. You don't want to do all the mundane busywork. However, at the highest level of any profession, there is still plenty of tediousness and mundane tasks. So, you are never going to get away from it. You should just embrace it and excel at it. Really, just embrace all aspects of a job. It makes you a better, well-rounded leader when you understand what it really takes to get the job done.

Lean In Ohio: What sort of advice would you give a young woman who is interested in following in your footsteps?

Councilmember Elizabeth Brown: I would advise her to find a woman that she admires in her field and really think about what she wants to learn from her. It may be a person that she will never meet. And it may be someone on a national stage that she may never come in personal contact with because there still aren't enough women at the highest levels in every city across the country. If you’re interested in elected office, find a woman that you admire and observe the way she works a room, explains public policy or the way she has worked to get important but difficult pieces of legislation passed. Women have a different style in elected office and in public life than men. I think that a woman who is interested in following in the footsteps of an elected official should be very deliberate about observing how women do it and learn from that. It's important to see a role model in your own gender doing the work that you love.


Interviewed by Julene Allen

(27) Interview with Cathy Ponitz

"Have fun doing important things. Laugh at yourself, laugh with others."

With a father as college president and a mom who was a herculean agent of change, it’s no wonder Cathy Ponitz, Vice President of the CareSource Foundation at CareSource is sought out by her community. This spurred her leadership appointment at the CareSource Foundation, an innovation that has worked to change the lives of families throughout Dayton, Ohio and its surrounding regions. In a Lean In Ohio interview, Cathy explains how her community and network helped facilitate her role at the CareSource Foundation, a job that has become a passion and a mission of  personal enrichment.

Lean In Ohio: Your dad was a college president and your mom was a school teacher and avid volunteer. As a result of their community engagement, you became influenced by different types of educators and leaders. This is a valuable resource for any future leader. How did this help shape your leadership style?

Cathy Ponitz: My parents are forces of nature. I didn't realize that when I was a child, but I did recognize something set them apart from other people. From early on, my parents made a conscious decision to introduce their children to adult situations whether it was going to the symphony, traveling to Europe or expecting us to be able to have a conversation with adults. We were encouraged to be curious, find our passions, pursue our interests and not just talk about them. They encouraged us to do more than just discuss change or problems, but to be a part of the solution. It was about showing up and sitting at the table, having an opinion. We were taught to allow others to share their voice, to listen actively and to follow up on what we said we were going to do.

These qualities helped my Dad be a successful college president and community leader. He’s 85 and people still want his energy and his counsel. I don’t blame them! I laugh, but I have a Mom who really does work for world peace. These qualities helped her be successful at that. After the signing of the Bosnian Peace Treaty in Dayton, my Mom immediately set forth to figure out how to help women in Bosnia, especially those who had lost their husbands and fathers in the war. She sought out influencers including legislators, business leaders and philanthropists and helped them understand the issues. The real issues of people in a post-war society. As a result, it created an even larger impact in Dayton, which is why we have so many wonderful Bosnian families who live here. She helped them create a better life, a safe life, for their children. Watching my parents take on herculean efforts certainly encouraged me to think big.

Lean In Ohio: LEAN IN says that obtaining certain career goals are seldom like climbing a ladder but much more like climbing up, down, side to side and around a jungle gym which brings to mind the paths you took throughout your career. For example, early in your career, you worked in retail. What skills did you acquire which helped you facilitate your role as Executive Director of the CareSource Foundation?

Cathy Ponitz: When I was in high school, I loved the mall. Early on when I was trying to determine what I wanted to do with my life, I knew it had to be at the mall. From the time I was a junior in high school, I worked at Rike’s, a major department store. By my senior year, I was working 40 hours a week since I had almost all the credits I needed to graduate. I took two classes and worked at the mall the rest of the day. I couldn't have been happier.

