Fostering inclusion and cooperation

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The career of Margot James Copeland reaches back to the 1970s when she was a researcher for the Ohio State Legislature. With a master’s degree in hand, the Virginia-born businesswoman took root in Northeast Ohio’s profit and nonprofit sectors.

With her previous position at Leadership Cleveland and then through the Greater Cleveland Roundtable, Copeland has facilitated Cleveland’s renewal. It is because of those roles that she is recognized as a Master Innovator at the 2001 Innovation in Business Conference.

As executive director of Leadership Cleveland, a program of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association for 10 years, Copeland nurtured and cultivated relationships among leaders of the community from the health care, nonprofit, business and religious sectors. Meeting once a month for nine months, groups took field trips, listened to speakers and simply gathered to share ideas on the issues most affecting the city, those issues being racial, social, health care and economic development.

Copeland became president and CEO of the Greater Cleveland Roundtable in 1999 after leaving Leadership Cleveland. She then moved the organization from a champion of racial progress to include proactive programming, tying diversity with bottom line business success.

The organization is made up of a group of leaders that come together to develop strategic action plans to resolve the multiracial and multicultural problems confronting the city.

Mayor Mike White sums up Copeland in one word: Driver.

“She’s a person who sets a path, gives it enough thought, then sets her course,” he says. “She doesn’t let anything get in the way of achieving success.”

That’s not to say Copeland has an adversarial style; rather, her manner puts people quite at ease. White explains that it takes a great style along with a creative mind to turn dreams into reality.

“Leadership Cleveland is a process organization,” she says. “You frame the arena for people of influence to come together, develop relationships in an arena of trust in ways you would not normally be able to do in other settings.”

Terence Uhl, executive director of Cleveland Today, says Leadership Cleveland is designed to teach city leaders about the issues. Uhl is a 1999 alumnus and, after 25 years, the network is full of notable names including Mayor Mike White, Mary Boyle, Jane Campbell, Jimmy Dimora, Tim McCormack and the majority of Cleveland’s CEOs.

“Leadership Cleveland was really a way for me to blend my volunteer leadership track and my professional track together,” says Copeland. “Community really became the heart of what I wanted to do.”

Uhl says Copeland has a wonderful mix of perception, intelligence and energy that has people looking to her as a leader.

According to Copeland, teaching leaders about the community and introducing them to a network of their peers helps cultivate relationships that yield success. The forum allows people to shares ideas and agree to disagree, in order to focus on resolving ethnic and racial problems in the communities.

Copeland attended a Leadership Cleveland forum in 1991 when she was president of the Junior League. As she recalls, it had a profound effect on her when she saw the participants working as a collective to initiate change.

Dennis Eckart, president of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association, says Copeland’s tenure as director left a lasting impression on him.

“Anyone can do great things one time. Doing something really well, year in and year out, recruiting, motivating, organizing, that’s different,” he says, adding that “Leadership Cleveland was one of the reasons that Cleveland became a comeback city.”

A humble Copeland does not take credit for any of the successes of the program.

“I didn’t do it,” she says. “I just framed the arena for these relationships to come together.”

But the effects are well-documented. From putting a library in the women’s correctional facility to playing a key role in attracting major corporations to the city, others will give her much more credit.

Uhl says Copeland had a masterful way of pulling the best out of people while still creating a cohesive group.

“Taking over the Roundtable was a natural progression for her,” Uhl says. “The reputation she earned in running Leadership Cleveland was just a tremendous asset for what’s now the really difficult job of trying to get the issues of diversity and inclusiveness addressed on a broad scale.”

One of her biggest accomplishments is the Greater Cleveland Roundtable Center for Diversity Management and Education, which is a consulting service focusing on diversity management, inclusion and education.

Sandy Holmes, associate director of the National Conference for Community and Justice in Cleveland, worked with Copeland in 1999 on the CommUNITY project. The multimedia marketing campaign focused on diversity issues during a 30-minute television program carried simultaneously on all local channels.

“She can make a point in such a way that people in the room really remember it,” says Holmes. “She has a great ability to deliver a message and to make people think about things in a different way than they might have.”

Copeland’s 1999 initiation into the Roundtable came at the time of the Ku Klux Klan rally that had city leaders hotly debating what to do. Joining forces with city officials, Copeland encouraged the community to consider the rally a non-event.

Copeland’s goal for the Roundtable is to create an organization that the community can utilize that makes inclusion an integral part of business success.

Barry Doggett, deputy director of Cleveland Tomorrow, says Copeland recognizes that the needs of the community have changed and she brings that to the Roundtable. White adds her work with the police and fire departments in dealing with race and gender issues has been immeasurably helpful.

Confidentiality prohibits Copeland from discussing the programs’ specifics except that each program is customized to fit the organizations’ needs rather than a cookie-cutter approach.

White acknowledges that “Cleveland’s business community will never be a world-class business community unless it clearly embraces diversity.”

Cleveland is still in its comeback stage.

“I don’t feel that Cleveland can honestly say that it has come back as a community until we climb this last slippery slope,” says Copeland. “This is the issue of inclusion, this is the issue of participation.”

Acceptance and inclusion are key to working out the problems of race and community.

“If you can basically enlighten the sense, enlighten people though processes as they go about doing their work, you can help them get beyond fear,” Copeland says. “People are afraid of what they don’t know.”

How to reach: The Greater Cleveland Roundtable, (216) 579-9980; Leadership Cleveland, (216) 621-3300