By Cheryl Carrier, Executive Director, Ford NGL
March was Women’s History Month, and I started to do some research on the incredible, diverse women who paved the way for many of us today. Understanding that history is so important, and, as women, I know we are grateful for their accomplishments. There are so many great articles, books, and research reports on innovative, bold, strong, brave women that a short essay by me would not do the topic justice. So, I took another approach and decided to leverage the work of Ford Motor Company Fund.
On March 17, 2021, Ford Motor Company Fund held a webinar called, Ford Fund, Women of Ford Spotlight Nonprofit Leaders who #ChooseToChallenge. This webinar featured an AMAZING panel, and I am not just saying that because I bleed Ford blue, or because Ford Fund developed and supports Ford Next Generation Learning. I’m saying it because this diverse group of women had incredible stories to tell. These leaders of large nonprofit organizations shared stories that break your heart and, at the same time, fuel your passion!
They talked about the challenges they faced as women of color and the mindsets it took to overcome those challenges. Further, their advice was stellar. I urge you to take the time to listen to this entire webinar and lean into their stories. Be inspired by their work and what motivates them. Like many women, especially those of color, they are brave. When you listen, I encourage you not to leave the webinar early. The beginning is valuable because it sets the stage, but the real meaty content comes towards the end. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on some of the really good stuff!
These leaders left me with several key concepts to thoughtfully consider and apply. Some of the big takeaways for me were:
- Don’t let anyone keep you from your vision: If you are visionary and capable of thinking 3, 5, 10, or more years out, don’t let people stifle that gift. Hang onto your vision with your heart and soul. Provide the vision, and find the people to develop the process. You travel into the future and address its challenges and opportunities by being a visionary.
- Never answer somebody else’s question: Never assume you know the answer. Stand back and give them room to answer their own questions. If this sounds a bit like “Humble Consulting,” then it probably is humble consulting.
- Be thoughtful about how you spend your time: We are not here forever, but our imprint remains long after we are gone. Every good deed has a ripple effect. Spend your time doing good deeds. Life is short.
- True leaders have followers: True leaders have a team, and they do not do their work alone. Even those who oppose you are part of your team. They help you see another view and refine your vision.
- Re-education is important: As one of these incredible women said, “We must uneducate to re-educate and break the shackles of….our mind.” This sounds like an outward-mindset philosophy. Don’t bring the inward- mindset boxes with you on this journey. Instead, open your mind to other ideas, and continue to learn.
- Ask for support or help: As a leader of a nonprofit, you have to ask, even if it is not easy for you. Remember, when you ask for help and support, you are asking for the benefit of others. This applies to school superintendents, faith-based leaders, and organizations that need public/private support and funding.
Think about the powerful, innovative, warm, gifted women in your life. What draws you to them? What makes you want to be part of their work? What do you admire most about them, and what can you learn from them?
I am so incredibly blessed to have had amazing women mentors in my life — some older than me, many younger than me. In fact, many of my heroes are the women I work with on a daily basis. It seems like every day I learn something new and valuable from them. Often, through them, I learn more about myself. Together, we hold each other up and support one another as we navigate new and often choppy waters.
Don’t be afraid to ask them for advice. Find out what inspires them. What do they read, and how do they think? Ask probing questions, and learn from them. Most importantly — trust yourself and the goodness in you. You know when you have done something good, learned something new, or tackled a difficult issue. Reflect on how that made you feel. My guess is that it will inspire you to continue down the path of trusting yourself and knowing that you are making a difference. What you do is significant and can leave a meaningful and indelible mark on this world.
To all of our historical women heroes and to those of us who try to lead by their example, congratulations! We are a force to be reckoned with, and as Helen Reddy sang, “I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman.”