By SUSAN JONES
Women make up 60 percent of the staff on Pitt’s Oakland campus and 43 percent of the faculty.
Now a Women’s Affinity Group wants to bring the women of Pitt together to discuss their shared concerns and to support each other.
WOMEN’S AFFINITY GROUP
“I feel like we’re finally ready to take a solid step forward and start hosting events and start posting programming,” said E.J. Milarski-Veenis, a financial analyst in the Office of the Chancellor, who co-chairs the group with Cyndi Caldwell, director of planned giving for the Medical Health Sciences Foundation at Pitt. “We had almost a year of just gathering information from people across campus. I think we’re at the point now where we’re always going to be gathering information, but we’re ready to start doing stuff with the information that we have.”
The group began as an idea about two years ago, after Milarski-Veenis organized a workshop and panel discussion for Staff Council on issues women in the workplace encounter.
“I had so much fun putting the workshop together, but what struck me the most was this overwhelming feeling that I wasn’t alone in the conversations that I wanted to have,” she said. “There were many women on campus that were wanting to have the same conversations, we just weren’t having them.”
After the event, Pam Connelly, vice chancellor for Diversity and Inclusion, approached Milarski-Veenis about the idea of starting a Women’s Affinity Group, which ODI had been considering for some time.
Caldwell came on board about a year ago, after her three-year term on the Provost’s Advisory Committee on Women’s Concerns ended and she wanted to stay involved in women’s issues on campus.
One key issue for Caldwell is finding resources for women who want to move up from middle management. She said there are plenty of resources for women to get their first promotion, but not as much as they move up in the ranks.
“I think that there are a lot of opportunities (for women at Pitt), but I think that there is room for improvement,” Caldwell said.
Milarski-Veenis said she believes that Pitt is innovative and moving in the right direction on women’s issues, but she worries that because Pitt is such a large organization that some women may feel stuck in the cubicle they’ve been in for several years.
“I don’t think that’s a product of the University policy or of poor management. I think it’s just a product of the way society has been for many years,” she said. “I think there are a lot of women who are doing amazing jobs and have amazing skills and amazing talents and feel they should be thankful that they have a job. I think we need to really start … realizing that we might be more valuable than we give ourselves credit for.
“I hope this group … builds a community of kind of empowerment, … where we have these discussions and we learn these skills and we discuss things like mentorship and things that maybe if you joined the workforce 30 years ago, nobody had those discussions with you.”
So far, around 60 people have signed up for the Women’s Affinity Group mailing list, but the co-chairs want to get more people involved. The membership list is the key way the group communicates what its upcoming activities.
“So anybody who has any questions or even wants to be on the list because they might want to go to an event in six months, by all means, let us know,” Milarski-Veenis said.
Currently, the affinity group is predominantly women in staff positions, but it is for staff and faculty.
“This is a nice group, I think, because it is staff and faculty,” Milarski-Veenis said. “We’d love to have more faculty voices in there. But there really isn’t, that I know of, … another foundation for staff members to get together and have these discussions and workshops.”
The group’s next activity is a Career Workshop from 3:30 to 4:30 p.m. Feb. 11 at 548 William Pitt Union with Emily Bennett, who is a career consultant in the Student Affairs’ Career Center. Registration is required, and Milarski-Veenis said they encourage people to “bring yourself and a colleague.”
During Women’s History Month in March, the group plans to:
- Take a lunchtime tour of Heinz Chapel, which they also did last year. “I went last year, and I was amazed at how many women are actually depicted on the stained glass windows,” Milarski-Veenis said.
- Kick off a book club on March 7, reading “Ask for It: How Women Can Use the Power of Negotiation to Get What They Really Want,” by Carnegie Mellon University professor Linda Babcock. ODI will sponsor the book, so participants don’t need to buy it, but do need to read it, the two women said. They hope to have a kick-off luncheon to hand out the books and follow up with discussion meetings as people progress through the book.
- Hold a luncheon, possibly, to discuss the idea of language. “Many times in a professional setting and also probably in a personal setting, women have a tendency to use minimizing language. The one that always stands out to me is how many times I apologize,” Milarski-Veenis said.
They also are trying to set up a panel discussion with some of Pitt’s female leaders to discuss their career paths and advice they might have.
Milarski-Veenis said she still remembers advice from Audrey Murrell, associate dean of the College of Business Administration, at the Staff Council seminar two years ago.
“She said, we kind of have to stop trying to neutralize ourselves to be like somebody else. She was like, be yourself at work, that is fine. Why do we have a work self and a home self, right?
“We need to kind of embrace ourselves and the idea of, if we want to be successful, we don’t have to repeat what somebody else did. We can kind of do it our own way.”
Susan Jones is editor of the University Times. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-648-4294.