Erie House Plays Host to Chicago Foundation for Women Forum

February 23, 2015 | Chicago, IL

Rebecca SiveThe Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW) hosted Putting Your Passion Into Action, an interactive panel discussion exploring women in politics and other civic leadership positions, at Erie Neighborhood House’s historic Templeton Hall in West Town on Thursday, February 19.

The event was organized by CFW’s Young Women’s Giving Council and moderated by Rebecca Sive, Academic Director of the Women in Public Leadership Executive Education Program for the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy. Sive is also author of Every Day Is Election Day: A Woman's Guide to Winning Any Office from the PTA to the White House.

Panelists included Erie House Executive Director Celena Roldán-Moreno, Open Road Policy Founder and Principal Deanne Benos, Senate Democratic Victory Fund Finance Director Liz Nicholson and Ideaction Corps President and Founder Kelly O’Brien.

The panel discussed a spectrum of concerns facing women interested in positions of influence in the political and civic spheres, including barriers to entry and advancement. Sive, who emerged as a leader in the 1970s and has witnessed a seachange with regard to opportunities for women over the past several decades, knows firsthand that the road isn’t always easy.

“I can say having been through the process, it was nothing but a fight,” Sive remarked. She emphasized the solidarity and support women leaders can—and must—lend one another as they strive to succeed. “You will win when you are with women and for women,” she said.

Each of the panelists brought unique perspectives and experiences into the conversation: Benos shared about the stereotypes she has faced as a policy expert focused on gun legislation and as the assistant director of the Illinois Department of Corrections; Nicholson discussed the challenges she has encountered at times in recruiting women to run for public office; and O’Brien talked about her transformation as she began living into her identity as founder and president of a consulting firm.

For her part, Roldán-Moreno reflected on her experience assuming executive-level leadership of a mid-sized nonprofit organization as a 33-year-old Puerto Rican woman. “When I became executive director at Erie House,” she said, “I was the youngest person on my entire leadership team.”

Roldán-Moreno also acknowledged the barriers that women of color face in ascending to positions of influence in politics. “I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge who isn’t at the table, and in particular I’m talking about women of color,” she told the audience. “30 percent of the city of Chicago is Latino, and we do not have a single Latina on the City Council—that is simply unacceptable.”

Following the discussion, attendees enjoyed a networking session during which they were able to interact with one another and with the event’s panelists.

The Young Women’s Giving Council is one of three giving councils affiliated with the Chicago Foundation for Women, a grant-making organization whose mission is to increase resources and opportunities for women and girls in the greater Chicago area. For more information about the CFW, please visit


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