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Women for Economic and Leadership Development honors new class of Columbus leaders
Erica Thompson
The Columbus Dispatch


Women for Economic and Leadership Development honors new class of Columbus leaders

Erica Thompson

The Columbus Dispatch


Both the coronavirus pandemic and the racial justice uprising of 2020 are reshaping our day-to-day lives and perception of American society.

And women have been at the forefront of change in central Ohio.

Sumithra Jagannath is developing technology that allows customers to shop safely and businesses to remain open amid the health crisis.

Wendy Sherman Heckler is educating future leaders on the global challenges women face — including economic setback during the pandemic — in college classrooms.

Lachandra Baker and Lillian Morales are continuing their work fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in the corporate world.

They are among 12 Columbus women being honored as "high-impact leaders" by Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD), a Westerville-based nonprofit. The "Women WELDING the Way" honorees will be highlighted in a 2022 calendar, featuring the theme "leadership in the new era."

And they will be recognized in a ceremony at the Ohio Statehouse Atrium on Nov. 4.

More:Here's how Ohio women advocated for business loan fund in the state budget

"I'm just a little Black girl from Sylvania, Georgia," said Baker, 48, of Madison Township, who recently joined National Church Residences as the senior director of employee engagement. "I say that all the time because it's a dream that I had to be able to do more and be more and impact more people. And so, if some other small-town girl sees me and says, 'If she made it, I can make it, too,' then it's all worth it for me."

Baker is impacting many through her job and work on the DEI Advisory Board of the Besa nonprofit organization, which curates community service projects.

"What I don't want companies to do is performative action and allyship," she said. "It's so easy to put a black square up on your Instagram page or raise a Pride flag or put a Black Lives Matter sign in their window, but what does that really mean to them? What behaviors are you actually going to change?"

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Baker said the social justice protests of 2020 prompted a lot of reflection; her mother was 19 during the Civil Rights Movement, and now her own 19-year-old child is engaged in social justice.

"I cried quite a bit because I thought we should have been further along than we were," Baker said. "(But) this younger generation is so activated, and they're walking in their own authenticity."

But young people still need help building confidence.

That was a lesson Sumithra Jagannath learned from her daughter, who dreamed of being a seamstress, teacher and nurse when she was younger.

"One day I asked her, 'So why do you want to be a nurse? Why not the doctor?' " said Jagannath, 53, of Blacklick, who is the president of ZED Digital. "And she said, 'Mom, can I be a doctor?' That's when I realized that she was being told — not at home — that these are the professions that women typically take up. (But) we have the same God-given intelligence that everybody else has. There's no need to feel like we can't do it."

Jagannath navigated discrimination in the tech industry to build her own award-winning digital marketing and software enterprise. The company specializes in digital solutions like multimodal trip planners, mobile ticketing and contactless payment.

Previously specializing in the transportation industry, ZED Digital is expanding the technology to facilitate contactless experiences at restaurants and other public places to encourage safety amid the pandemic.

The company's new free app, Zig, helps customers find things to do in different cities, and encourages them to rate businesses on their safety policies.