Meet Mary Jo Hardiman.
As the chief operating officer of Embassy Theatre, Mary Jo oversees the operations of Indiana’s largest historic theatre. Mary Jo provides day to day leadership and serves as second in command to the organization. Mary Jo spends much of her time working to ensure business efficiency and organizational strength and growth. Her focus is to meet mission goals, financial projections, and promotion of culture and vision. Embassy Theatre is a national theatre whose mission is to enrich the cultural life of the region by providing a wide range of arts and entertainment experiences in a historic venue. Mary Jo oversees the four-million-dollar box office and the 94-year-old building’s historic preservation work.
Mary Jo graduated from Purdue University and earned a degree in human services. Prior to assuming her role leading Embassy Theatre as COO, Mary Jo served over a decade as chief operating officer, chief programming officer, and director of community programs and education advocate at YWCA Northeast Indiana. Through her work at YWCA NEIN, she helped complete two non-profit mergers, a capital campaign, and new building facility.
Throughout Mary Jo’s tenure she has continued to serve the community and volunteer her time beyond the stage. Mary Jo is a 2012 Leadership Fort Wayne graduate and a 2010 Emerging Leadership graduate. She served on the board of the Fort Wayne Rescue Mission from 2011-2013. Mary Jo joined Kiwanis in 2009 and has served two times as President of the downtown club. Mary Jo currently serves as the chairperson on the board for The Learning Community. Mary Jo has volunteered for numerous organizations throughout northeast Indiana. More recently, Mary Jo joined the Regional Opportunities Council through the Northeast Indiana Partnership. Mary Jo balances her service to the community while ensuring everyone knows about Embassy Theatre’s mission. At the national level, Mary Jo is a member of the League of Historic American Theatres and the International Ticketing Association.
Mary Jo is an executive leader of the The Journey Fellowship, which is funded by Eli Lily. She was also in the first graduating class of the Helene Foellinger leadership development program in 2018 and continues to serve as a coach through the program to other non-profit leaders. Mary Jo was awarded the 40 Under 40 award in 2013, 20 Millennials Making a Difference award in 2017, and Outstanding Young IPFW Alumni award in 2017. Mary Jo has five children and strives to maintain balance between family, work, and serving northeast Indiana.
YWCA Asks: What does an empowering woman mean to you?
Mary Jo: An empowering woman is someone who is and becomes what she wants. An empowering woman is someone that sees others struggle and helps to lift them up. An empowering woman is someone who listens. An empowering woman reminds me of the women who came here to Fort Wayne years ago as refugees that had left war-torn countries and their families and then came with nothing to Fort Wayne. They arrived not knowing the language, having fled refugee camps, and had children they birthed in a jungle, not a hospital delivery room. They came to YWCA and at the time were able to enroll in classes like English as a Second Language, drivers education, GED and Citizenship. The most exciting part to witness is when they became citizens and registered to vote. I will never forget this wise older woman who grew up most of her life in a refugee camp and raised her family in a refugee camp. When this woman obtained her citizenship, the most exciting day for her was when she registered to vote. What this all means is that these women faced fear, often faced death, loss and so much more but they were courageous and did not stop learning or growing. They kept putting one foot in front of the other until they could use their voice to make change. I saw freedom and empowerment happen for them when they registered to vote.
YWCA Asks: In what ways do you believe you empower other women?
Mary Jo: When I witness injustice towards another woman, I speak up. I have worked hard to empower my 19-year-old daughter as I raised her. I advocate for systemic change for women; for example, women that are incarcerated are treated differently than men. To make change, I vote, write letters to representatives and companies on matters that impact women, buy products that are fair-traded, give to causes that support women and girls, listen to women and what they truly want. I believe in building up all women—sometimes that is as simple as making their lives or struggle a little easier if I can. I often see women that are living on the streets and I try to see why they are there and if I can get them connected to resources.
YWCA Asks: Can you share a tidbit of information or an experience that may be helpful to other women?
Mary Jo: Some of the best advice and things I have learned are from other women mentors and my own experiences. A few stand out:
- Don’t forget the power of giving someone hope.
- It is not your business what others think or say about you.
- Always hire better than you.
- If you would not leave your wallet or a million dollars with that person, do not leave your children with them.
- Stay humble. Admit when you’re wrong.
- Be your own best friend.
- You can have all the degrees and accolades in the world but can you convene hundreds of people to work on making change?
- Always stay curious.
- A community is only as strong as those that have the most need. Go out and help the women in your community that are the most isolated and most in need.