LVB celebrates the 2023 Women of Influence 

Some of the Lehigh Valley region’s best and brightest women leaders met this week as Lehigh Valley Businesses’ 2023 class of Women of Influence award winners. 

The event, held on Wednesday at DeSales University, honored 38 women in three categories: Women of Influence, Women to Watch and Circle of Excellence. 

Women of Influence Awards honor high-achieving women for their career accomplishments. The honorees are selected based on their professional experience, community involvement and a commitment to mentoring. 

Circle of Excellence honorees are women of longstanding, notable success in the community who are leading the way for other women. Women to Watch honors women leaders under the age of 35 who demonstrate outstanding professional accomplishments, community involvement and commitment to positive change. 

Guests arrive at DeSales University for the 2023 Women of Influence awards. PHOTO/ ANTAL F. KOEBLI –

Sponsors for the event included: Reception Sponsors, Cedar Crest College and Lehigh Valley Health Network. Supporting Sponsors: Members 1st Federal Credit Union; PSECU and Tower Health. Celebration Sponsors: ATAS International, Inc.; City Center Allentown; DIAKON; Fellowship Community; Fitzpatrick Lentz & Bubba; Herbein + Company, Inc.; KeyBank; Manufacturers Resource Center; NAI Summit; One Financial Services; Schmidt Training & Technology Center and Univest Financial Corporation   

Honorees were profiled in a magazine distributed to all winners and attendees at the awards celebration, found at LVB.com and inserted into the May 8 issue of Lehigh Valley Business. 

For more information on this year’s honorees, a link to view and purchase photos of the event and to nominate for the 2024 Women of Influence awards, visit: https://lvb.com/event/women-of-influence-awards/ 


Fulton Bank launches Diverse Business Program

Stating a commitment to making banking and financing products more accessible to groups that historically have been underserved, Lancaster-based Fulton Bank has launched its new Diverse Business Banking Program. 

The program is designed to meet the needs of minority, women, veteran, and LGBTQ business owners. 

“This program advances our purpose to change lives for the better,” Fulton Financial Chairman, President and CEO Curtis J. Myers said in a statement. 

Myers said on the company’s website that Fulton Bank is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

The basis of the program is Fulton Bank’s Diverse Business Advocates, bankers who have earned a special certification and can provide individualized mentorship, educational resources, and custom solutions to meet the needs of diverse business owners. 

The program’s products and services include the following: 

  • Business banking product bundles. 
  • Flexible approval criteria for loans and lines of credit. 
  • Merchant services. 
  • Payroll and cash management services. 
  • SBA (Small Business Administration) products. 

“We’re building on the work Fulton Bank has long done as a trusted advisor for our customers,” said Joel Barnett, director of Commercial Affinity Banking. “In addition to serving diverse businesses, we want to strength relationships with community organizations so we can connect diverse businesses with the network and resources they need to succeed.” 

The company’s website also promotes diversity, equity, and inclusion among its team members. Chief Diversity Officer Quianna Agent-Phillips said Fulton Bank’s inclusion efforts help forge connections throughout its workforce and foster collaboration among team members. 

Fulton Bank, which has offices in the Lehigh Valley, is a subsidiary of the Fulton Financial Corporation.

Underserved small business owners to get boost from new USBA rules

Two rules to address persistent gaps in access to capital impacting small business owners have been finalized by the U.S. Small Business Administration. 

The rules impact small business owners in underserved communities and grant permanence to SBA’s program for nonprofit mission lenders, remove outdated limits on non-depository lender participation, increase opportunities for employee ownership, and modernize the credit criteria and underwriting standards to incentivize a wider distribution network and small-dollar loans. 

SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman said in a statement that modernizing and expanding SBA’s lending programs will open new opportunities to entrepreneurial but underserved communities that have been denied access to the funding needed to create jobs and grow the economy. 

“Equity has been a top priority of the Biden-Harris Administration since day one as our economy needs all of our great ideas and talented entrepreneurs,” said Guzman. “These rule changes demonstrate that commitment by providing government-guaranteed lenders with all the tools they need to close the gaps that still exist for small businesses who need capital.” 

