An effective leader with a passion for making positive impacts, Diana R. Sieger has served as President of Grand Rapids Community Foundation since 1987. Through community problem-solving, policy development and advocacy, she's fearlessly addressed key issues, leading transformative initiatives to support all in West Michigan. Outspoken on issues related to gender equity and racial justice, Sieger's leadership has created significant impact. In 2023, Sieger announced her retirement for later in the year.
Sieger is the first-ever recipient of the Legacy of Brilliance Award, an honor created in 2023 as part of the annual Brilliance Awards, which recognizes a woman who for years has given of herself, personally and professionally, to better the lives of those around her.
When reflecting back on your career, what do you see and feel?
I think about my first days as President of the Community Foundation and how I wanted to change the world right then and there! In the more than 36 years since, so much has changed, but that desire to push against the status quo remains. I've been considered a person who fought against racism and sexism. There are so many leaders today doing the same—addressing disparities and working together to make a positive change in our community. Despite the divisiveness we often hear and see, I hope people will realize that working together and keeping pushing forward is how progress is made.
If you had to pinpoint some of your proudest moments, what would they be?
Ones where the impact the Community Foundation made was in concert with so many people, organizations, businesses and partners. We cannot do this work alone! Years ago, we hosted the AIDS Foundation in a time when that was a controversial decision. We've consistently partnered with so many in the area to build the economic muscle of marginalized communities, creating opportunities. I'm also proud of the Community Foundation staff, who are wise and enthusiastic about the future, and our volunteer leaders who consistently exercise bravery trying to address the most pressing issues without backing down!
What's your advice to other women hoping to have as respected and impactful a career as yourself?
In my beginning years, I found allies who had similar experiences as I did. Back then, female leaders were a bit scarce, so we banded together to fortify ourselves, trading stories about attempts to exclude us and keep us "in check." These exceptional women helped shape me and influenced my leadership! I leaned on these great friends who supported me and told me to ignore the slings and arrows of those who were threatened by the rise of women taking on leadership roles. I never succumbed to feeling like I was losing! Today, I remind leaders that they will always encounter disagreement, but to listen to understand those with different beliefs. I found I could respect someone if they were able to hear all sides of an issue, and I earned that respect in return.
What are you looking forward to doing next?
I'm still absorbing that after decades at the Community Foundation, I'll be moving on to new adventures. It's a tad bit terrifying if I'm honest, not unlike how I felt when I became the President of this wonderful Community Foundation. Years ago, I remember thinking, "When I retire, I'll relax, travel and reconnect with friends." Well, I hope to do all those things, and I know I'll find my peace after a few months ... and just have some fun!
Edited by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor for West Michigan Woman.
This article originally appeared in the Jun/Jul'23 issue of West Michigan Woman.
Photo Courtesy of Grand Rapids Community Foundation.