FUSE Society panel

The FUSE Society’s first panel event featured Lucia Schnitzer, Janice Dinner, Courtney Beller and Hilla Sferruzza.

FUSE Society, the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix’s newest group, is filling the gap in professional development programs for women.

“Programs for professional women almost always include how to balance family life and your career, how to be a woman in the business world, things like that. That’s valid, and it’s very important, but that is not what we wanted this to be,” said Jaime Fox, development associate at the Jewish Federation of Greater Phoenix. “This group gets the same topics, the same opportunities that men’s leadership and business panels would showcase. This is career-focused events and networking.”

FUSE is a collaboration between the Federation and Fennemore Craig, P.C., a regional law firm with offices in Phoenix. Fox credits Courtney Beller, the director and vice chair of business litigation at Fennemore Craig, with making FUSE a reality.

“There was nothing really focused on helping women in the Jewish community succeed professionally,” Beller said. “I felt like there was a really big need and it didn’t exist, so I wanted to take it on as a challenge to myself.”

The group will hold a wine, nosh and networking event at a private home on Feb. 18, featuring a short presentation by

Beller and Rabbi Elana Kanter. The event will emphasize how volunteering for leadership positions outside of work can help advance one’s career.

“I’m hoping that people will take away that there are a lot of tools in our Jewish toolbox for how to approach challenges and be brave and take on new opportunities,” Beller said. “I also am really hoping that part of the takeaway is that women put so much pressure on themselves to be perfect all the time, and a lot of the time we feel these doubts or fears or concerns and think that we’re the only one that have them and that they’re impossible to overcome. And that’s just totally not true.”

FUSE’s inaugural event in September was a panel discussion at Fennemore Craig featuring Janice Dinner, senior associate general counsel for Banner Health; Lucia Schnitzer, founder of Luci’s Urban Concepts; and Hilla Sferruzza, executive VP and CFO of Meritage Homes. According to Fox, the Federation received a lot of positive feedback from the first event.

“From what I’ve seen from our previous panel in September, and now hearing the feedback from women, this is exactly what they’re looking for,” Fox said.

Beller and Fox also used the feedback they received to plan the February gathering.

“One of the things that everybody really seemed to want was ongoing events that would be a little bit more intimate and that would allow the women that were coming to get to know each other better,” Beller said. “Which makes perfect sense, because a big part of it is building out your relationship base so that we can share job opportunities and contacts and all that stuff with each other.”

Going forward, the group plans to hold an annual panel event each September and smaller gatherings, like the one in February, quarterly. 

While the Federation’s Business & Professionals Group hosts events for professionals and is open to both men and women, Fox says it’s still difficult to attract as many women as men to those events. At a recent meeting hosted by the group’s Real Estate & Finance committee, only seven out of 80 attendees were women.

“How do we bring women in?” Fox said. “I think FUSE will be a way to bridge some of the gaps and have some crossover and lead into other groups.”

For Beller, the name ‘FUSE’ evokes both the idea of fusion between collaborators and the action of lighting a fuse and “spurring to action something in the community.”  She encourages women at all stages of their career consider joining FUSE.

“Anybody that is looking to take their role in their professional or business life to the next level, if you are looking for opportunities to get great advice on how to be a better leader, how to build your book of business, how to make other meaningful relationships - this is the group for you,” Beller said. “This group is to help elevate people in their career so they can get to the next level.” JN

To learn more about FUSE Society or to register for Network & Nosh on Feb. 18, contact professionals@jewishphoenix.org.

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