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‘Bringing on the Glitz’

Phyllis Riccadonna new state president of the Ohio Business and Professional Women’s Club

June 30, 2013
By JANICE R. KIASKI - Herald-Star community editor (jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com) , The Herald-Star

STEUBENVILLE - Members of the Ohio Business and Professional Women's Club "shine and sparkle."

From that school of thought, Phyllis Riccadonna of Steubenville had little trouble capitalizing on a theme for her one-year term as the newly installed state president of the organization that in Ohio has more than 700 members in 60 locals from six regions.

It's "Bringing on the Glitz," a catchy phrase adopted by a community leader known for her flair for "bling" and fashion, yet a serious local woman's advocate who appreciates the opportunity and potential that the elected-to position affords.

Article Photos

STATE LEADER — Phyllis Riccadonna of Steubenville is the new president of the Ohio Business and Professional Women’s Club, which includes more than 700 women in 60 locals from six regions. Her theme for the one-year term that began June 1 and continues through May 31 is “Bringing on the Glitz.” She is holding a “Stay Calm and Sparkle” plaque presented to her among other gifts at the BPW installation conference in Canton.
-- Janice R. Kiaski

"I could have said 'Empower Women' or something like that, but people in BPW know me, and they think I'm a little flashy because this is expected of me," she says with a hardy laugh.

"I want the organization to shine," says Riccadonna, who was installed May 18 during ceremonies held at a BPW conference in Canton where she was presented with, among other gifts and well wishes, a hot pink plaque bearing the message "Stay Calm and Sparkle."

She also received the medallion passed down from president to president through the years of the BPW's existence.

One month into her term that began June 1 and continues through May 31, Riccadonna has a calendar of events that includes traveling, educating, recruiting and building awareness.

"This organization was started in 1920 when women got the right to vote, and the history of BPW is all about legislation and how women in the workplace have evolved through the years," Riccadonna said.

"Women in the 1800s up until 1920 weren't allowed to do many many things, especially vote," she said during a recent interview.

"There were a lot of things they couldn't do - they couldn't wear pants, they couldn't own property and when you think about it, it's not even been a hundred years since all this has taken place," said Riccadonna, who joined the local Ohio Valley BPW in 2005, served as its president, was named its Woman of the Year in 2007 and received the 2006 BPW National Recruiter Award for bringing in more than 50 members in nine months.

She also served as president of Region 3 in 2010-11, which include the Ohio Valley club along with Columbiana County and Youngstown.

The other regions are Region 1, Ashland, Findlay/Hancock, Oregon, Port Clinton, Toledo and Vermillion; Region 2, Akron, Berea, Lakewood, NASA Green, Ravenna and Tallmadge; Region 4, Columbus, Coshocton, Guernsey County, Licking County, Newark and Zanesville; Region 5, Chillicothe, Circleville, Jackson, Lancaster, Logan, McArthur and Portsmouth; and Region 6, Cincinnati, Eaton, Greenville, Lebanon and Xenia.

"The mission (of BPW) is to achieve equity in the workplace for all women, and that's really my baby because of my history, and my working career and the ups and downs I've had," Riccaddona said.

"That's why being president of this organization is a good fit for me, and what I want to do this year is reach as many young women as I can to share the history of business and professional women and how important it was for women back in 1920 and the sacrifices made so that we could even vote today," she said.

Riccadonna has long advocated that young women need to watch the movie "Iron Jawed Angels," a 2004 film starring Hillary Swank and Frances O'Connor. It tells the little-known story of a group of passionate young women who put their lives on the line to fight for the right to vote for American women.

"They went to jail and everything for us, and to me, it's about the women who came before me," Riccadonna said of her chance to lead the BPW on the state level, noting one of her goals during her term is to organize a local showing of the movie to perhaps involve female students at Eastern Gateway Community College and the Franciscan University of Steubenville.

"It's such a great movie," she said.

This marks a first for the area to have a state BPW president presence, an honor Riccadonna said she feels privileged to have.

But it is a position as well with work to be done, including an effort to recruit more members.

"Our membership is really down. We have more than 700 members statewide," she said, lamenting that dwindling membership is a common ailment for many groups these days.

