NewsLocal NewsA Better Land


How Vocational Guidance Services CEO Susie Barragate is using her position to empower and mentor women

Posted at 10:51 AM, Mar 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-17 18:31:08-04

CLEVELAND — During Women’s History Month, News 5 is profiling a series of women in charge and making a change in their community through their careers. News 5 profiles Susie Barragate, CEO and president of Vocational Guidance Services, who shares advice on what it takes to break the glass ceiling.

Step inside “Vocational Guidance Services” and you will find an array of people hard at work.

Workers make a range of products, including pants for U.S. Postal workers.

"We work with individuals who have disabilities to help them connect within their community, connect with employers and find employment,” said Barragate.

Barragate has been with the nonprofit for 25 years, working her way up from human resources. The company has employed as many as 1,000 people at a time. Those placements have been down to about half due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Individuals who have disabilities are often shut out of the labor market," she said. "There's all sorts of opportunities that we're working to create when an individual isn't quite ready to go out and be on their own in the workplace.”

Barragate said her journey to the top was in part due to receiving guidance from managers and mentors.

“I had people here who were my champion and who said, I think that you can do more. I think that you can learn more. I think you should try all these things. And if it hadn't been for those people, I wouldn't be where I am," she said.

Barragate said the rise to the top has its challenges for women.

I'm often the only female in a room," she said. "Often I've had people treat me like their daughter when we're peers. And it's an interesting feeling to walk into a room and be the only one of something. And that happens a lot the higher up the leadership ranks that you get, unfortunately.”

It’s one of the reasons Barragate has dedicated her time and resources to help Dress for Success Cleveland, a nonprofit that helps women enter the workforce.

Having a professional outward appearance does a lot of things for internal self-confidence," she said.

Barragate has been working with Dress for Success since 2005 when Vocational Guidance Services formed a partnership with the nonprofit.

The two are even housed in the same building.

Barragate loved the work Dress for Success was doing for women that she stepped in to serve as executive director.

“I don't think that you can be successful unless you have enough confidence in yourself. And knowing that you matter is part of that.”

She hopes that one day her services will no longer be needed because people with disabilities won’t be left out of the workforce.

This story is part of A Better Land, an ongoing series that investigates Northeast Ohio's deep-seated systemic problems. Additionally, it puts a spotlight on the community heroes fighting for positive change in Cleveland and throughout the region. If you have an idea for A Better Land story, tell us here.