Certus Consulting president Michelle Wright has been busy all week providing human capital and management consulting, primarily in the healthcare sector. But early in the morning or during her lunch break, she will sneak into a philanthropic meeting. On a recent weekend she wanted to volunteer at a United Way event and spend time with her family, her 27-year-old son volunteered alongside her.
Women who rise to the top of their field must intentionally cultivate relationships outside of the everyday to devote time to philanthropy and friendships.
For Wright, she organizes how she spends her time around her interests and passions – supporting women’s development and the needs of people with developmental disabilities. It has created lasting friendships that support both professionally and personally, she said.
“It’s easier to set aside time for something that you personally prioritize,” said Wright, president of Women United, a United Way executive board made up of more than 1,100 women in central Maryland who support the local community. “You build lasting relationships with people who are equally passionate. You uplift each other.
Wright also values her relationships with women through Women Business Leaders in Healthcare and the Governor’s Workforce Development Council, which allows her to use her HR experience to local workforce development. She also sits on another board for an autism service provider that supports children with autism and was vice-chair of a board to help adults with developmental disabilities. All of this is close to her heart, especially because her adult son has severe autism.
“At the end of the day, you’re trying to lean into areas that you’re passionate about, which makes it easier to manage from a time perspective,” Wright said.
When personal and professional passions come together
This was also the case for Joan Plisko, president of Plisko Sustainable Solutions, LLC, a small company working primarily with nonprofit organizations. Plisko, Ph.D. in Environmental Systems Engineering, found that his priorities were perpetuated.
“My personal and professional passions are the same: to embed environmental health and sustainability into the fabric of people’s lives and the organizations they work for,” Plisko said. “My sustainable solutions inherently include human well-being as an integral component.”
It also ties into her volunteer time – she serves on the board of the Baltimore Tree Trust, the Baltimore County Commission for Environmental Quality, and served on the advisory board of the Neighbor Space of Baltimore and of the Hazon Seal of Sustainability.
She has a small number of long-term clients and values her relationships with everyone — she doesn’t define them as professional or personal, she said, just relationships.
When her children were small, she took time, valuing first and foremost the relationship with her children and her family. She reentered the workforce working three days a week for a decade. When she was ready to start her own business, she had all these connections to drive her forward and she always kept balance as a priority.
“I am in contact with people, customers. I also relate to our planet, Earth, and myself, and my husband/partner,” Plisko said. “These are all really important core and foundational relationships that keep me energized and excited about the work I do.”
Finding the right organization for personal and professional development
Aubreana Stephenson Holder had recently been appointed Chief Operating Officer of Federal Management Systems Inc. when she fulfilled a lifelong dream of joining Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, a leadership sorority for college-educated women who come together for projects of service and personal and professional development. It was something she had always wanted to do after seeing her mother’s college friends involved in AKA.
Then, in 2012, newly appointed chief operating officer of the government contracting firm, she was in touch with a former law firm colleague and talked about being around more like-minded women. She shared that she always wanted to be part of AKA, and the friend helped her get involved and get an invitation.
In 2014, Holder joined AKA and quickly took on leadership roles within the sorority, serving as vice chair of the technology committee, designing the chapter website, and rising to the regional level.
Holder found that the sorority had honed her skills as a leader, and she ended up seeing AKA sisters on government contracting sites and in the school carpool line. It has increased his professional career, rather than taking up time.
“It touched so many levels of brotherhood, which is very important to me,” Holder said. “I am the eldest of my siblings, but I have sorority sisters who think of me as big sisters. They open doors for me, if they have a place at the table they will say my name so that I also have a place at the table.
United Way has found that helping women find these types of meaningful relationships is so important, that Women United President Wright helped launch a program specifically to match female philanthropic leaders with women looking to increase their impact in the community. This fall, the Women’s Philanthropic Leadership Development Program will launch its third cohort.
“There are so many things that women are asked to do every day and we just do it,” said Wright, who served as a mentor for the 2021-2022 cohort. “It’s a lot easier when you do something you care about and see that you’re making a difference.”