Bloom Takes Own Initiative

October 5, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — For as long as she can remember, Deb Bloom has passionately believed that women matter. And for most of her life, she has put that belief into practice.

For the past two years, she has been the business and community liaison for the Women’s Resource Center. Over that period, Bloom has helped to prepare women for employment and provide them with individual career guidance. She has also been involved with another facet of the center — acting as a catalyst for social change.

That latter aspect has resulted in the Women’s Resource Center honoring employers for the past 15 years who have contributed to the success of women in the local workplace. The award also has led the center to take a broader view of women’s lives, to examine their leadership roles and take a closer look at their work lives. In turn, that effort has enticed the center to learn how they can build a stronger relationship with employers.

So the job is a nice fit for Bloom, because her passion is seeing women succeed.

“It’s really creating opportunities for women to become successful in whatever they’re doing,” she said. “Women have skills and talents that contribute to the success of any organization, and I would like to be able to see women use their full potential.”

Bloom wasn’t sure how that became such a fervor for her. But she was certain there wasn’t an epiphany, a single, dramatic life-changing event. Instead, she thought it surfaced over time, coming from her own experiences in the workplace and from her parents.

“I faced situations where I was not treated equally early in my career,” she said. “This passion — it’s more than that — has to do with wanting to make a difference in the lives of women. And I think that comes from my upbringing, as well.”

Her dad owned his own business and her mom was one of the first women of her time to enter the work force fulltime. She said her father gave her an entrepreneurial spirit, while her mother gave her an example to follow.

“They’re community-minded. They taught us to care about other people. And I always seem to get drawn to new initiatives.”

Bloom was drawn to the center after her stint as executive director of Women Matter, a statewide education and advocacy organization that kept women updated about public policy issues that affected their work and personal lives. She joined that group in the mid-1990s, and considers that move as her biggest career break.

“It was a wonderful experience and opportunity. So much that happened there when I was executive director prepared me for what I’m doing now at the Women’s Resource Center,” she said.

At Women Matter, Bloom had more of a state focus and was involved with a number of statewide groups, along with a statewide health initiative called Michigan’s Year of Women’s Health. That was in 1997. She was state co-chair of the initiative, while First Lady Michelle Engler was the honorary chair. The committee met and planned for two years.

“I did a lot of advance planning and honed those skills, and built relationships with people, which was really critical,” she said. “Also, when I was at Women Matter I went to the White House for a special conference on women’s economic leadership development. And when you look now at what I am doing in women’s leadership, there, again, is that connection.

“So the issues that women talked about, the key issues, were related to the workplace. That was a segue into what I’m doing now. So I have the state and national perspectives and am bringing those to the local perspective, understanding that a lot of the trends that we found in our research for the workplace initiative very much parallel what was being found at the state and national level.”

In fact, the center’s executive director, Sharon Caldwell-Newton, approached Bloom to tell her what she and the board were planning to do locally.

“That turned out to be the workplace initiative. The more we talked, the more excited I got about it. And she offered the position to me and I couldn’t turn it down. It sounded so exciting and challenging, and very much in line with what I believe in, my interests and my passion,” she said.

Another exciting and challenging aspect in Bloom’s life is being a mother to three teens: Ed Jr., 18; Chad, 16; and Elizabeth, 13. Her husband, Ed, is a local businessman. He owns Superior Janitorial Services on Ball Avenue NE in Grand Rapids.

“He has owned that business for five years now. He started out in the teaching profession and then he worked in the office-furniture industry for a number of years. He has done very well,” she said. “And three teen-age children keep me very busy.”

Bloom said that as her kids start to leave the nest she plans to get more involved with the community. Now she serves as an adviser to the Michigan Women’s Foundation and has recently been part of the scholarship committee associated with the ATHENA Award, which is annually given to a local person for his or her commitment to the community.

When she isn’t working, Bloom skis in the winter, hangs around her lakefront home in Rockford in the summer and reads spy and political novels whenever she can. She said she is interested in politics and may run for office down the road.

But her immediate future remains tied to the Women’s Resource Center.

“I’d like to see this workplace initiative continue to grow and thrive,” she said. “We just started it last year and we were very fortunate to get underwriting from five area foundations for the start-up cost. Now our focus is on really increasing employer and community awareness about what is needed to attract, develop and advance women in the workplace.

“What I’d like to see in the next year is a strengthening of those ties with employers in the community. And in the third year, we want to move into consulting with employers,” she added.

“So ultimately, we would like to be known in the community as the place employers go to as a resource, as a consultant, to address the issues they may have in the workplace and how they can more fully develop the female work force in their workplace.”           

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