As a member of United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council (WLC), Michele Cerminaro is able to exercise her commitment to something she’s long enjoyed: mentoring young professional women. Through the WLC’s mentoring program—and WLC events like Women on the Rise—she indulges her passion for developing female leaders.
“My whole life has been about helping women,” she says.
After working for more than 25 years at Cincinnati’s Procter & Gamble—much of it in management—Michele took an early retirement package and rode off into the sunset looking for new adventures.
“I wanted to see the rest of the world,” she says.
Unable to sit still long, Michele took a job as the VP of Global Sourcing for GOJO Industries and packed her bags for Akron. That was almost 12 years ago now, but she is not looking back and has no plans to slow down.
Though Michele has long been a donor to the United Way, she has found renewed vigor in the approach taken in Summit County.
“I like the way we do it here,” she says.
At GOJO, which she says is about the size Procter & Gamble was when she first arrived there, the United Way campaign has been much more visible. Something about the campaign seemed to both foster and feed off of the friendly, supportive culture she has come to appreciate at GOJO.
During her time as a leader in corporate America, she says the number of role models for women has increased as the heavily male corporate population has shifted, even if only slightly. Though more young women are growing into leadership positions, the challenge is often about finding one’s voice and confidence. It’s something Michele says she struggled with and wishes she had found earlier.
“Young women do know what they’re talking about,” she says, “and they need to know they are worth hearing.”
For Michele, an important part of the responsibility of mentorship is to cultivate the philanthropic spirit, encouraging her mentees to give back to the communities where they live and work, as does she. And she is not just setting an example for the young professional women she mentors. Michele is a grandmother of 13 and has two great-grandchildren too. She understands that young people at all stages of development learn ethical values and behaviors by watching the actions of adults they respect.
Of all the programs connected to the WLC, none seems to move Michele as much as the Legacy III House, which provides housing and support to homeless women in recovery from substance abuse, as they try to reestablish themselves and become self-sufficient members of the community.
“Makes you want to cry,” she says, describing the volunteering she and other members of the WLC have done there. “You see how they’re changing their lives. They’re going to be different and that’s why I got involved in the Women’s Leadership Council. So that people’s lives will be better.”