Michigan is filled with amazing women who have made ground-breaking advances in the state and around the country. Take for instance Merze Tate, a champion in higher education, Andra Rush, founder and CEO of Rush Trucking, one of the first Native American woman-owned businesses in Michigan, or Harriet Quimby, the first woman to gain a pilot’s license in the United States.  All these women hail from Michigan and not only accomplished great feats for themselves, but paved the way for the generation of women after them. In 2018, the annual workforce population of Michigan was 4,704,127, with 49% being female. Women are increasingly becoming a large part of the workforce and are bringing outstanding change and progress to the state.
For this Women’s History Month, MI Bright Future wanted to celebrate women doing amazing work here in Michigan by talking with the innovative leadership of the Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN). In this interview Carrie Bonofiglio, MI Bright Future Business Partnerships Manager, Lisa Gordon, MI Bright Future Program Manager, Sarah Gregory, Director of Youth Strategy- MI Bright Future, Michele Ureste, Executive Director of WIN, and Michelle Wein, Senior Research Manager share their career paths and thoughts on how young women can stand out in today’s workforce.
What is your job description at Workforce Intelligence Network (WIN)?
Carrie Bonofiglio (CB): I oversee the MI Bright Future business recruitment strategy across the state, working with regional Business Partnerships Coordinators to allow students to have a diverse population of company profiles to view and interact with on MI Bright Future.
Lisa Gordon (LG): I focus on collaborative efforts between K-12 school systems, business, and industry. My current work focuses on managing the implementation and expansion of the MI Bright Future Program. I also coordinate resources for high-demand occupation clusters, career pathways work, and post-secondary training and educational programs for youth.
Sarah Gregory (SG): I direct MI Bright Future and all that is associated with it. MI Bright Future reaches thousands of students to connect them with local professionals so they can learn more about careers and industries before they make decisions about college or jobs, which is something I’m very passionate about. My responsibilities range from administrative and marketing to training and delivering presentations, but much of my day-to-day is focused around ensuring our program is sustainable for the future.
Michele Ureste (MU): I manage and ensure the sustainable success of WIN by driving the achievement of annual goals, strategic objectives, and board initiatives and policies, as well as the financial, program, and administrative management of the organization. I ensure a highly collaborative environment and build and maintain relationships with all stakeholders, including WIN’s board, regional employers, economic developers, intermediate school districts, universities, community-based organizations, government partners, funders, and others.
Michelle Wein (MW): I am responsible for co-managing the research team, as well as developing and enhancing creative data analysis methodology for the various research projects for WIN.
How did you get to your current position?
CB: I worked in higher education in Admissions and Corporate Partnerships for over 20 years. Through my network I discovered MI Bright Future and the opportunity to work as a Business Partnerships Coordinator. Right away I was drawn to the MI Bright Future mission and loved the idea of working within the community where I was already connected.
LG: As the former Career Liaison with WIN, I focused on working with middle and high school students raising awareness of high demand occupations and corresponding post-secondary training and education in Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. With the partnership of our K-12 school systems and other key stakeholders, this work naturally evolved into a more sustainable means of supporting youth and our economic landscape through talent pipeline development. This work is not a job to me, it is a passion, as I care deeply for youth and their ability to navigate those adolescent years gaining access to resources that help them learn how to contribute as leaders and members in the future of our society.
SG: After I got my B.A. in Psychology, like many students graduating with a very general degree , I really wasn’t sure what I wanted to do next. I started working in workforce development in 2009 and landed a job as a program assistant for a summer youth employment program. I was immediately thrilled at the prospect of being able to help people but unfortunately, I began to feel that while many of our programs are designed with good intention to help people, there was still so much to fix in the system. I decided to try to figure out what I could do to help fix the system, so I went back to school to get my Masters in Social Work at the University of Michigan with a macro-community focus on social systems. During my program I had a field placement which eventually led me to WIN.
When I started with WIN I was doing research on low-skill, low-wage retail and hospitality workers, looking to see how career pathways could transition into more sustainable careers by using some of the same foundational skills used in retail. After hosting a large career pathways day in Detroit,the main takeaway was that folks wanted to focus on youth and their career pathways. Shortly after, Governor Rick Snyder created the Career Jumpstart Program, which I began to oversee locally, and eventually that led to the MI Bright Future program. MI Bright Future is my baby, my life’s work up until this point and I believe in it fully.
MU:Prior to my board appointment at WIN, I had extensive leadership background in developing workforce training programs. I facilitated over a dozen quality management system committees of industry subject matter experts at Automotive Industry Action Group (AIAG), and I also served as vice president of a business system training and consulting firm where I created and established Tier 1 corporate universities for supply chain initiatives. In addition, I also served two 4-year terms as the West Bloomfield Township Supervisor, by essentially fulfilling the role of a full-time mayor and city manager.
