Two GVSU alumnae discuss findings in study about race, gender, and leadership in West Michigan

Patricia Sosa VerDuin

Two Grand Valley State University alumnae will reveal research they conducted as W.K. Kellogg Foundation Community Leadership Network fellows about race, gender and leadership in West Michigan during two community forums.


Patricia Sosa VerDuin and Shannon Cohen will present “Invisible Walls, Ceilings and Floors: Championing the Voices and Inclusion of Female Leaders of Color in West Michigan” on the following dates:


March 2, noon-1:30 p.m., in the Kirkhof Center, Grand River Room, on Grand Valley’s Allendale Campus; RSVP at


Shannon Cohen

March 16, 6-7:30 p.m., in the DeVos Center, Loosemore Auditorium, on the Pew Grand Rapids Campus; RSVP at


Both events, which are hosted by Grand Valley’s Division of Inclusion and Equity, are free and open to the public.


Sosa VerDuin and Cohen surveyed 120 women of color, ages 30-60, then followed with focus groups to learn more about their successes and struggles at work and home.


“There is lots of quantitative data about the disparity in leadership roles for women of color in West Michigan,” Sosa VerDuin said. “But we have never heard the voices. We wanted to add people’s voices and their lived experiences.”


Their research may dispel myths about the area’s employment pool. Of the women surveyed, 57 percent have advanced college degrees. “People will say that it’s difficult to find talent of color, but perhaps the pipelines might be plugged by not allowing entry by a rich, diverse workforce,” Cohen said.


Both researchers hope employment managers and decision-makers will attend an Invisible Wall event. Cohen said after their presentation, they will include recommendations and a call to action for audience members.


Sosa VerDuin and Cohen met when they were selected as Kellogg Foundation fellows, and “Invisible Walls” became their collaborative fellowship project. Cohen called the project a “merger of heart and head.”


“Both Pat and I are women of color and leaders but from different generations,” Cohen said. “We very much know the emotional toll of being the only woman of color in a leadership position or in volunteer work.”


Sosa VerDuin is a principal of Mobius Coaching; Cohen is a principal of Shannon Cohen Inc.