At Wear Your Voice, we celebrate the women of Oakland and strive to change the way women are represented in the media.
I was lucky enough to recently speak to an amazing woman who shares our values. Linda Boessenecker has been involved in gender-specific programming since the early 80s. After serving as COO of Girl Scouts of the Bay Area, she took on the role of CEO of Girls Inc. of Alameda County in 2007. Linda told me, “What feeds my soul is providing opportunities for girls and young women.” According to their website, Girls Inc. “inspires all girls to be strong, smart and bold, providing more than 138,000 girls across the U.S. and Canada with life-changing experiences and real solutions to the unique issues girls face.”
As a female CEO, Linda is serving in a traditionally male-dominated role, and has plenty to say about being a woman in the workplace: “I think women are oftentimes second-guessed about decisions that they make. Men are celebrated for taking risks and women are questioned.” Linda encountered this questioning when she made the bold decision to move Girls Inc. of Alameda County’s headquarters from San Leandro to Oakland. There were doubts about taking on this major campaign during an economic downturn, but Linda was steadfast in her belief that it was the right move. “If the organization was going to continue to be what it wanted to be, which is serving more girls and really being the voice for girls and a resource center, we needed to be in downtown Oakland.” She stood her ground, believed in her courageous decision, and with the board behind her, she successfully relocated the organization. As Linda predicted, Girls Inc. of Alameda County has flourished since the move to Oakland.
As a mother with a demanding full-time job, Linda has thoughtful advice for women on the realities of navigating a work-life balance: “If anyone tells you it’s easy, they’re lying. No one should ever think it is easy to raise a family and have a career, but it is doable. You have to make choices about what’s important to you in your life and you have to be with a partner who is respectful and who is willing to truly be a partner in how you go forward. I often tell women that I don’t work now like I did when my children were in school. You’re gonna go through different phases in your life. It is not easy as a woman. No matter how supportive your partner is, you always feel that guilt and that need to do more both at home and at work. There comes a time when you have to come to terms with it, sometimes things are good enough. Early on, at work and in parenting I was a total perfectionist and I learned quickly that I had to give that up. 90% was okay.” 90% still sounds pretty incredible to me. Linda encourages women to allow that your priorities will ebb and flow, and to come to terms with your own decisions, whatever they are.
Girls Inc. has provided resources to thousands of underserved girls, and one alum sticks out in Linda’s mind: “Early on in my job, I was really anxious that we weren’t serving enough girls; so many girls needed services and resources. Then I had lunch with an alum and she told me Girls Inc. helped her realize her dream of going to college. This woman was a young Latina and the first in her family to go to college. Girls Inc. helped her receive over $100,000 in scholarships. She told me Girls Inc. not only helped fulfill her dream of college, but now she knows it is possible for her 3-year-old son. That turned the lightbulb on for me, just flipped the switch: it’s so generational. Providing an opportunity to one girl is not just for that girl, it’s changing the trajectory of not only her life but her children’s.”
When I asked Linda what wearing your voice means to her, she had this to say: “I hear it as don’t be afraid to find your voice and speak up, and that’s what the girls in Girls Inc. say to us, that it helped them to find their voice. Women need to have a voice, they need to have a place and they need to speak up.”
Her closing advice to women is this:
“Find your passion and take risks, believe in yourself and if you are not having fun with what you are doing, then you need to make change. Don’t be afraid to make change.”
Taking risks and making changes can be scary, but Linda is proof that it’s worth it.
If you’d like to get involved with Girls Inc. of Alameda County, they are always looking for volunteers. Contact Volunteer Manager Nicki Guard [email protected] to find out about being a career speaker or many of the other volunteer opportunities available. Professional women interested in supporting Oakland girls through Girls Inc. can join the Women of Impact group, which meets quarterly to mentor girls and support the organization. Find more information about volunteer opportunities here.