Women in business: Sinclair leader talks about challenges

Deb Norris serves as vice president of workforce development at Sinclair Community College. TY GREENLEES/STAFF
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Deb Norris serves as vice president of workforce development at Sinclair Community College. TY GREENLEES/STAFF

As vice president for workforce development and corporate services at Sinclair Community College, Deb Norris works with community leaders and employers to cultivate a pool of skilled workers in the area.

Norris, who has served in the role for more than a decade, said the broad spectrum of responsibilities she tackles on a daily basis is both challenging and one of the biggest rewards of her career. She oversees a team that is responsible for “understanding the workforce needs of employers and developing a wide range of services to meet those needs.”

The job has lead her in a variety of directions in the community, partnering with leaders in the drone industry to working with Fuyao Glass America when they were first opened. Beyond her current role, Norris has more than 25 years of business experience in sales, marketing and management. After receiving her bachelor’s and MBA at the University of Dayton, she took her talents to Fortune 500 companies, a technology startup and several consulting firms.

Norris sat down with the Dayton Daily News to talk leadership and the evolving idea of workforce development.

What are the more challenging aspects of your job that you face now compared to when you started?

It’s interesting because I think the challenges and the highlights are the same. I think the challenging aspect of this job is having the ability to prioritize. When you think about workforce development and this broad spectrum of offerings and what that means, it’s really being able to put the important things first. At the same time, one of the best and greatest highlights of this role is the broad spectrum of opportunities.

The part I’ve loved the most is working directly with clients. When you work with them to solve their workforce issues within their organizations, you tackle issues like leadership development or process improvements. It’s helping them, through a consulting approach, make their businesses better.

What kind of educational and work experiences have prepared you for this role?

I’ve often said to people, I think every position I’ve had in my career prepared me for this role. I started early in my career with AT&T and that was much more of a client-facing role. From there, I worked at Lexus-Nexis as vice president of marketing. Then from there, I went to work for a business-to-business brand agency in Cincinnati for a year. From there, I did a technology startup in Louisville. I came back to Wright Management consults here, where I was the managing principal of the Dayton office.

Before I came to my current job, this role didn’t exist at Sinclair. It was a great opportunity to define it as something relatively new for the college.

What is the biggest issue for women in the workplace right now?

It’s kind of making sure people stay away from stereotypes. When we think of women and men, they’re very different. Sometimes you’ll see it’s easy to stereotype. Particularly for women, they’re tagged with being aggressive. That’s a good example. That’s not seen as usually a positive attribute for women, but yet it should be. One of the challenges is making sure as a woman, you represent your individual values, your beliefs and where you stand as an individual.

What has influenced your leadership style?

With all of these experiences, I think you learn the most from situations that are difficult. In some of the roles that I’ve had, it’s been extremely challenging. It makes you think on your feet, and outside of the box. It’s an instinct kind of thing that comes about. For me, it’s the ability to take risk, and you do that purposefully. You evaluate and say, “What are the possible outcomes of this?”

I think what’s influenced me the most is when people just sit around and talk about things. If you don’t do things, then you don’t do things. At the end of the day, it’s about what you’ve done. It’s really that idea of fail often and fail early. No one likes the idea of failure, but you have to be OK with that sometimes. You have to be able to say, “Hey, we tried it. We learned from it. Let’s not do it again.”

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