SBA’s rules will help new entrepreneurs grow their businesses by addressing capital access market gaps in underserved communities and expanding the number of participating SBA lenders.

To increase the number of credit-worthy business owners who can access SBA loans, particularly among underserved communities like women, minority, veteran, and rural entrepreneurs, SBA is modernizing the lending criteria and conditions for its business loan programs and reducing red tape for SBA lenders. SBA is achieving this by updating lending criteria for its 7(a) and 504 loan programs, including by:

  • Allowing lenders to make SBA loan decisions based on their existing credit policies for similarly sized non-SBA loans. 
  • Providing additional flexibility for loans under $150,000 to reduce the cost and complexity of small-dollar lending. 
  • Streamlining paperwork required of lenders, enabling them to spend more time with applicants and make loans more efficiently. 
  • Simplifying and clarifying affiliation standards to ease the burden on small business owners and lenders and make clear who qualifies for an SBA loan.

SBA will expand the number of lenders who can offer SBA-guaranteed loans, providing small businesses with more options for meeting their capital needs. The rule will expand the number of Small Business Lending Company (SBLC) licenses, which promote responsible small business lending through non-depository lenders backed by SBA loan guarantees.

SBA is addressing capital access gaps by granting permanence to SBA’s program for nonprofit, mission-oriented lenders by creating a new Community Advantage SBLC license. Community Advantage lenders have lacked long-term certainty about their participation in SBA programs due to the pilot status of the program.

Despite these limitations, SBA said the Community Advantage Pilot Program has demonstrated success with higher rates of lending to Black, Hispanic, women, and veteran-owned businesses.

SBA’s rule will achieve the following:

  • Lift the moratorium on new regular SBLCs and allow for additional licensees, enabling them to make loans to small-dollar borrowers with government guarantees, reducing risks and broadening opportunities. 
  • Provide certainty through permanence of Community Advantage, encouraging current and new nonprofit lenders to invest in and expand SBA lending operations. 
  • Utilize modern technology to make lender oversight and borrower protection stronger and less resource-intensive than was possible when the SBLC moratorium was put in place.

These rules build upon a previous announcement on the Community Advantage Pilot Program that increased the maximum loan size from $250,000 to $350,000, lifted the four-year lender moratorium, enabled the SBA to expand the lender network, and allowed lenders to offer lines of credit, interest-only periods, and other loan modifications that meet the needs of small business borrowers.

Patrick Kelley, associate administrator for the SBA’s Office of Capital Access, said it’s imperative that entrepreneurs from underserved communities have access to stable and affordable capital to grow and expand their businesses.

“With these new rules, the SBA is taking steps to invest in credit-worthy entrepreneurs and mission-oriented lenders, which will build on the Biden-Harris Administration’s progress to date,” said Kelley.

Pa.’s small, diverse, and veteran businesses benefiting from billions in contract spending

Since 2015, more than $4.5 billion has been spent with Pennsylvania’s small, diverse, and veteran businesses through state contracts. For two years in a row, Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration has set records for contract spending with these businesses, including $995 million in Fiscal Year 2021. 

Wolf said in a statement that his administration has made supporting these businesses a top priority. 

“From the outset, we wanted to make the state contracting process more inclusive, equitable and fair for small businesses,” said Wolf. “Over the last seven years, we’ve put our money where our mouth is with multiple record-setting spending years. This is about building an economy that works for everyone – including the small businesses that power our communities.” 


The nearly $1 billion spent in Fiscal Year 2021 shattered the previous mark of $856 million set the year before and generated 10,000 new jobs. This FY spend with all small businesses represents an increase of 169% from 2015, when Wolf signed an executive order directing a coordinated and consistent effort to ensure diversity and inclusion in all contracting opportunities for small and diverse businesses throughout agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction. 


The executive order also established the Bureau of Diversity, Inclusion and Small Business Opportunities (BDISBO) to directly affect change for small businesses, veteran-owned businesses, and small diverse businesses – businesses owned by minorities, women, service-disabled veterans, individuals with disabilities and members of the LGBT community. 


