Women urged to make changes at YWCA symposium

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YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh marked its 140th anniversary with a symposium at the Westin Hotel Oct. 2. With the theme “Women Who Dare: Do They Make a Difference?,” the symposium featured a series of sessions and speeches from nationally renowned women and many of Pittsburgh’s own trailblazers.

One of the afternoon’s keynote speakers was political commentator Donna Brazile who chairs the Democratic National Committee’s Voting Rights Institute. Brazile addressed the role of women in politics, especially in last year’s presidential election.

“I was proud that we had women compete at the highest level: Hillary Clinton, now Secretary Hillary Clinton and yes, former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin,” Brazile said. “I believe every woman is important in society, not just the ones who agree with me on the issues but women who are in the public arena.”

Brazile kept the audience of women and a few men laughing as she shared personal stories of her struggles and triumphs. As a Louisiana native, a common thread throughout her speech was how Hurricane Katrina affected her and her family.

“We’re not a selfish nation. I know we’re not, because when my family was scattered all across this country, you took them in,” Brazile said. “You provided them with houses and clothing. You waited on them until they were able to get back home. I know how generous you are.”

Brazile used this story to tell the audience this country must come together to overcome the current crisis. While she also challenged the audience to put pressure on politicians, she charged them with the task of pushing for the change they want to see themselves.

“Our lawmakers are there to support us and put forth the best ideas. Democrat, Republican, our labels should not matter,” Brazile said. “We can’t exist the way we exist today as a country. We’re Americans and we need to start sticking together or we’re going to fall apart.”

She also took time to push for health care reform, sharing the story of her mother who never had health insurance her entire life.

“When she got sick she didn’t have the money to get well. She died from emphysema, not because she smoked and smoked, but because we lived near ‘Cancer Row,’” Brazile said. “I wish my mother had lived to see this day. She’s the reason why I fight for health care.”

The symposium also featured a session with Dina Clark, executive director of the Western Pennsylvania Diversity Initiative. The session, “Why Diversity Pays Off,” explained how diversity and inclusion improve work environments from a personal standpoint and business standpoint.

“This isn’t new information; it’s just prevalent,” Clark said. “There’s all kinds of research that proves diversity works from a business standpoint.”

Clark also emphasized what people can do to improve diversity and inclusion from the bottom up. She said it is important to strive for diversity and inclusion in your own behavior, and not only focus on the actions of others.

“I think organizing and being action-oriented has to happen,” Clark said. “ We need to be aware of our biases. Are you basing it on past information or are you giving each person a chance each time?”

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