Beth Chandler, one of MWF’s newest members, is President and CEO of YW Boston, has more than 25 years of experience in both the corporate and nonprofit sectors. Her breadth of work experience encompasses program development, delivery and evaluation, business development, and operations. Before working at YW Boston, Beth served as vice president at the Achievement Network, a national non-profit dedicated to helping urban public and charter schools close the achievement gap. Beth also held positions at Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, the largest funding source for civil legal aid programs in the Commonwealth and Neighborworks America, one of the country’s preeminent leaders in affordable housing and community development. Prior to this, she worked at Bank of America in corporate banking and began her career as a research and evaluation analyst with the Urban Institute.
We recently spoke with Beth about her inspiration and vision for the future of YW Boston.
Acting with intention and focusing on values
The mission of YW Boston is to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. As a woman of color, Beth encountered challenges throughout her career. Because of this, she decided to choose roles that would make Boston and the world better for her two children, who are kids of color. This compelled her to work at an organization exploring the underlying issues behind why racism and sexism exist and helping both organizations and individuals change. Also, YW Boston has always been an organization that focused on action. It goes beyond discussing potential solutions and instead focuses on the action of helping individuals and organizations alter behaviors and create policies and practices that can be more inclusive.
Working at empathy in a polarizing time
The best managers that Beth has worked with are people who allowed her to grow into her role and didn’t put barriers or constraints in the way. This has influenced how she manages: Beth tries to be clear on where the organization is going and allow other people to develop strategies that align with their strengths and then? lead to that destination. She also advises that people be clear on what they want out of work and life. Balance is different for everyone. Be intentional about what works for you and how you can be your best self when you’re at work.
For those doing work around diversity, justice, or inclusion, Beth thinks it’s important to be able to have empathy for others and to be able to hear and understand where somebody else is coming from. Especially in a polarized time that takes people away from their humanity, she stresses being open-minded and truly listening to other people’s experiences. Challenging personal assumptions about people or groups can help build the empathy muscle and will help people understand where you’re coming from and that we have more commonalities than differences.
Creating YW Boston’s new vision
Beth is proud of completing a strategic planning process and developing programs to support YW Boston’s new vision. Through Bridgespan’s Leading for Impact initiative, she led the organization from having six programs that served six different audiences to adapting a much clearer vision: helping organizations create more inclusive environments so that women, people of color, and particularly women of color, can thrive. She’s also proud that YW Boston is pushing people to think about the intersection of race and gender and understanding that monolithic strategies cannot have the same impact across groups.
Programming: building on what’s working and launching new initiatives
Going forward, Beth wants to continue developing existing YW programs while also looking forward to launching new initiatives. Beth highlighted several programs for us.
The Inclusion Boston program is one in which participants go through a series of workshops that help them understand their own identities, learn language and frameworks about how race impacts life experiences, and then together identify issues within their organization related to race or ethnicity. YW Boston supports them in implementing a 12-month action plan. Beth envisions YW Boston continuing that work, developing additional partnerships, and working with different organizations on this journey. Success will be seeing a demographic shift across different sectors in both formal and informal leadership positions. For the participating companies, YW works to foster a greater feeling of inclusion by marginalized individuals because program participants are bringing what they learned back into their own organizations. Research indicates that even if leadership is on board with wanting to be more inclusive, organizations often get stuck because middle managers don’t have the understanding of what that means and/or the tools to do anything about it. The Inclusion Boston Program works to solve this issue.
YW’s program for individuals, Lead Boston, provides mid to senior-level executives across sectors with an opportunity to understand some of the bigger issues impacting the city of Boston. They prompt participants to ask questions like: “Is there an impact on my employees or my customers?” and “As a leader, what can I do about this?” Starting next year, Lead Boston looks to spend more time developing employment best practices and skills that help participants to become inclusive leaders and equip them with a toolkit to help move issues of equity within their organization.
Helping Middle School Girls Own their Strengths.
YW Boston’s most recently launched program called Fierce Youth Reigniting Excellence or F.Y.R.E., which focuses on helping middle school girls recognize their strengths and provides tools to support their leadership development and build social and emotional skills. The program will show the girls different ways that oppression exists, systematically, ideologically, and in the media. Then YW will support their work on an advocacy project, whether in their school or community and bring them together with other girls across the city to share their work.
This year, YW Boston switched from supporting other advocacy coalitions to launching their own effort called the Parity and Board Coalition. They created legislation that would require public board or commission in Massachusetts to have more than 50% plus 1 of any one gender and at least one woman of color serving. If passed the state’s boards will have much greater representation of the people they serve throughout the Commonwealth.
Beth Chandler has led a career focused on inclusion and equity. She has been transformative in revitalizing the vision and programs of YW Boston.