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UMBrella group has women’s issues covered

UMB launches mentoring program to support women in the workplace

Jennifer Litchman found herself at a conference for international businesswomen last year. She doesn’t handle any foreign business — in fact, she’s chief communications officer and vice president for the University of Maryland Baltimore — but she said the experience of being among a group of strong women talking about how to help each other succeed affected her.

“It was like nothing I’ve ever attended before,” she said. “It was a little out of my wheelhouse … but the issues were universal — absolutely universal.”

At lunch, she took a cocktail napkin and wrote down the word UMBRELLA, an acronym she always liked both for the connection to UMB and because of its symbolism. She started brainstorming the title for a new women’s empowerment group.

The UMB Roundtable on Empowerment in Leadership and Leveraging Aspirations was born from this moment of inspiration last year to support women in the workplace — to provide mentorship opportunities, advance women into leadership roles and advocate for a culture that embraces family-friendly work policies. As the university heads into its fall semester, UMBrella is transitioning from its planning phase into a more developed, active program. Its founding members plan to share resources, connect women with mentors, host a parenting affinity group and sponsor a speakers’ series.

“Increasingly in the work world, there’s a growing recognition that we all spend a lot of time at work,” said Jane Kirschling, dean of the university’s School of Nursing and one of the group’s founding members. “That is a big chunk of our lives, and we want that work to be meaningful. We want to be supported in our work, we want to work in environments that help us to do what we want to do in terms of our own career goals and aspirations, and we want to work in environments that are healthy. And that is not to say that UMB is not a healthy work environment, but it is something we need to think about. … It says to employees that we value you, that we recognize that each of you have your own challenges, and we’re going to provide some support to you.”

The members of UMBrella come with different backgrounds and interests, making the group broad by design. Some participants are “daughters of the 60s,” Litchman said, meaning they remember a time when women didn’t have as many opportunities as they do today. Some are new mothers, including one who helped put together an affinity group for new and expectant parents.

Others are younger university employees who are looking for networking and mentorship opportunities. Litchman said each participant comes with her own objective, too, such as the woman who wants to help other women learn to better negotiate or the member who wants to advocate for pay equity.

“People are bringing a lot of different skills and expertise to the table,” Litchman said.

One area both Litchman and Kirschling feel particularly strongly about is mentoring.

Litchman described her annual review meeting with one of her employees. Each year, she asks the woman about her long-term goals and plans for continuing her education. Last year, when she asked, the woman started to cry. She told Litchman that no one else had ever encouraged her to better herself in that way.

Kirschling, on the other hand, thinks back to her own experiences moving up the ranks.

“I have benefited firsthand from people who invested in me along the path of my career and who saw things in me that I didn’t see in myself,” she said. “And I’m at the phase of my life where I’m paying that back in terms of younger people who are coming up, creating opportunities for them.”

I think one thing the group can do is break down the walls and barriers in terms of getting people from across campus to get to know each other, to get to know their issues and to engage in personal and professional development,” she said.

UMBrella’s events are open not only to women employees of the university but to everyone — including students, men and members of the local community. Litchman envisions the group providing support for all types of workplace issues.

The group started the semester with a Sept. 21 speaker event titled, “Can We Talk? Women and Men at Work”. It’s the perfect way to open the lines of communication.

“When we come together and listen and have the benefit of someone else’s knowledge and experiences, it adds so much to our own,” Litchman said.

This article is featured in The Daily Record’s Path To Excellence: A Woman’s Guide To Business. The mission of the Path to Excellence magazine is to give our readers the opportunity to meet successful women of all ages, backgrounds and beliefs and learn how they define success. Read more from Path to Excellence.