The Ohio Valley BPW is open to working or retired women for education, networking and lobbying. It meets September through May on the third Tuesday of the month at 6 p.m. at the Best Western Plus University Inn Steubenville. The meetings include dinner and typically guest speakers whose topics range from social networking to customer service to financial issues. It also supports scholarships and has the Nike Club of Steubenville High School as its sister organization, an attempt to ultimately recruit members.

The next meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 17. For information, contact Shannon Minch-Hughes, OVBPW vice president, by e-mail at shughes@cuf.org or by phone at (740) 283-2531.

Riccadonna's calendar as president will include travel to the six regions, holding board meetings in August, November and January, and officiating at the conference in Strongsville come May.

Aug. 26 is Women's Equality Day - Right to Vote celebration; the week of Oct. 21-27 is National Business and Professional Women's Week; and there's a BPW Foundation Policy and Action Day in Washington, D.C., in the works.

Riccadonna is the fundraising-public relations coordinator for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jefferson County. For 30 years, she was a legal assistant and former director of the Jefferson County Victim Assistance Program and officer manager of the prosecutor's office. She spent 10 years in the payday loan business, including time as a regional manager of four different locations.

"What I'd like to say more than anything is I think my career has taken me to this point, because of my experience in the workplace, which has not always been positive," Riccadonna said.

Riccadonna said she recently served on an area panel discussion called "Women of Excellence" and heard one professional share how she was referred to as "honey" or "sweetheart" by her male colleagues, treatment that continues despite new workplace laws.

"It's a lack of respect for what a woman really does in the workplace," Riccadonna said.

But most important of all to Riccadonna is wage disparity between males and females.

"We still make 77 cents to a man's dollar," she said.

And that loss, according to promotional material, adds up to $431,000 in pay during a 40-year career.

Equal Pay Day is an annual observance for the local and state BPW, this year set for April 8.

It was in 1988 that BPW initiated the "Red Purse Campaign" to draw national attention to the wage disparity when women were making 69 cents for every dollar made by a man. Using the letters "BPW" to represent "Better Pay for Women," the group focused national attention on the issue through the use of the red purse and the slogan "Vote Your Purse for Real Change."

BPW members carried red purses as a visible symbol of economic inequities; speakers and politicians received red purses, totes and pins, including then-Democratic vice presidential candidate Lloyd Bentsen and Republican presidential candidate George Bush, both of whom spoke to the 1988 conference held in Albuquerque, N.M.

The Pay Equity & Fairness Act introduced in 1994 and the Paycheck Fairness Act introduced in 1997 became the BPW/USA's focus legislation through the 1990s.

Riccadonna said the Paycheck Fairness Act remains to be passed but would strengthen the Equal Pay Act by closing loopholes.

She said her initiative during her term, which she announced at her installation, is that "every member of BPW has a duty to contact a legislator this year and talk about the Paycheck Fairness Act to see what we can do to get it passed."

It is a piece of legislation that Riccadona said she feels adamant about.

"I've worked a lot of years, and I've watched a lot of people make money, and I never did, and that's my fault, too, because I didn't value myself enough, and I don't want other young girls to go through that," Riccadonna said.

"I really do want to empower the membership to do better in the workplace and do their part in the workplace, too, not just be a bunch of whining ladies 'I'm not making enough money' - well, let's do something about that."

"I think we can make a statement of some type this year, and that's what I'd like to see done," she said.

Another goal is meeting with legislators to discuss women's issues. "I hope to be active legislative-wise with these legislators and at least discuss what I feel was my experience in the workplace and what I hear from my members in the present day and see what their feelings are and see where the roadblocks are to legislation," she said.

Beyond her involvement in BPW, Riccadonna has been active in the Steubenville Kiwanis Club since 2000, serving as its president and vice president and having recruited the most members in the district in 2008. She served as district lieutenant governor for 2011-12.

Other awards and memberships include Steubenville City of Murals Volunteer of the Year in 1994; Court of Claims of Ohio Award for recruiting the most volunteers (more than 125) in Ohio for the Victim Assistance Program in 1994; entered into the U.S. Congressional Record in 1995 for work with victims of crime; the Ohio Attorney General Award in 1996 as best victim advocate in Ohio; co-chair of the Jefferson County Fourth Street Health Center's fundraising gala in 2007 and 2008, raising more than $150,000; former board member of the ALIVE Women's Shelter; and chair of the Faith in the Future prayer breakfast from 2007-12.

(Kiaski can be contacted at jkiaski@heraldstaronline.com.)

 
 

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