BTL photos: Kate Opalewski

Nancy Schlichting Shares Secrets of Success with DRLGBTCC

BY KATE OPALEWSKI

DETROIT - The Detroit Regional LGBT Chamber of Commerce welcomed Nancy Schlichting, CEO of Henry Ford Health System, to their monthly event on Oct. 24 to discuss the lessons she learned as an LGBT leader of the largest employer in the city of Detroit.

"She is a huge pioneer in the LGBT community when it comes to leadership. Someone that everyone in the community can look up to," said Kevin Heard, chamber president, about the decision to invite Schlichting to speak.

"Her story, which has been replicated across the nation, about being discriminated against because of her sexual orientation ... to face that adversity and persevere was a huge reason why we wanted her to come in front of these professionals."

In the William H. & Patricia M. Smith Crystal Gallery at the Detroit Institute of Arts, Schlichting spoke to around 60 representatives from around 30 companies and organizations such as Comerica, PNC, Dow Chemical, Wayne State University, Equality Michigan, Flagstar, Affirmations, Gannett, Michigan.com, Ford Motor Company, and General Motors.

"I have had some interesting challenges along the way that have been important in my life and frankly, character building and sometimes career building," said Schlichting, who is credited with leading HFHS through a dramatic financial turnaround and for award-winning patient safety, customer service and diversity initiatives. HFHS is a nationally recognized $4 billion health care organization with 23,000 employees.

"It's not always the good things that happen to you that make you who you are, but it's often the things that are challenging that give you the strength to try and overcome them," she said.

Other leaders, such as Comerica Bank Manager Jeremy Grant, wonder how Schlichting found the strength to be open at work.

"As a leader with your sexual identity, where would you give us encouragement to be who we are in the workplace as a leader?" he asked.

Schlichting said she always asks leaders, "What do you stand for?"

"And I think it's so important because leadership is really a privilege ... the ability to impact other people to create change in an organization. I ask myself," she said, "'What do I stand for?' ...I was looking for people in the organization all the time who could help us advance our diversity. Diversity is in our DNA, it's who we are, it's who we serve ... not waving flags all the time, but just being who we are. I change people. We all do by having the courage to be open. People who struggle with discrimination are stronger than anyone else. It's why diversity is so important."

Schlichting, who plans to retire from HFHS in December, read passages from her book, "Unconventional Leadership: What Henry Ford and Detroit Taught Me About Reinvention and Diversity." In the book, she offers advice based on her 35 years of experience so that readers can apply it in their lives, not only as business builders, and as women and men at work, but also across the wider spectrum of situations people face as employees, parents and citizens.

Modern Healthcare magazine recently named Schlichting for the fourth time to the "Top 25 Women in Healthcare" and also listed her for the eighth time as one of the "100 Most Influential People in Healthcare."

The chamber will host their next monthly event at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 at Union Street, 4145 Woodward Ave., Detroit. The event, sponsored by Flagstaff, features Jill Ford, who heads the city of Detroit's innovation and entrepreneurship initiatives, and Portia Roberson, an appointee of Mayor Mike Duggan who serves as the city's group executive for human rights.

For more information, visit the DRLGBTCC website.


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