The longtime volunteer brings deep experience as a trailblazer with Pelotonia and The Big Table and a commitment to the region.

Kelley Griesmer bought a new red suit to wear to her first law firm interview years ago. She ignored advice that the suit was too bold and wore it anyway, thinking: “If they don’t like the suit, there’s a lot more about me they aren’t going to like.”

Griesmer brings that same spirit to her new role as CEO of the Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, an organization committed to igniting social change in pursuit of gender equality. She joined the five-person staff in December, though her involvement with the Women’s Fund stretches back 15 years, across positions as a partner with Jones Day, chief operating officer of Pelotonia and senior vice president of the Columbus Foundation.

The Women’s Fund experienced growing pains in 2018, with its CEO seat open for the first time in 10 years after Nichole Dunn left to become the CEO at Flying Horse Farms. Mary Cusick, previously with TourismOhio, was named CEO in April and held the role for four months before the organization announced her departure, saying the relationship wasn’t a fit.

Griesmer was named CEO in December.

Restaurateur Angela Petro, owner of Two Caterers and Sweet Carrot and current chair of the Women’s Fund’s board, says the transition was an opportunity to take a fresh look at how the organization serves the mission of its founders to make a difference in the lives of women and girls.

“Kelley’s a trailblazer. In the life of our organization, it’s time for a trailblazer,” Petro says. “She’s dedicated to lifting people up. That’s who she is as a human being. A connector.”

Griesmer says she loves creating moments of “authentic human interaction.” She saw the power of connections as CEOs and employees rode bikes next to each other in Pelotonia and as different people sat down together at The Big Table, the citywide civic engagement event she organized with the Columbus Foundation.

“People connect and realize they’re not as different as they think,” Griesmer says, adding that she’ll continue working at the Women’s Fund to “spark, connect and influence.”

Griesmer served on the Women’s Fund board for 10 years and was chair from 2013-15. Petro says this long-term relationship positions Griesmer to push boundaries and evolve the organization during a critical time.

“Kelley has a really deep history with the Women’s Fund. She understands the importance of our roots, but isn’t stuck in the way things have already been done,” Petro says. “There’s a ton of trust there.”

For Griesmer, the leadership role with the Women’s Fund is an opportunity to work on an issue she feels passionately about.

“Life is short. That’s one thing Pelotonia taught me very clearly,” she says.

Through grantmaking, advocacy, partnerships and eduction, the Women’s Fund addresses challenges facing women and girls such as child care, wage and wealth gaps, healthcare and leadership training.

The Women’s Fund granted $290,000 to 20 organizations last year —its largest annual amount to date. Of this total, $90,000 went to three organizations that will receive funding each year through 2020. The Women’s Fund also published reports on equal pay, the benefits gap and its impact on child care, and women’s health care. The organization hosts annual events including Statehouse Day and its Keyholder event, with past speakers including Geena Davis, Billie Jean King, Lisa Ling and Gloria Steinem.

“Our main issue is creating strong, empowered women who think about what it takes for others to be strong, empowered women,” Griesmer says. “And then it’s about developing male allies, because walking in the shoes of women is different than just walking beside them.”

Doug Kridler, CEO of the Columbus Foundation, supported Griesmer’s move to the Women’s Fund because “effective philanthropy requires effective nonprofits.” He sees Griesmer as the right person in the right position at the right time.

“In this generation, we will see the rise of women and girls like no other before it, and the Women’s Fund has a role to play,” Kridler says. “Kelley clearly has the passion and skillset and experience, and she deserves a large civic platform to be heard and be heeded.”

Mary Sterenberg is a freelance writer.