Leading inclusive networks: Ida Ford’s new priorities and the women entrepreneurs partnering with Ohio Means Jobs in Cleveland-Cuyahoga County

March 30, 2022
Dr. Kara Whitman
Leading inclusive networks: Ida Ford’s new priorities and the women entrepreneurs partnering with Ohio Means Jobs in Cleveland-Cuyahoga County

In her capacity as Workforce Development Administrator for Ohio Means Jobs Cleveland-Cuyahoga County (Ohio Means Jobs), Ida Ford is promoting positive change in the workforce development ecosystem!


Indeed, Ida supports the Ohio Means Jobs Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Committee and serves as its representative to Midwest Urban Strategies (MUS) Workforce Innovators – a cohort of leaders developing, incubating and sharing best practices between MUS workforce development boards and in the broader community of practice. On February 10, 2022, Ida met with Dr. Kara Whitman and Ms. Sheila Wright ahead of Women’s History Month. The meeting was the first in a series of stakeholder consultations coordinated by MUS Workforce Innovators, to address limited and in some instances, declining women and minority representation. Dr. Kara Whitman is a Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion AmeriCorps Volunteer at MUS and through assessment, reporting and outreach, will inform its forthcoming diversity initiatives.

In fact Kara asserted, “Program priorities in the workforce sector have not sufficiently addressed the gender-related expectations that narrow access to specific careers and industries for women. Moreover, the service models at job centers are focused upon compliance reporting, employers in high-growth industries and their associated demands for labor. The models are not relationship-centered or resiliency-oriented, causing job-seekers to navigate enrollment processes in isolation, explore career alternatives privately and network elsewhere. Workforce priorities and service models are therefore less relevant than they could or should be and the future of work requires we change this.”

In addition, Kara maintained, “The typical form of engagement between workforce development organizations, employers and industry associations is a long-term relationship. Conversely, engagement between workforce development organizations and program participants comprises a temporary experience with few, if any long-term expectations. For example, we host job fairs and other one-time events in public space and we traverse eligibility requirements in short-term interactions. Unfortunately however, we are not always embedded in minority communities or renowned as a year-round resource. Furthermore, outreach to women and minority business owners is often limited or intermittent, which in turn minimizes the diversity of our boards and committees, our ability to show solidarity and provide access to success models. Thus, when we encounter decreases in retention and completion rates, we must go beyond the numbers and frame them in relationship terms.”

Kara further advised workforce development organizations connect participants with mentors, women and minority entrepreneurs and peer networks at the point of registration. Sheila’s position as Co-founder and President of Frontline Development Group is especially relevant in this regard. Indeed, Sheila noted, “I was a teenage mother and received food, childcare and other state benefits. But, I was also ambitious and had great mentors. Therefore, I sent my daughter to college, became a lawyer and looked for ways to help others. I started by developing real estate in communities with longstanding disinvestment, building houses and investment properties no one could find anywhere else and sharing my story with other young women. Many of them have never thought about a career in construction and do not know a woman or African-American business owner in a construction-related industry. Thus, mentoring is a must. They need to see themselves represented in industries like these and feel empowered to enter them.”

Mentoring, trust relationships and embeddedness should be underscored because they describe how workforce development organizations could operationalize and sustain inclusion. Within this framework, accountability for inclusion is internal rather than situated in the broader ecosystem or industry, where women and minority representation is often met with competing priorities and significant constraints. For instance, constraints in workforce development organizations are usually framed as funding limitations, compliance issues or market influences – all external conditions. An assessment of these conditions informs how workforce development organizations advocate, fundraise and network. Yet, these activities are performed with an eye toward informing the decisions of external stakeholders. As a consequence, by the time diversity advocates arrive, there is already less accountability for change at the organizational level.

Moreover, myriad inclusion initiatives are underway, with no associated performance measures or corresponding evaluation activities. As a result, there is ambiguity about what representation requires and who is responsible for it. Thus, representation has become an abstract in the ecosystem more often than a visible, actionable and internal priority.

Stakeholder consultations therefore exist to broaden recruitment for career pipelines and training activities, diversify partnerships with employers and increase access to industry boards. Mentoring, trust relationships and embeddedness serve as feasible forms of engagement that establish information flows and makes boards more accessible. In addition, they readily support these concrete measures amid existing resources - without the confines of regulatory compliance. Through the Ohio Means Jobs DEI Committee and MUS Workforce Innovators, Ida has taken note and become one of the region’s most respected leaders. In March, she will celebrate Women’s History Month, engage minority business owners and further participate in events that increase support for women and minority representation at all levels. She will also provide new recommendations to improve the experience of women and minority job-seekers in job centers, testing and training activities.

Ida says, “Increasing women and minority representation starts with us. It is our responsibility to do more, to develop new outreach activities, connect communities and support inclusive innovations.”  Indeed, this is how she makes a difference and promotes positive change.