Celebrating those who advance the next generation of women leaders

Celebrating those who advance the next generation of women leaders

When I began my service on the board of greater Portland’s chamber of commerce, I was 27 years old, and one of the only women in the room.
Today, I’m proud to lead this amazing community as chair of the board of directors, where I am joined by 27 other incredible women from organizations across our region. Our board is an extraordinarily committed group, representing businesses large and small from across seven counties and multiple states, dedicated to working together to make our region a better place.  

Each fall, we pause to recognize those who contribute to the advancement of women across generations and organizations at our celebration, A Place With No Ceiling. This year, our celebration takes place on Sept. 26 at the Oregon Historical Society, where nearly 500 professionals from across the region get together to celebrate these incredible leaders.

The individuals and organizations honored are nominated by their peers, mentors and teams, and selected by a committee who closely reviews each nomination from mentorship, and success in furthering diversity, equity and inclusion in the workplace, to community engagement and involvement. The competition is close, and frankly, those nominated all deserve an award for their efforts in strengthening the region’s workforce.

“From first-year professionals to the board room, we are incredibly proud of those who help women succeed in the workplace and foster a vision of a place with no ceiling,” said Jessica Getman, president of Brown & Brown Insurance and chair of the A Place With No Ceiling committee.

This year, the committee recognizes Nancy Stueber, President of OMSI, with the Sandra K. McDonough Leadership Award for her outstanding commitment to the professional development of women.

For more than two decades, Nancy led OMSI’s work to level the playing field for others. Beyond advancing women into leadership positions at OMSI (half the leadership team is female), she has encouraged teams to make space for girls to engage with STEAM topics (science, technology, engineering, art, and mathematics). Today, girls-only classes in robotics, coding and technology quickly fill to capacity at OMSI. Her work to nurture self-confidence or what the team at OMSI calls “identity as a successful learner” allows young children, especially girls and children of color, to feel encouraged to explore, take risks, learn and try again.

New this year, we will honor two organizations for their work to encourage the next generation of women business leaders. The first organization we are pleased to recognize is Cambia Health Solutions, not only for its incredible work to build healthy communities and encouragement of women into the C-Suite, but also its support of those who care for others.

For three years in a row, Cambia has received a perfect score on the Corporate Equity Index. Its strong presence of women in leadership positions is fostered by their “Women’s Employee Leadership Lab” (WELL), which flourishes with a mission to build a community that nurtures the next generation of women innovators, with leadership forums, mentoring and coaching programs, and more. Over the past decade, the number of women on the Cambia leadership team has grown by 100%. Last year, Cambia was named among America’s “Best Employers for Women,” which ranked 300 companies based on a national survey of 40,000 people. Cambia came in at No. 45, which considered among other things, workplace conditions and diversity within the executive ranks. Overall their work to improve the health and well-being of those in our region, while also providing strong access for women to develop professionally is clearly commendable.

I am also pleased to share special recognition to the dedicated team at Adelante Mujeres, a nonprofit based in Washington County.

As a smaller organization, their impact to provide education and empowerment opportunities for Latina women and their families is simply remarkable. Adelante serves families through several interconnected programs. Its leadership focused programs include Adult Education (AED), Immigrant Solidarity, Civic Leaders, Chicas Youth Development, and a microenterprise incubator. The overarching goal for these programs is to increase representation of Latina women in decision-making roles in our community, in education, in the workforce, and ultimately in local government. Beyond its mission, all of members of its senior leadership are women, 83% of staff identify as women of color, and 86% of board members are women. 

While both organizations are very different, both are doing incredible work to break the social norms and elevate women into decision-making roles.

A few years ago, I was honored to receive my own “glass ceiling breaker” award. I will never forget my boys’ faces when business leaders handed me this iconic symbol of leadership. Both beamed with pride and still talk about it today.

I hope that a generation from now, the concept of a place with no ceiling will no longer be needed because all those who seek leadership will be able to access and achieve it, regardless of gender, race or other systemic barriers our society struggles to overcome.

In the meantime, I’m excited to partner with an incredibly supportive community that believes in working together to get there, no matter the challenges or obstacles in the way, and honoring those who are committed to making our community better.

Vanessa Sturgeon is chair of the board of directors, Portland Business Alliance and is President and CEO of TMT Development.

To find out more about Portland Business Alliance committee involvement, visit: portlandalliance.com/committees.