Celebrating Women: Inspirational Chicago Women Making a Difference

Women in Business

When it comes to the business world, there are women leading the way in all sorts of ways, from heading up small businesses to leading large organizations. If there’s one thing that they have in common, the most successful have found ways not only to grow their businesses but to help others in the community as well. We invite you to get to know a few of these inspiring women.

Tiffany Dufu , The Cru Founder

Tiffany Dugu
New York Photo by Elizabeth Lippman ©09-13-2019 Portraits of Tiffany Dufu

Tiffany Dufu’s life’s work is advancing women and girls. Previously, she ran The White House Project, she was on the launch team for Lean In and she was Chief Leadership Officer to Levo. Throughout her career, she’s had a crew supporting her and holding her accountable to achieve her goals. During a conversation with a woman looking to advance her career who she advised to find her own crew, Tiffany realized it’s not that easy for most women. Juggling full-time jobs, caretaking and other responsibilities leaves little time for attending conferences and scheduling lunches to connect with people. 

“For me that was a bit of a Tiffany’s epiphany, where I realized, if my life’s work is advancing women and girls, I should probably stop preaching to women about how they need to find a crew and I should probably just find the crew for them,” she says. 

In 2018, she founded The Cru, a service designed to match women in accountability circles to support them in achieving their personal and professional goals. Today, The Cru has nearly 1,000 members. Read more.

Heather Hester, Chrysalis Mama

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Heather Hester is on a mission to transform the conversation around loving and raising an LGBTQ+ child. Societal acceptance and understanding of the LGBTQ community have positively shifted over the past decade; however, we still live in a world where “coming out” can bring harsh judgment and cruelty. As a parent, ally, or advocate of one who is LGBTQ+, it is heart-breaking to encounter such misinformation and fear. 

Heather couldn’t bear the thought of others enduring what her family had, so she created Chrysalis Mama, the educational and supportive product of her family’s remarkable journey. Transforming this conversation starts within us, blossoms within our families, and grows into our communities and beyond. Her principles are simple: to embrace, to educate, to empower, and to love. 

As Heather recognized the beautiful shifts occurring within herself and her family, she knew she needed to work to reach more people, and so in 2019, her podcast, Just Breathe: Parenting Your LGBTQ Teen, and a year later, digital course, Learning to Just Breathe were born.

Through Heather’s work with her website, podcast, and course, as well as her position of incoming vice-chair for YPO’s LGBTQ Parents, Allies, Advocates Sub-Network, she works tirelessly to educate and empower, and spread the comforting message that “you are not alone!” 

Kate Maehr, Executive Director and CEO of Greater Chicago Food Depository

The need for food across Chicagoland has stunned Greater Chicago Food Depository (GCFD) Executive Director and CEO Kate Maehr, but it has never disheartened her.

“Every time I go out to a distribution, I’m just struck that every single person standing in line is a person with a life, with a family, with a story—and those lines just go on for blocks and blocks,” Maehr said.

Maehr has held her current title since 2006, but her career with GCFD began in 1996 as part of its external affairs team. She also serves as a board member for Feeding America and was appointed co-chair of the recently rebooted Illinois Commission to End Hunger, among other affiliations. Read more.

CBS Chicago Anchor Suzanne Le Mignot

CBS Chicago Anchor and Reporter Suzanne Le Mignot
Suzanne Le Mignot at the 2019 Make It Better Philanthropy Awards Celebration. (Photo by Jaclyn Simpson.)

Suzanne Le Mignot is an award-winning news anchor and reporter at CBS Chicago. She’s got heart, smarts, and the unwavering determination to right wrongs and help those in need. Le Mignot works hard to pay forward the blessings of her TV journalism success while staying mindful of her roots.

She was the first on her mother’s side of the family to attend a four-year university. While a student at the University of South Florida, receiving scholarships, there were times Le Mignot subsisted on only one loaf of raisin bread per week. She had two babysitting jobs, worked at Payless shoe store, and worked at the campus newspaper and radio and TV stations, all while going to school. At times, she had anywhere from 15 to 20 credit hours in a week. Her hard work paid off. She was able to secure a TV internship in the former Yugoslavia while still at USF. She would eventually work for three television stations in Belgrade before graduating.

Her gratitude and drive to help also explain why Le Mignot has volunteered precious free time to serve as the emcee of the past three Make It Better Philanthropy Awards Celebrations at Wintrust Grand Banking Hall.

We’ve been so inspired by Le Mignot’s values and impactful efforts — on air and off — that we asked her to share more about herself with our readers. Read more.

Monique Jones, President and CEO of Forefront

Sometimes it takes someone from outside the bubble to see the big picture.

When Monique Jones first interviewed for the leadership position at the Evanston Community Foundation (ECF) back in 2015, she thought it was a place-based philanthropy all about Evanston. “I’ve since found out that the foundation is part of the fabric of Evanston, and the local grantmaking, though important, is not what makes it ECF,” says Jones. “What makes it ECF is that everyone involved — board, staff, donors — is seeking change, looking to tackle some major social issue. That takes more than just grantmaking. And leading this organization, you also must want to be a changemaker. You can’t have just one motivating issue; you must be invested in all of the issues affecting the community.”

Jones has long felt the pull of service to the community. Although born in Chicago, she spent most of her formative years in Little Rock, Arkansas, and majored in social work at the University of Arkansas, where Black students made up only 10% of the student body. After achieving her master’s degree in social work at UT Austin, she returned to Little Rock as a clinical therapist. After a divorce, she returned to Chicago and went to work as a hospice social worker. She moved on to the storied Jane Addams Hull House Association, then the oldest social service agency in the country, where she quickly became the clinical director. From there, she went on to run the Violence Prevention Program at the Cook County Department of Public Health, where she learned to write grants and navigate mountains of red tape.

Immediately before joining ECF, Jones was Director of Programs at the Chicago Foundation for Women (CFW), where she oversaw a budget of nearly $2 million while managing the grant program and working on major gift development in tandem with the CFW staff. After five years there as second-in-command, she was ready to fly. She knew she wanted a place where her leadership values — humor, optimism, fidelity, integrity, and equity — would be reflected, and she found that perfect fit at ECF, a beloved, premier social-impact organization with an endowment of $28 million. She quickly noticed that it wasn’t just the fervent, loyal donor base that made ECF strong, but their level of commitment and humility. “Donor money is always great, but having a donor think through how their wealth and privilege and assets can help make lasting change is the best scenario for all concerned,” says Jones. Read more.

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