As I went off to college, my dream was that I was going to be a buyer for some great store. Bergdorf-Goodman. Maybe Neiman-Marcus. I was going to travel the world as their buyer—silks from Hong Kong, leather from Italy. In my mind it was going to be this fabulous, glamorous life. I had a standing offer from Rike’s following graduation to join their management and buyer training program. I had the world on a string and couldn’t wait to start my career with them

About three months before I graduated it all came crashing down. Rike’s merged with another retail chain. They put a six-month freeze on all hiring. Suddenly, this beautiful plan I created for myself had exploded. I panicked and started interviewing with major stores across the U.S. My navy blue suit got quite a workout! Two months to go before graduation and I was exhausted. And then I got a call from my Dad. He said, “For four years you have done what you needed to do. And now that it looks different you’re on the verge of making questionable decisions. I know you believe you have to graduate with a job. Here’s what I think. Your college career is almost over. Just take a breath. Enjoy the time you have left, graduate then work hard finding where your space is. I know you’ll find it.” The amount of relief I felt from that call meant the world to me and taught me a great lesson that I try to never forget. I can put a great life plan together, but there’s a good chance that it’s not going to turn out the way I envisioned it. And that’s OK.

So I became open to the surprises and it served me well. Ultimately I spent six years in specialty store retail and it was a fantastic opportunity. I went from store manager to regional supervisor. I managed hundreds of people and millions of dollars in inventory.  While on assignment in Detroit I received a tremendous offer to join a well-known marketing firm. Ironically, they were based in Dayton so I came home and connected with dozens of young professionals who I still consider some of my closest friends. From there I took a unique position with the Dayton Foundation—my first entrée into the world of philanthropy. It was exhilarating. While there I sat on the local Girl Scout council board a fellow board member encouraged me to use my skills back in the private sector and, as the saying goes, made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. I took the leap and joined Reynolds & Reynolds. I learned a new industry which ultimately led me to corporate community relations and running two corporate foundations.

Lean In Ohio: According to the CareSource Foundation's website, "Since 2006, the Foundation has awarded $14 million to 1019 nonprofit grantees who are working to eliminate poverty, provide much-needed services to low-and-moderate-income families, encourage healthy communities, develop innovative approaches to address critical health issues and enhance the lives of a diverse array of children, adults and families.” CareSource has a significant role in addressing communities in need.

How do you think this has impacted the Dayton community especially since the withdrawal of resources due to the 2008 recession?

Cathy Ponitz: The CareSource Foundation has truly grown in a way I never anticipated. The Foundation has had a decade of impact in Dayton, throughout the state of Ohio and in the lives of millions of individuals and families. We have had the opportunity to create social innovation that doesn't just put a Band-Aid on issues but helps to create positive, lasting change.

We are helping real people overcome real issues. These individuals include kids who don’t have enough to eat, proud homeowners on the brink of losing their houses, seniors who can no longer afford their own care and families caring for children with special needs. We are helping communities find solutions to the problems they face every day. It is a challenging opportunity to find sources of help for those who feel hopeless about their situations. And to move them into a sustainable lifestyle where they are valued, productive and whole.

Lean In Ohio: What or who has been a great source of inspiration to your career?

Cathy Ponitz: I have been fortunate to have many great leaders along the way who inspire me. David Holmes, Buzz Waterhouse, Sarah Harris, Kathy Hollingsworth, Mary Sue Kessler, Mike Parks. From CEOs to foundation board chairs, I have worked with some of the best leaders. Certainly my current CEO at CareSource, Pam Morris, is at the top. Talk about an innovative leader.

I created our college internship program seven years ago as a generational diversity strategy. Thankfully it has been incredibly successful. Pam recently hosted our 18 college interns for lunch and I think her advice to them is applicable to everyone. She shared, “Don’t be scared off by the possibility of failure. Failure means you tried something new, that you took leadership of a situation on your own or with your team. There is nothing that can't be fixed. Surround yourself with people who will not only lift you up professionally, who but will guide you personally. And sometimes that's very intuitive. There's not a sticker slapped on someone’s forehead that says, ‘I’m the right person to help you get where you need to go. Trust your instincts. They are usually pretty accurate!” There was so much good advice packed into that statement. Challenging yourself to be fearless, adopting an attitude of leadership and trusting your own intuition. Great advice and certainly traits that I’ve seen Pam embody.

