Panelists Confirmed for March 29, LEVEL Luncheon

Mar 14, 2019

Save the date and plan to join us for our highly informative and interactive luncheon on Friday, March 29, 2019 at the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn, where we will host the Foundational Luncheon Event. The Level Luncheon will be followed by a series of 8 subsequent Lunch & Learn diversity & inclusion workshops, throughout the remainder of the year, providing you an opportunity to take a deeper dive into the relevant conversations around race relations, in this community and beyond.

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Our panelists for the event include:


Billy Taylor

Billy Taylor is the Global Head of Diversity & Inclusion for The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (GT), based in Akron, OH. In this role, he leads diversity and inclusion strategies across the 22 countries where Goodyear operates. Throughout his career with Goodyear, Billy has been a fierce advocate for equality and inclusion; he is passionate about building strong internal teams and productive community partnerships to create an environment where all 64,000 employees have an opportunity to contribute at their highest level, enabling the Company to harness the vast untapped business opportunity in an increasingly diverse marketplace. Since joining Goodyear in 1989, Billy has progressed through a series of critical leadership positions. He has served in Executive Operations positions and the Plant Director capacity in several union and non-union production facilities and has led Goodyear’s largest and most complex tire-production sites.

Active in the community, Billy serves on the executive board of Saint Vincent-Saint Mary High School in Akron. He is also a member of the executive advisory board of the Utah State University Jon M. Huntsman School of Business Shingo Prize Institute and leads as Chairman of the Goodyear Good Government Fund Board.He is also a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc.


Madhu Sharma

Madhu N. Sharma has served as the Executive Director of the International Institute of Akron since 2018 and as a Director of Immigrant Legal Services since August 2015. She is an Indian immigrant and a human rights attorney practicing and teaching in the field of immigration law for 20 years. Certified by the State Bar of California, she has represented migrant farm workers, unaccompanied minors, victims of state sponsored torture, human trafficking and crimes from countries spanning the globe. In 2011, she was awarded a Congressional Certificate of Honor and the ACLU Immigrant Advocacy Award for representing victims in the first federal alien smuggling case to result in visa issuance to hostage victims.



Erica Merritt

Clients describe Equius Group Founder Erica Merritt as a skilled coach, gifted facilitator and leadership and organizational development expert. A Gestalt-trained coach, Erica has extensive experience leading, designing and teaching organizational development, leadership program design and diversity management in environments ranging from community rooms to classrooms to board rooms. Erica’s clients include many of Northeast Ohio’s largest and most respected corporations, agencies and institutions. As a trusted consultant and coach, she builds capacity in leaders to grow personally, develop professionally, transform organizations and engage communities. By skillfully creating space to explore challenging and new dialogue, Erica allows for heightened self-awareness and experimentation with new behaviors that lead to powerful breakthroughs. Erica is a valued partner in her client’s growth and success who is equipped with an inclusion mindset and powerful set of expertise.

As an engaged community member, Erica serves on the Institute for Creative Leadership’s Advisory Board, Ursuline College’s Graduate and Professional Program Advisory Council, and is an active member of the Junior League of Cleveland.


Heather Steranka-Petit

Heather is a certified diversity professional with more than 14 years of international business experience in management, sales, customer service, and training. She has led multicultural teams of managers both virtually and face to face. She has been fortunate to work successfully with colleagues, customers, employees, and managers from more than 50 countries around the world. Heather understands how cultural values influence behavior and affect business decisions. She translates this experience into accessible practical information which clients and students can use to develop culturally competent leadership skills.

Currently, Heather is the Manager of Learning Programs for YWCA Greater Cleveland. She also works as an Intercultural Consultant for organizations like the Cleveland Council on World Affairs, Dwellworks and BGRS. She has developed curriculum and delivered training on the subjects of: Developing Global Competence, Unconscious Bias, Cross-cultural Conflict, Economic Impact of Racism, Managing Difficult Conversations, Becoming a Culturally Competent Individual, Inclusive Leadership, Micro-aggressions, and the Culturally Competent Organization. 


Panel Moderator:

Andre Lessears Sr.

Andre Lessears Sr., currently serves as the Director for the Office of Diversity & Inclusion for Cleveland Clinic Akron General.  As the Director for Diversity and Inclusion, he is responsible for developing and implementing strategic initiatives that engage Cleveland Clinic Akron General Caregivers and embeds effective diversity and inclusion practices into the day-to-day operations, practices, processes and Caregiver development.  He holds a Bachelor’s degree from Walsh University (History) and he received his MBA in Organizational Development from the University of Dubuque. He is also a Qualified Administer (QA) for the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). Andre is an avid sports fan and enjoys being active outside despite no matter the weather.


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