Episode 004: Diana Sieger

Jul 2, 2020

Diana Sieger

Diana Sieger is a “Powerful Woman” who needs no introduction.  Long time head of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Diana’s charge and passion is to effect positive change in our community.  She is an effective community, statewide and national leader in community problem solving, policy development and advocacy.

Full Transcript:

>> Produced by women about women, ‘Powerful women, let's talk’ is a series of interviews with women who have helped shape our community and transform who we are and how we live.

>>Hi there, I'm Jennifer Moss and excited to welcome you to this edition of ‘Powerful women, let's talk’ and I'm really excited for you to meet today's powerful woman in many circles, she's a person who really needs no introduction actually, but I am happy to let you know that we are talking to the one and only Diana Sieger president of the Grand Rapids community Foundation.

Of course, you know she's a leader and a powerful woman not only here in Grand Rapids, but also you know on the state level on the national level of course, she's won numerous awards, like the tribute award and the Athena award as well.

And so again it's very exciting to welcome our powerful woman for the day Diana Sieger thanks so much for joining us.

>>Thank you it’s such a pleasure to be here.

>>You know you always come to the station and sit with smiles and good word and and information for us to use and so it's nice for you to be here today just to have a conversation with you.  You know you've been with-- for those who don't know  you ‘ve been with the community Foundation for more than 30 years .


>>You called that position of leadership, tell us what you do there and kind of give us the background for those who don't know what you do at the foundation.

>> Well, essentially I would probably have a number of staff who would like to know what I do- I  actually have such a tremendous team of staff we have 30 staff and we have built the strength of their knowledge their experience for many many years when I started out it was just me and I took over the reins from a wonderful woman, Pat Addison, who was the first female executive director of the foundation and she really showed me how it's done.

So since that time obviously with just those many years there's been so much that has gone on, but it started out where I was primarily making grant decisions to organizations over the years, however, the strength of our leadership and our influence and our voice has really just grown exponentially and so in addition to making grants there are a number of community activities that were involved in raising resources to make sure that we have the resources to fuel our nonprofit community and other partners in the and so it's the days are full and I would say that there isn't one day that's the same as the other and.

>>That kinda keeps you going to.

>>It's you know, yeah, I know, there's no such thing as routine and  it's been a pivot with regard to the root of the way that we have responded with working at home and then we know that we're privileged to be able to work remotely and it's been good.

We've got great technology, great technology, but also the personal contact has really been I'm kind of a social person so it's been a little hard.

>>Yeah, a little hard but I will say that um, not only has the staff really responded so is our board our committees and really I would say leading with heart and love and particularly now with all that is going on with racial inequity and the difficulty that that has just really been magnified in the disparities have been magnified and so we've got a lot going on.

>>But as you look at those Diana I’m just asking- you know when you say they've been magnified that's good for the community would you say and as it relates to the community taking action and I know that your article the community of crisis responses need to lead with equity and looking at everything from COVID to the racial disparities with George Floyd and the other things like that so that kind of put you guys in the spotlight -you know, what we do -how do we lead in these times.

>> You know, I would say addressing racial equity has been a real-- it's not new to the community Foundation --we have been I would say steadily moving in that direction and actually we put our stamp on our work leading with equity about 5, 6, years ago and certainly had been doing it before we just didn't call it that and I would say that what's been magnified -is just the centuries of disparities that have been evident and when we saw with the whole COVID crisis and are still seeing the dis, disproportionate number of I would say latin X and black people, black and brown people who are exponentially dying because of this --in large numbers too.

>>In large numbers in and you know the statistic of 10% of the population here in the Kent County area are latin X but 40% of the deaths are that --so there's a lot of work to be done and yet it's magnified the problems I would say that it's also brought out a lot of division too.

So hopefully we can address and mend that vision because this community really really needs to to rally it really needs to address racism head-on in employment and in the treatment of people and all of it so.

>>A lot of work yet to be done.

But as we look at you, you know leadership position what are some of-- that as we look back on years in the community Foundation and what are some of the traits that you like to see either within yourself someone you've mentored or those that you are working with at leadership qualities?

>>You know a leader but leadership qualities are those where there is a tremendous respect being given to all people but also being able to speak out and not having to wait for permission to do so and certainly it's good to be decisive.

I also would say that it needs to be measured a bit so that that we are really reaching out to a number of people before action is taken not stalling but making sure and so when I see particularly with female leaders is that there's always been a little bit of a hesitancy, gee should I really do this and I can remember in my early days at the community Foundation and even prior to that where I'd be standing having a chat to talk to a female friend of mine, but you know after a meeting standing by the car.