Lean In Ohio: Can you provide an example of an obstacle or challenge that you had to overcome within your career?

Cathy Ponitz: I was in my former position for nine years. I loved working there. And then I had the conversation that changed everything. The job I loved was being eliminated. I felt like the cartoon road-runner where the unexpected grand piano in the sky had just fallen on my head and flattened me.  

And then I heard that many of my fellow senior leaders had found themselves outside the door that same day. The next day the news of massive layoffs was on the front page. The headlines said, “Cathy Ponitz and 30 Others Laid Off.”  The whole town now knew of my fate. I didn’t do anything wrong. It was a business decision. Happens all the time. I knew that. But did anyone else? Now I was rattled.

At 7:30 that morning, the phone started to ring. It didn't stop ringing until 11 that night. I sat there in my pajamas the whole day because I didn't have time to be away from the phone. By the end of the day, I had received 75 phone calls from people throughout the community. They shared job opportunities. Asked how they could help. Gave me words of encouragement. They wanted to be mad for me. I let them. I took the high road. And at the end of that day, I was happily exhausted.

Who would have guessed that in 24 hours I would go from total despair to total elation I get it now. Until things like that happen you have no idea how many people care about you. How many people respect you professionally. And how many others have been in the same boat and now want to pay it forward. That was a great lesson.

The happy ending to that story is that within three months I received several interesting job opportunities. I was considering several of them. And then I got the call from CareSource. They were thinking about creating a corporate foundation. They had called around and everyone told them to talk to Cathy Ponitz. I think when you try to do the best for people it comes full circle. I went in to speak with them about starting the foundation and within an hour of conversation I’d fallen in love with both the CareSource mission and culture. I took this position to do something I've never done before – to start something really big. Ten years later, I'm still excited to come into work every day—even on Monday mornings. I wouldn’t be here if not for that life-altering experience.

Lean In Ohio: Lean In has a mantra, “When men lean in everyone wins.” Meaning diversity produces better outcomes, fathers being involved at home is crucial to the development of their children and men’s support of women occupying various roles in the workforce can help more women succeed in all aspects of society. CareSource has a significant amount of women in its workforce. How are men being stakeholders for the CareSource Foundation?

Cathy Ponitz: In my previous job the company was very male dominant. Men were the majority in leadership and in the ranks. So when I had received multiple offers for new jobs, I developed an old school pros-and-cons list. Knowing that CareSource at the time was about 80% female, I’m little embarrassed now to say that I didn’t know which column to put that in. I thought part of the reason I’d been successful in the past was because I’d figured out how to navigate a very male-dominant environment. Would that be any different in a sea of women? I really didn’t know. Clearly it didn’t factor into my decision, but I’ve learned some great things about gender. I learned that we all have a competitive edge, but we express it differently. Men like to win. That means making sure all components of a plan are locked down and attributed to their rightful owners. And then they start. It’s not bad, it’s just an approach. They are born with those competitive genes in their DNA. Women, on the other hand, are eager to collaborate and just get started. We feel comfortable nurturing a plan along, confident that we’ll figure out the details as we go. Both of these dynamics can be leveraged for strong competitive advantage as long as we are aware of their existence!

I love the idea of men leaning in. Quite frankly, at CareSource, many of them have no choice! But they are willingly at the table because they have the right heart and they appreciate the adventure. When you are in an organization that is built on entrepreneurship and innovation, you have to have a good sense of adventure…and humor!

Lean In Ohio: What significant skill would you advise a young woman who is interested in following in your footsteps to adopt?

Cathy Ponitz: Courage, my friend. Take a deep breath…often. Make peace with your past. Surround yourself with positive people and forgive them when they aren’t perfect. Take your job seriously, but don’t take yourself too seriously. Have fun doing important things. Laugh at yourself, laugh with others. Be joyful in the success of others. Find partners and friends who know you by name, not by title. And seriously—ditch the life plan. Those surprises are just the best.


Interviewed by Julene Allen


The Lean In Ohio Chapter empowers women to realize their visions and is being operated by a LeanIn.Org regional leader.


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