Panel seeks to empower women in the workplace

Nicquel Terry
The Detroit News
Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones

Detroit — A group of five prominent Metro Detroit women gathered Thursday to encourage women in politics and corporate America to demand respect, speak up about sexual harassment and gain skills so they can break barriers. 

"You set the tone from the beginning," Detroit City Council President Brenda Jones said. “You set the tone that you’re going to respect me for who I am.”

Jones was joined on stage at the Detroit Athletic Club by Tricia Keith, executive vice president, chief of staff and corporate secretary of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan; Carolyn Cassin, Michigan Women's Foundation president and CEO; Mary Buchzeiger, president and CEO of Lucerne International; and Janice Cosby, chief marketing officer for Ascension Michigan and St. John Providence Health System. 

The panel, hosted by the Michigan Chronicle as part of its Pancakes & Politics series and moderated by Ignition Media Group CEO Dennis Archer Jr., allowed the speakers to discuss their experiences with working in male-dominated fields while maintaining confidence. 

Cosby said her dominant personality helped her earn respect. She challenged women to be their "authentic self." 

"You have to be strong, courageous and be a risk taker," Cosby said. "I think it’s your attitude; you have to stand up and be strong."

The female leaders agreed that women should be holding their companies accountable for diversity in leadership, gender pay gaps and zero tolerance for sexual harassment. 

"I was always one of the only women in the room," Buchzeiger said. "Your voice absolutely needs to be heard. If you have something to say, come to the table, sit up and have the conversation." 

Part of the conversation focused on the #MeToo movement — an international movement against sexual harassment and assault, particularly in the workplace. 

Cassin said too often women are told to ignore sexual harassment or get another job. 

“No, confront it, talk about it, speak up,“ Cassin said. "And make sure you have a corporation that will support you when you do speak out.”

The speakers were also asked about mentoring and passing the torch to younger women. 

Mentors should target middle school girls because they are usually at an age where they outperform boys in academics, Cassin said. 

Jones said she wants to see more programs in Detroit that teach girls basic, home economics skills such as washing clothes and setting the table. 

“I think those are things they need to know when they go outside of their neighborhoods,” Jones said. “We take for granted that they automatically know that.”

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Twitter: @NicquelTerry