And having some of the male leaders walk by saying oh they're ganging up and you know probably we weren't talking about anything other than you know, so it's a nice day what's going on with you.

>>A normal conversation.

>>A normal conversation so I would say that really - my mother was always famous for saying to me you need to toughen up kid and I would say that over the years given all of my experiences with a number of people that I've had to toughen up not being hardened, but to be really what I would say positively strong and firm .

>>And the way in which you handle things. And you know so and many women deal with this as well you make positive strides you keep moving forward in your working world, what does it take though for you to find your own voice?

You know, voicing your own beliefs and be comfortable with being you? Because as you said people will walk by and say something you’re standing at the car talking and they have an idea of what that might be but they don't really know you. How do you find your voice?

>> You know, it's funny back in the 90's when I was serving on the Chamber of Commerce Committee and I was the only woman in a sea of very lovely wonderful men and I finally got the gumption one day because they were saying some disparaging comments about a female leader, national leader and finally I just looked at all of them and I said now are you going to go home tonight and say this to your wife? Are you going to go home tonight and say this to your granddaughter?

Are you going to say this to your daughter? And that you should not say it to me, I'm not I'm not just sitting here taking it and from that time forward I get there was a real recognition of oh okay, then you know we've got it, we must stop doing that.

>>That's a good point and they probably looked at that situation differently, everything and that helped them not only in that position with you but in other instances too you probably set the bar high for them to do that.

What about barriers have you, anything along the way as you climb to success I mean you've been with the foundation for over 30 years and we'll talk about what you did prior to that in a second, but what are some of the things that perhaps presented themselves as a potential barrier as you were coming along and moving on this upward track?

>>You know my experiences are as a white female, so it is my experiences -are the experiences of   discrimination or attitude based upon my gender.

I have not had to deal with the color of my skin or anything like that so and I don't want this to be misinterpreted as gee I know the plight of both black and brown people because I don't experience it. I would say is in those early years, it was the attitude and kind of scoffing at well what do you know.

So I really you know, I read books I watched  a number of films and videos and I was raised during the time of in my college years of feminism and so leaning on the authors back then and their strength and you know that you had that as much as many of those women were reviled I found strength in what they were doing because they were doing it with humanity and compassion and so that I would say it was the barrier of attitude and finally I I would say that over the years to the point where now when I'm sitting in a committee or community event or whatever and I’ll say now, you know, I'm not shy and you hear snickers throughout the day because they know, I'm not shy.

>>Well and that probably has to do with when you were talking about finding your voice all of that kind of fits together one piece of the puzzle as you grow and learn and you know in early as you're maturing along the way, but then you set the tone.


>>And you don't have to deal with that anymore.

So tell us what did you do prior to being with the foundation?

>>You know, I would tell you that my work with regard to equity really started when I was a teenager. And I grew up in the Detroit area which is code for didn't live in Detroit.

I was grew up in a suburb.

>>The area.

>>And the area in the and I  really would say that during the time of the 1967 uprisings was a real awakening for I would say for generation- unfortunately that awakening also was the other forces were at hand too and that led me to really getting much more involved with civil rights.

And my career path was really determined by the fact that you know- but every college student writes, I'm going to make the world a better place and so how's that working out for you.

And I really focus my, I kept my eye on the wall with regard to what profession can I go into that really could do that and I moved to Grand Rapids back in that early 70's and got married and subsequently divorced him, but stayed here, stayed here and the thing that was in my positions then, was that I went back into grad school and got a master's of social in social work.

>>Going along that track of the civil rights.

>>Yeah, but I quickly realized however, was that yes, social work is fine, however, I knew that I did not have the stamina to be a therapist and so and get much more involved with policy planning in an administration from Western Michigan University. That gave me the strength to my first real job out of grad school I had been prior to that had been a case worker at the American Red Cross, but my first job out of grad school was with the United way back then it was the United Way of Kent County today, it's the heart of West Michigan.

And that gave me the chops and on how to go through with regard to determining funding levels for various nonprofit partners as well as getting involved in what I would say the work of social planning and community work.

>>But the forerunner to the community foundation.

>>Yeah  and so you know, and that gave me knowledge of other people in the community who are leaders and there were many leaders, both male and female leaders that I looked upon and I came to know a number of people in the community and that gave me the path to gee should I throw my hat in the ring for the position at the community Foundation and like I said the woman who preceded me, Pat Addison, really she is a spitfire she emails me you know a lot and tells me ok this is good, this is not good whatever, but she was the one that that I think showed me the ropes those first few weeks of taking over the position and ultimately, becoming the president of the Community Foundation and those moments of what I would say finding not only voice but the path are really critical.

