Mahoning Valley’s Women in Leadership

By Amelia Mack

The Mahoning Valley is home to many women in leadership positions, who are challenging traditional gender roles, whether it be in the realm of government, manufacturing or sports.

Gabriella Gessler, executive vice president of the Student Government Association at Youngstown State University, assumed the role alongside former SGA President Ashley Orr in the spring of 2016.

Gessler said that Orr is one of the strongest leaders she has ever met. Originally, she said she had concerns that SGA would receive some pushback while being led by two females, but instead they received encouragement from administrators and faculty.

Gessler has worked with SGA on different initiatives such as Mental Health Advocacy trainings, the Student Food Pantry, Text Book Affordability and Academic Senate work.

She said these initiatives have given her more YSU pride, and that the university encourages success to all with no limitations based on gender.

“Many of my peers and co-leaders are some of the most brilliant and inspiring individuals that I know … and many of those individuals are women,” Gessler said.

Gigi Mitchell is co-president and CEO, along with her brother, of two companies that have been in the Valley for 49 and 30 years, Warren Fabricating and Machining Corp. and Ohio Steel Sheet and Plate.

Mitchell said she grew up working on the floor of these two companies and learning the ins and outs of the family business.

She said it takes time to earn respect from co-workers. It doesn’t happen overnight.

“Earning respect from my male employees has taken years of them seeing me on the shop floor next to them, doing the same job as them,” Mitchell said.

In a male-dominated industry, Mitchell said she tried to overcompensate because of her gender.

“I would stay later, work harder and try to have all the answers,” she said.

Mitchell noted that as millennials are entering the workplace gender is making less of a difference with more women in leadership positions.

“I used to be the only woman in the room. Now I usually have one other woman with me,” Mitchell said. “We are still outnumbered, but the culture is changing.”

Mitchell said her company places importance on its employees’ health. She created a health and wellness program called Fit and Fab to reduce health care costs and provide free health services, such as biometric screening events and flu shots for employees and their families. She also started a sustainability initiative to reduce the company’s impact on the environment.

Aafke Loney is another great leader in the Mahoning Valley. She and her husband are co-owners of the Youngstown Phantoms hockey team.

The sports industry is predominantly male, and Loney said this is a motivating factor for her.

“Because it’s majority males around you, you have to know what you’re doing and how to apply it and make it successful on a daily basis. It’s not a bad thing to hold you accountable,” she said. “You want to be the best person in that position. You want to work hard and earn that spot.”

In September, Loney facilitated and moderated a fundraising event for the Youngstown Business Incubator’s Women in Entrepreneurship Program. The event raised over $20,000 for the program.

“We wanted to have a really unique event to bring to light what YBI is doing for women entrepreneurs,” Loney said.

Loney said she is most proud of the Phantom’s Hockey for Health Program.

“We’re focusing on nutrition, physical activity, finance and education,” she said. “It’s helping kids understand that they have to work hard to get where they want to be and teaching them how to do these different things.”

The Phantom’s Power Play Program with the help of its sponsors has also been able to donate 12 sets of floor hockey equipment to local schools.

Loney noted that as a woman you must work hard and prove yourself every day.

“It’s a lot of work, but at the end of the day hard work pays off, and that’s how, as a woman, you have to look at that when you’re going into the business world,” Loney said. “You are always competing, and you just have to do your best and work hard.”