MW: Prior to joining WIN, I worked for the State of Michigan as an Economic Analyst focused on monitoring economic growth in the West and Northwest regions of Michigan. My workforce research focused extensively on the impact of skilled trades and apprenticeships on Michigan’s economy, as well as the changing and growing roles of women in the labor force. Before my role at the State of Michigan, I spent four years living in Washington, D.C., where I had various roles within the federal government and non-profit sector focused on international trade policy analysis and intellectual property rights protection.
Describe your work ethic in 5 words or less.
CB: Passionate about creating valuable connections.
LG: WORK UNTIL IT’S DONE.
SG: Determined, passionate, but always learning (with humility +2)
MU: Epic ethics.
MW: Productive and focused efficiency.
Is there a woman or several women in your life that influenced you the most?
CB: My mother was my greatest influence. She was always busy doing the things she loved, and she appreciated the little things.
LG: Mary Turner, My Ma, Patricia Gregory, my former youth pastor’s wife, Michelle Obama, the former first lady of the USA and Oprah Winfrey, The most influential woman in the world.
SG: My mom. She’s always worked while she had a family and did a great job at both things. She’s a boss hard working and fun to be with. I’d be perfectly happy with turning into my mom someday. Also, the former executive director of WIN, Lisa Katz, and the current executive director, Michele Ureste. They inspire me a lot, and I think of how they would handle situations that I’m dealing with more often than not.
Truly, I’m influenced by every one of my close women friends and coworkers all the time. They lift me up and inspire me to be a better version of myself. They’re always my cheering section, and I do the same for them. Whether they’re mommas, lady bosses, entrepreneurs, or slaving away in the trenches, I learn new things from them every day. They TOTALLY keep me going on a daily basis.
MU:My first job following undergraduate study was at Ford World Headquarters in the Public Affairs staff where I met the acquaintance of Ann Doyle. Throughout the years, I have been on her email distribution list, attended some of her events, and received a copy of her book “Powering Up!” I admire the fact that she has been devoted to empowering women and providing insight for women in challenging leadership positions.
MW: My thesis advisor in graduate school, Dr. Jennifer Tobin, was a huge influence on my research style and methods. I learned so much from her about how to develop an idea from beginning to end. Any time I think about a particular research project, I can hear her voice in the back of my head asking, “but is it meaningful?”
What are some words of wisdom that you would give to the next generation of women?
CB: Find your passion, work towards doing what you love and enjoy the journey.
LG: Be YOU and be true to yourself, period.
SG: Be unapologetic. Do things without being compelled to tell others why. Stand up for yourself. Be proud to be a woman, and act like a sister to support all the strong women in your life. We need each other!
MU: I have two teenage daughters and my repeated message is to work hard and to never give up on your goals. My career planning was simple, I pursued my passion in journalism, political science, and public administration. I have worked directly in the fields supported by my undergraduate and graduate degrees.
MW: Believe in yourself, but also believe in your friends. Support each other as much as possible.
While the future is bright for the women of Michigan, we all have a part in it to make sure every woman is successful in everything they do. Thank you to the Women of WIN who took part in answering a few questions for this blog. Your responses were greatly appreciated and duly informative! If you would like to learn more about the women interviewed in this blog, please visit www.winintelligence.org/about-us/staff/.
Workforce Intelligence Network and MI Bright Future strive to provide services that help the next generation of Michiganders thrive and succeed in their professional lives. If you would like to learn more about the WIN’s initiatives, please visit www.winintelliegence.org.
This article was researched and written by Colleen Azimi, MI Bright Future Program Assistant at the Workforce Intelligence Network.
 Michigan Women Hall of Fame. “Michigan Women Forward: Merza Tate.” The Michigan Women’s Historical Center & Hall of Fame, 1990, http://www.michiganwomenshalloffame.org/Inductee_PDFs%20New/Tate_Merze.pdf. Accessed March 25, 2019
 Michigan Women Hall of Fame. “Michigan Women Forward: Andra Rush.” The Michigan Women’s Historical Center & Hall of Fame, 2014, http://www.michiganwomenshalloffame.org/Inductee_PDFs%20New/Rush_Andra%20M.pdf. Accessed March 25, 2019
 Michigan Women Hall of Fame. “Michigan Women Forward: Harriet Quimby.” The Michigan Women’s Historical Center & Hall of Fame, 2013, www.michiganwomenshalloffame.org/Inductee_PDFs%20New/Quimby_Harriet.pdf. Accessed March 25, 2019
 Workforce Intelligence Network, WIN Labor Market Report, State of Michigan, https://winintelligence.org/data-research/state-of-michigan-labor-market-report/. Accessed on March 25, 2019