So yeah, my trajectory from a young kid to, to now really this was this was in a way I was my destiny.

>>Absolutely and everything kind of aligned so here's one of those questions that we all like to know, we talk and you know we all have our chats and a lot of people search for the answer. How do you balance your work life and your professional life that demands, you're the president of the foundation, so therefore you are very busy, you are out and about I know you like to be out in the community, but I'm sure there are a lot of demands on your time. So how do you balance that out, how have you found to do that over the years?

>>You know what my um I would say sometimes I'm terrible at it and sometimes I do find a tremendous balance. My friendships are very dear to me and it’s the friends, my friends who keep me going and certainly is in the midst of events in my life were things like we created, Judy Lloyd who passed away in 2005 was she might she and I we created something called the tappers and um in the mid-nineties and decided that we were going to take tap dancing, lessons and so though we convinced the number of other female leaders to join us.

So we became the Type A Tappers and the studio where we went to was John T dance studio on eastern, Just south of Alger as we would always say and that group of women and many of whom still are you know we still get together- we just mostly drink wine and talk but.

>>And tapping.

>>Well the tapping days are over, but I have to say that that was that was a wonderful time in my life and just doing something that is so completely not, you know what we're already.

>>And just to relax.

>>And that’s true and to just laugh.

>>Ok so a little birdie told me the laughter part, you have a love for art.

>>I do.

>>And art fairs is that some of what makes you spend your spare time doing that?

>>You know, and I’m missing.


>>I’m missing all those art fairs this summer.

>>I know.

>>And you know, and it's gotten to the point where I don't have any more wall space.

>>You have your own personal private museum then.

>>Yeah I do kind of. I had a wonderful designer assisted me this past year Mary Witty and designing my, kinda redoing my, I would say my primary, my main floor of  my home and she really helped me understand how to do a gallery wall and a so and then I started collecting glass over the course of the last few years.


>>So yeah, I would say that, and it had special shelves that were built in and all that so I'm a libra and libras, you know we're supposed to be of the balance you know, but they also say we'd like to toss a few bombs in here and there too.

But it really is the love of art and culture and my favorite artist of all time is Michael Pflegar who is also a dear friend and he's and he kind of is embarrassed when he comes over to my house and looks and he’s kind of like wow.

>>Look at this, it’s my stuff.

>>And he, and he, but anyway it it brings me joy and pleasure and it's it's just it's just been fun.\

>>Absolutely so Diana Sieger powerful women want to know, what makes you laugh?

>>I would say I have I enjoy a dry sense of humor. Irony, uh what have you and so it's um and now that,  that I really do have to say that is that slapstick comedy doesn't do it for me, it's really what I would say intelligent humor does it for me and.

>>Something under, underneath of the wires.

>>Yeah, yeah,

>>Maybe sometimes you got to be quite intent to catch that

>>And sometimes a little naughty, you know and I would say that they're really what makes me laugh and is human interaction and watching people just enjoy life and that that really brings a big smile to my face, yeah.

>>Absolutely, and enjoying life is so good. What might be as we wrap this up your favorite saying or motto? If you have one to encourage others or whatever it is that keeps you going.

>>So, a phrase that I, 2, 2 phrases that I, is that are not going to be deep at all one of them is that when anyone hears me say, here's the deal they know they're going to hear a pitch or testimony or whatever.

I end many conversations at the office with peace, love, dove because I am a child of the 60s, so in these.

>>Peace, love, dove?

>>Peace, love, dove and it just has become a natural for over the years and so that to me it's those 2 phrases, here's the deal and peace, love, dove.

>>Peace, love, dove.  I love that and so I just want to say thank you for sharing your time with us today and you know continue on the track, we appreciate all that you do and I want to thank everyone for listening to this edition of powerful women, I'm Jennifer Moss, let’s talk.

>> Produced by women about when these powerful podcast focus on powerful women and how their strength transforms who we are and how we live want to hear more ‘powerful women, let's talk’ get additional interviews at WGVU.org or wherever you get your podcasts please rate and subscribe ‘powerful women, let's talk’ is produced by WGVU at the Meijer public broadcast Center at Grand Valley State University, the views and opinions expressed on this program do not necessarily reflect those of WGVU, its underwriters, or Grand Valley State University.