by SC Reporter Teresa Vazquez
She dreamed of becoming a cowboy as a kid. Instead, she became the first woman to hold the position of United States Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio.
“I didn’t know what I wanted to be exactly other than a cowboy, but I knew I wanted to be a boss,” Barbara Beran said. “I knew I didn’t want to be an underling.”
Barbara Beran, former federal attorney, wrapped up Women’s History Month with her presentation “Empowering Women – Empowering Ourselves” during a Sanibel Captiva Business Women’s Association’s (BWA) Women in Leadership Speaker Series on March 31.
Beran, worked her way up from private practice to federal judiciary. Shattering many glass ceilings on her way.
Her presentation highlighted the people, personal, and professional experiences which empowered her and developed her ability to empower others.
“How do we go about empowering other women? Well, you can’t really empower anybody unless you are empowered yourself,” Beran said.
The journey began in her childhood home with her mother, father and two sisters who were the first people to help empower her. Her mother— like her years later—held an unusual position for woman, as a buyer.
Her mother was driven, bright and excelled in everything she did, Beran said. She was someone Beran wanted to model herself after. On the other end, her father raised his girls to be able to do anything a little boy could do, Beran said.
“He never said girls can’t do this, or girls can’t do that,” Beran said. “Never once did I hear that on my father’s mouth. My father was always very proud of us.”
Closer in age, her sisters empowered her in different ways, Beran said. Her sister Bonnie taught her to be kind through her kindness. Her sister Donna, who wasn’t as nice, taught her to stand up for herself.
However, she felt most empowered by her Aunt Dottie Daye—an exotic dancer by night and a war bond office worker by day. Beran’s aunt was the first women she’d met who worked and made more money than her husband.
“She was very independent,” Beran said. “So, she empowered me to be a more of a free person, be myself, to be independent, to do what I really thought I wanted to do. She always did what she wanted to do.”
Beran made her way through the Shaker Heights, Ohio public school system until high school. Then, she attended Indiana University where she double majored in anthropology and forensic studies. She wanted to become the next Margaret Mead, an American cultural anthropologist.
However, she decided to go to law school due to a lack of work in anthropology. Beran spent time as a probation officer for adult female felons in Cuyahoga County in Cleveland, Ohio before she went to law school at Washington University in Missouri—only 20 percent of her class were women.
Once graduated, Beran said she faced an eye opening situation: firms were still not hiring women.
“I actually had one guy who I was interviewing with tell me that he was only interviewing me because the law school made him and that he had absolutely no intention of hiring a woman,” Beran said.
Nonetheless, she was empowered once again by a professor who gave her a recommendation letter. The letter got her a job at Susman, Schermer, Willer and Rimmel in Missiouri where she became the first woman associate and later the firm’s first female partner.
There she learned a lot from the other attorneys and then mentored the second women who was hired at the firm. But she quit when her mother’s illness called her back home to Ohio.
Beran took on the role of caring for her mother during her last days. Once she passed, Beran found herself in “an early midlife crisis” at age 32. The tough time resulted in the divorce from her first husband.
“But I did finally snap myself out of it, and got it together and started interviewing for other jobs and I did get my job at the US Attorney’s Office in Columbus, Ohio,” Beran said.
Initially, she worked as a line assistant United States attorney. She met her husband while working there. He worked a police officer in the Columbus Police Department and came with a “built in family” of three kids.
Beran worked her way up from assistant U.S. attorney, to a supervisory attorney, to the head of the civil division, to the first female assistant U.S. attorney, and then finally the first female US Attorney for the Southern District Ohio.
In 1994, she left the US Attorney’s Office and next slide and became the first female United States administrative law judge, and the Columbus Ohio office of Hearings and Appeals.
“I had to pull my hair back because I had long hair for a while and I would get a lot of “honey” and “sweetie” by people who appeared in front of me,” Beran said. “I [had] to say: no, it’s your honor judge.”
She was known for constantly working, and taking few vacations, but a vacation to Sanibel made her fall in love with the Island. In 2011, she moved to the island permanently.
Not long after, Beran set out to give back to the community and joined Zonta in 2013. Zonta’s mission is about women empowerment through hands-on assistance, advocacy, and funding.
“It was never my intention to be a trailblazer or be a role model or be a mentor. I was just trying to get to where I wanted to be, and do what I wanted to do, and I worked really hard to get there,” Beran said. “And you know it did turn out though that I was able to help a lot of people along the way.”
During her time at Zonta, Beran has used the highlighted experiences to empower dozens of women. She has worked with women in recovery from addiction, participated in beach clean ups, and in partnership with the PACE Center for Girls.
She became part of the board in 2014 and then president in 2015. As president, she held the Women’s Empowerment Series which she is proudest of. It consisted of three events revolving around women’s empowerment.
While she was president, Zonta partnered with Habitat for Humanity which provides affordable housing. During the second year of her presidency, they received an award from them for their work and donations. Now, Beran primarily fund raises for Zonta.
Gloria Garret, a founding board member of the Sanibel Captiva BWA, said Beran is a perfect example of the incredible women, untapped resources of the club and the island.
“Barbara is an outstanding example of enormously talented women who ended up on Sanibel with the intention of giving back,” Garret said.
She is a woman who set out to have an independent career without the goal of becoming a feminist trailblazer, like many women on Sanibel, said Garret. Nonetheless, her many firsts opened up many positions for women to come.
Garret said Beran’s presentation was the perfect way to wrap up Women’s History Month, and of great value to the Sanibel Captiva BWA whose goal is to help women through doing professional development, mentorship and scholarship.
The next Women in Leadership Speaker Series will be on April 20 and will discuss the importance of kindness.