“There is much to be proud of when it comes to our accomplishments in serving the small, small diverse and veteran business communities,” said Department of General Services (DGS) Acting Secretary Joe Lee. “The policies and programs we have been able to implement have laid a more than solid foundation that can be built upon for continued success in the years ahead.” 


The implementation of three policy/program changes in Fiscal Year 2020 was cited by Lee as a key point in the progress of BDISBO’s efforts. The changes are represented by the following: 


  • Small Business Reserve (SBR) that enabled small businesses to compete as prime contractors on specific procurements; 
  • implementation of goal setting for SDBs/VBEs to set minimum participation levels on goods, services and construction procurements; 
  • creation of the stand-alone Veteran Business Enterprise program that set participation goals specifically for these businesses. 


Kerry Kirkland, department of general services deputy secretary for diversity inclusion and small business opportunities, said a trend has been set in innovation and creativeness. 


“We have been able to commission the commonwealth’s first-ever Statewide Disparities Study; convene the first-ever DISBO Governor’s Advisory Council; and implement several other groundbreaking policies and programs to benefit small, small diverse and veteran businesses,” said Kirkland. “The future is truly bright for these business communities moving forward.” 


Program goals include conducting the follow-up to the disparity study; developing a capital and technical assistance program for small, small diverse and veteran-owned businesses; and continuing the promotion of legislation to statutorily establish BDISBO programs and policies.

Yuengling continues to support diversity in brewing

Pottsville-based D.G. Yuengling & Sons Inc. Is continuing its efforts to encourage women, minorities and veterans to engage in careers in the brewing industry. 

The company has announced plans to continue its partnership with the University of South Florida St. Petersburg’s Brewing Arts Program. 

The brewer is providing a $10,000 donation dedicated to funding its Diversity in Brewing Scholarship and the Yuengling Veteran Scholarship. 

Yuengling’s $5,000 Diversity in Brewing Scholarship is presented annually to an individual from a traditionally underrepresented population and covers the cost of tuition to USFSP’s Brewing Arts Certificate program for the upcoming spring semester.  

Yuengling’s second scholarship opportunity, the $5,000 Yuengling Veteran Scholarship, provides one veteran with full funding to attend USFSP’s Brewing Arts program. Recipients of the Yuengling Veteran Scholarship will be announced ahead of the program’s August 2022 session. 

“As four women helping to lead America’s Oldest Brewery, my sisters and I understand the importance of shaping opportunities for anyone interested in pursuing their passion in brewing,” said Jennifer Yuengling, vice president of operations and sixth generation family member of D.G. Yuengling & Son Inc. “We’re raising our glasses to bettering the brewing industry and are proud to help support the development of the next generation of brewers through these scholarships.”  

The Brewing Arts program is a collaboration between USF’s College of Arts and Sciences and several local and national breweries. Launched in 2015, the online program is designed for brewers ranging from hobbyists to enthusiasts looking to make a career in the industry by working in or opening a brewery one day.  

“We are thrilled to be partnering with Yuengling again this year and to continue building on the success we’ve seen in our program thanks to these scholarships,” said Jennifer Sedillo, program director of the Brewing Arts program. “Diversity is an ongoing area of concern in both our program and the industry at large, and we hope to continue progress on this issue by creating opportunities for underrepresented groups with these scholarships and Yuengling’s support.” 




Geisinger study shows promise for detecting cancers

A blood test that can detect cancer early has shown what the Geisinger health network officials are calling “promising results.”

The study, called DETECT, uses a blood test developed by researchers at Maryland’s Johns Hopkins University. Geisinger used the test in a study of 10,000 women and found that it successfully screened for several types of cancer, including those for which there is no other screening test. Geisinger is a Pennsylvania-based health network headquartered in Danville, with locations throughout central, south-central and northeastern Pennsylvania.

Several participants in the DETECT (Detecting Cancers Earlier Through Elective Mutation-Based Blood Collection and Testing) study were found to have cancers, including ovarian cancer, for which there is no standard screening test. The test’s false-positive rate was low, meaning that very few people were referred for unnecessary follow-up testing or procedures.

