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Dress for Success Luzerne County Women in Power Series: Cathy O’Donnell, Esq. image
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March 01, 2024
Dress for Success Luzerne County Women in Power Series: Cathy O’Donnell, Esq.
Dress For Success® -- Luzerne County

During the month of March, we celebrate both Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day. Both are an opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. Dress for Success Luzerne County has brought that message home to NEPA with their Women In Power Campaign, where we’ve partnered with them to highlight incredible women in our community all month long. Each woman was asked to answer five questions about work, life, and the power of representation. 

Meet Cathy O’Donnell, Esq.

Cathy O’Donnell is a lawyer with O’Donnell Law Offices, where she works in the areas of estate planning and administration, Orphans Court practice, and elder law, in addition to being the firm’s business manager. She has a long record of serving the Northeastern Pennsylvania community, having served on the boards of the North Branch Land Trust, Junior Leadership Northeast, and Luzerne County Dress for Success. She is currently the Assistant Secretary for the Friedman Jewish Community Center and the Chair of both the Luzerne County Community College Board and the Luzerne County Bar Charitable Foundation Board. In 2023, Leadership Northeast honored her with the Distinguished Alumni Award for her dedication to the community. With her husband, Neil, she will celebrate 35 years of marriage in 2024. She has two children, Neil and Renata; a daughter-in-law, Mehak; and a grandson, Adam.

What makes a woman powerful?  Do all powerful women have the same characteristics? Is there room for different kinds of power?

“Power” can have a very negative connotation. For me, it has always been having the ability to help. It is why I became a lawyer, a wife, a mother, and continue to strive to help others. You can envision the best consequences possible and work to make that happen. Listening allows you to learn enabling growth, knowledge and compassion. Finally, hard work allows for achievement of goals and satisfaction and confidence in yourself and all those who surround you.

What does Inspire Inclusion mean for you and how can you use your voice to help Inspire Inclusion?

“Inspire Inclusion” means making people feel welcome, hearing them and respecting their thoughts and beliefs, and “working” together to satisfy mutual goals. To me, inspire means do – invite, go, listen, learn and be kind. You will feel good, have learned something new, and maybe have made a new friend. Usually, others will feel the same, and this ability to work together with the combined knowledge of each other enables the best results for the maximum number of people. We are stronger together than alone.

Who were your female mentors in your career, and how would you suggest growing leaders identify possible mentors for their growth?

My mother and mother-in-law were two of my primary female mentors. They were encouraging of my education, my work and, most importantly, the work/life balance with my family. Some women can be hard on other women. Woman or man – we are all humans. We are all different, and it is important to recognize these differences and not judge. If you can, get to know new people in many different venues. Ask some people new to your profession or community to coffee or lunch to just talk and be a resource if needed. It is important to make yourself available, if you can.

What barriers have you faced in your life (professionally and/or personally that you feel comfortable sharing) and how did you overcome them?

For me, as with many other women, it was hard how to know how to handle being the loving and devoted mother I wanted to be while being the lawyer who needed to put in the hours to grow my experience. I was blessed with a supportive family, so I had a tremendous amount of help to coordinate schedules and get as much done as possible. It’s important to be accepting of the fact that sometimes you cannot get it all done.

As a powerful woman, what would you tell a woman who is struggling in her career and/or having a hard time finding her own voice?

Sometimes it’s hard to know what we want. Establishing realistic goals of what might make you happy is a critical first step. Do not feel like you are alone. Look to others who can help you achieve or focus these goals and allow them to help you. It’s easy to say, but do not get discouraged. Sometimes there are unforeseen detours, but that does not have to derail all of your plans. Work hard at all you do. Not only will your hard work gain you the respect you are due, it will give you the confidence to do more. Well-earned confidence can’t help but to make you “powerful”.


About Dress for Success

Dress for Success ® is an international not-for-profit organization that empowers women to achieve economic independence by providing a network of support, professional attire, and the development tools to help women thrive in work and in life. Since starting operations in 1997, Dress for Success has expanded to nearly 150 cities in 30 countries. To date, Dress for Success has helped more than 2,000,000 women work towards self-sufficiency.

Since Dress for Success Luzerne County became operational in December of 2010, the program has reached 2,500 economically challenged women from the area by providing clothing, job interview support and workforce guidance. Dress for Success Luzerne County continues to create programs to enhance economic and social development, encouraging self-sufficiency through career development and employment retention.