Y women leaders create a culture of empowerment
This Women’s History Month, the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago is proud to celebrate the inspirational women leaders who bring their talents and passion to our mission of strengthening children, families, and communities.
Representing diverse lived experiences and areas of expertise, our women leaders enrich the Y at every level, serving as mentors to fellow staff and creating a culture of learning, growth, and empowerment.
We asked a few of our women leaders how the Y has empowered them throughout their lives and careers. Here’s what they said:
Melissa Jenkins, Chief People and Culture Officer
As I reflect on my years growing up on the West Side of Chicago, I think about how much I loved going to school and the impact it had on my life, especially during the challenging times in which we live today. What I loved most about going to school was not just the excitement of learning something new but the opportunity to work with my teachers.
A teacher’s pet in the truest sense, I would often stay after school to help my teachers grade papers, make copies, run errands during class time, and restock books in the library. What I really loved about helping my teachers was the quality of time spent. Little did I know until now is how they each were investing in me, actively mentoring me for the next chapter in my journey.
Today more than ever, women must have other women to look up to as role models, especially in the workplace. When I think about my role as a female leader, those formative experiences aren’t lost on me. Currently, in my role as an HR executive, I can pay it forward, just as my teachers did, by leading and coaching other great leaders, managers, and supervisors. As the leader of the Y’s People and Culture function, I am charged with ensuring we adopt sound policies and implement best practices to ensure we are able to recruit and retain the brightest talent. This includes creating the framework for career pathing, emerging leadership, and other career development programs, and ensuring transparency about the way forward. I am also able to influence and challenge leadership teams to ask and answer the hard questions about equity, diversity, and inclusion for underrepresented people. I also understand the benefits of coaching and mentoring our young, women-identifying employees and encouraging them to think about where they want to take their careers in the future. We know this is essential as we see so many women leaving the workforce. The continued work of creating healthy professional spaces for the next generation of women leaders is a huge part of why I am passionate about the YMCA, UCAN, United Way, and other youth-focused organizations.
Agneis Schultz, Senior Director of Community Innovation and Impact
When I joined the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago almost eight years ago as a Membership Director, I had no idea what to expect. I was making the transition from a large for-profit company employing 350,000+ people to a Chicagoland nonprofit organization with a storied, 150-year history. What I soon discovered was that I was joining the YMCA as more than a staff member—I was joining as a community member.
Over the years that I’ve worked at the Y, this community and the people that I’ve met as part of it have empowered me to become the leader that I am today. The Y has connected me to a mission that I keep front of mind in the work I do daily—as well as a network of peers, colleagues, and leaders that I continuously learn from who, too, are rooted in that mission. This Association has opened doors to opportunities and experiences that have empowered me to grow both professionally and personally. I attribute much of my growth and success over the years to the Y.
I hope that we, as an organization, can continue and even strengthen our efforts to support the women of this community to which I am so grateful.
Lindsay Bennett, Director of Philanthropic Impact
What empowers me as a woman leader at the Y? That's easy: my colleagues.
One of the real draws of working at the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago, and one of its huge strengths, in my opinion, is the wide range of backgrounds and experiences of the people you get to work with. There are a lot of reasons for that: our footprint, the different ways we serve our community, and the huge range of job functions.
I feel lucky in my role as Director of Philanthropic Impact to visit and often work from different locations on a day-to-day basis. Two common traits have come across from every person I've met in the past seven months here: first, a passion for our work supporting children and families; and secondly, a respect for the colleagues around them, including me. Even when navigating conflict, setbacks on projects, the challenges that come with social impact work, and simply not having enough time in the day, each person I work with here at the Y gets up and works harder so they can do more for the people we serve. That lifts me up in turn. And the welcome I've received, the trust in my experience, and the willingness to try my ideas empowers and inspires me to do the absolute best for my colleagues, who work tirelessly to make our communities better—for women, for girls, for everyone.
By lending their perspectives and contributions to the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago’s mission, women leaders like Melissa, Agneis, and Lindsay further actualize this Association’s promise of being a place for all to live purpose-driven lives. Later this month, we’ll shine a spotlight on how women Executive Directors at our centers, camps, and program sites catalyze positive change in their communities.
If you’re inspired by their stories and hope to make an impact in your own unique way, visit our careers page to learn about current opportunities to join us in the work of creating empowering, equitable communities.