“This test has the ability to detect cancers at an early stage when they are most amenable to treatment,” said Dr. David Rolston, chair of the department of medicine specialties at Geisinger and study co-investigator. “If the test performs well in further studies, this will be a particularly important advance as, at the moment, the only cancers that can be detected early are breast and cervical cancers in women and colon cancers in men and women.”

 Detecting cancer early allows for more effective treatment and higher survival rates, officials said.



Initiative to address financial challenges women face

Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities Secretary Robin Wiessmann unveils her “Investing in Women” initiative in Harrisburg.


With women more likely to take time away from work to raise children or be a family member’s caregiver, the fact that they tend to earn 80 cents on the dollar compared to men and live longer than men, women tend to have lower lifetime earnings than their male counterparts.

That also means they tend to have less savings.

The Pennsylvania Department of Banking and Securities has launched an initiative to try to help women better save for retirement.

Department Secretary Robin Wiessmann Wednesday launched “Investing in Women,” an initiative aimed at providing women with information and resources about their finances with regard to banking, credit, saving and investing.

“Through strategic partnerships, the goal of ‘Investing in Women’ is to evaluate investment habits, stereotypes and obstacles for women and reduce the gender gap through education, awareness and research,” said Secretary Wiessmann while introducing the plan. “By presenting fundamental concepts about the importance of financial capability and the unique financial challenges facing women, we encourage women in Pennsylvania, stakeholders, and partners to get involved.”

Beyond saving for retirement, Julie Bancroft of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence said helping women become more financially secure will help stem the incidents of domestic violence.

“Feeling trapped by a lack of financial resources, or access to them, is a reality for victims of domestic violence as financial abuse occurs in 99 percent of abusive situations,” Bancroft said.

The Investing in Women initiative will hold financial education presentations across the state on common financial challenges for women.

It will also work with women to hear directly about the tools, resources and skills women need to better take control of their finances.

Organizers noted that the number of Pennsylvania women saving for retirement or investing is lower than the national average.

Training program adds diversity to construction industry, changes lives

In the quest to get more workers for the construction industry, one local labor union established a pre-apprenticeship program geared specifically for women and are offering it for the first time in Allentown.

These three are heavily invested in helping women find careers in the construction industry. They are, from left, Francis Schlenner, instructor for the Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship Committee of Philadelphia and Vicinity; Susan Schultz, council representative of the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters; and Layla Bibi, council representative of the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters. (Photo by Brian Pedersen) –

The Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters, which has a training center in Allentown, launched the program that teaches women the skills construction employers want from employees. The union covers seven states and has about 44,000 members.

Sisters in the Brotherhood is a free pre-apprenticeship program that offers women the skills they need to succeed in a construction career.

The Allentown training center on Vultee Street offers space for blueprint training, one-on-one classroom instruction and hands-on practice in similar real world construction settings that allow the students to train on lifts, install ceilings, and perform electrical work among other tasks.

“It’s a combination of training here and then work out in the field,” said Susan Schultz, council representative of the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters.

Welding is one of the in-demand skills, and something carpenters do a lot of on jobs, said Francis Schlenner, instructor for the Carpenters Joint Apprenticeship Committee of Philadelphia and Vicinity.

The training center offers welding bays for students to practice the skill. In addition, it has aerial lift-operator-certification training and scaffold-erector-certification training.

“We start with the basics and work our way up,” Schlenner said.

The Allentown six-week pre-apprenticeship program had five women enrolled for its first year and four of them graduated Sept. 13. The next program starts Nov. 4.

Ultimately, one of the program’s key components is to help women find a life-long career in the field and join the carpenters union.

“We have high expectations with the idea we want to prepare them for a career in construction,” Schultz said. “We are looking for them to retire with us. It really is a commitment to increase the number of women in our union.”

The curriculum includes math, safety and hands-on strength-building exercises for commercial work in the industry.

For Layla Bibi, it was important to find people who looked like her and worked in the construction industry. It helped her to believe she could succeed in the field. Therefore, she decided to become one herself. She entered the construction field through the pre-apprenticeship program in New Jersey and now shares her experience with other women.

“I didn’t see many women involved,” she said. “It doesn’t really convince me unless I see someone, it just changes the view.”

Bibi, council representative of the Keystone Mountain Lakes Regional Council of Carpenters, taught four classes in Edison, New Jersey, which were larger. The organization ran four each year, she said.

Having been through the program, Bibi could understand what it’s like for them to think, “Can I survive the pre-apprenticeship?”

Many people don’t understand the benefits, but also the hard work, she said.

“We’ve found women don’t realize the opportunities in the construction industry,” Schultz said. “It has to be a person who doesn’t mind working hard. We have a stringent screening process because we want them to be successful.”


Free program

The pre-apprenticeship program is free and the union provides each woman with a $50 stipend, which includes the cost of tools they get to keep.

Though the women essentially get paid to participate, the program consists of eight-hour days, five days a week, so they are making a commitment, Schultz added.

Schlenner said the union’s goal is to help the women not simply find a job, but a career.

“It’s very skilled, it’s hard work,” Schultz said. “That’s why the emphasis on training is so important. The amount of money we invest in our membership is what makes a big difference in the skill level.”

The union follows changes in the industry and adapts to new types of technology, updating its curriculum to address that so participants are training with equipment that’s used in the field.

“Technology is going to come no matter what,” Schlenner said. “We’d rather have them learn it.”

With the growth of hospital construction, the union has three mock-up rooms at its training center that mimic what it’s like to work in hospital settings and follow the proper safety precautions.

About five years ago, the union started implementing a program to get more women involved in the construction industry. Having decided a pre-apprenticeship program was the most effective way, it added new marketing materials and started doing outreach, Schultz said.

That outreach has been finding its way to women seeking careers in the industry.

One of the students, Ana Quiles of Bethlehem, said the union helped her a lot.

“I’ve actually been looking to get into the trade for a while,” Quiles said. “The free school, that helps out a lot.”

The math is hard, she said, but enjoys learning how to build things.

“I’m planning to go more into welding,” Quiles said. “You can expand the knowledge of what you are going to do.”

Keila Ramos of Allentown, another student, likes carpentry and the stability it offers.

“I love carpentry and anything and everything with carpentry,” she said. “The carpentry industry is something that’s not going anywhere. It’s stability.”

She has learned how to use different tools and, among other skills, learned how to install framing and drywall.

Running a pre-apprenticeship program such as this could cost anywhere from $25,000 to $50,000, Schultz said. She sees it as a program with far reaching effects, particularly for women seeking a career change, upward mobility and a well-paying job without student-loan debt.

“This program can transform someone’s life,” Schultz said. “It can change their kid’s life. It can change the structure of a community.”

State to offer free salary negotiation workshops for women

In 2019, women in Pennsylvania are earning 80 cents on the dollar compared to men. The Pennsylvania Commission for Women wants to change that.

This fall, the Commission, a state-run volunteer organization that advises Gov. Tom Wolf on matters important to women, will host a series of salary negotiation workshops for women. The workshops will be offered at no cost through a partnership with the American Association of University Women, a national advocacy organization that promotes gender equality.

These educational workshops will be held at locations in Harrisburg, York, Wilkes Barre, Scranton, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, beginning on Sept. 24 at Widener Law Commonwealth in Harrisburg.

“…There are far too many employers who refuse to even acknowledge the gender pay gap, much less work to eliminate it,” Wolf said. “Women deserve equal pay for equal work, and I commend the Commission for Women for providing this tangible service to professional women throughout the commonwealth as we work in Harrisburg to find sustainable solutions.”

Randi Teplitz, chair of the commission, said equal pay for women benefits all Pennsylvanians, regardless of gender, by making a financial impact on families, communities and the broader economy.

“These workshops will give women the essential tools they need to empower themselves in the workplace,” she said, “especially as they advocate for promotions, pay raises and better benefits.”

More information on the workshops can be found here-https://salary.aauw.org/pa/.