“At the Ms. Foundation for Women, we believe in a just and safe world where power and possibility are not limited by gender, race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or age,” says foundation president and CEO Teresa Younger, quoting the feminist foundation’s statement of vision.
We talked to her about her career in philanthropy and government policy, and how she directs the Ms. Foundation to fulfil its entire vision.
Current gig: President and CEO of the Ms. Foundation for Women Location: Brooklyn, NY Current computer: Dell Laptop Current mobile device: Pixel 2 XL One word that best describes how you work: Intentional
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
Growing up in North Dakota, I knew more about farming than feminism. But as a lifelong Girl Scout, I always knew I wanted to change the world. While my professional life has been full of left turns, this value has been a catalyst for every path I’ve taken.
I was a first-generation college student at the University of North Dakota when I dropped out in my third year to be a nanny in Connecticut. This experience laid the base for an understanding of privilege and showed me firsthand the deep disparities between class and race. When I went back to finish school, I knew I wanted to make an impact on the world.
My first calling was youth development as Camp Director at Morry’s Camp, where I worked to level the playing field for youth living in urban environments. My career pivoted again when I turned to policy work as the Executive Director at the ACLU of Connecticut focusing on reproductive rights and juvenile justice. From there, I went into government and served as Executive Director of the Connecticut Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, which allowed me to fully appreciate the impact policy has on the lives of women.
The last and most recent shift was into the world of philanthropy when I became President and CEO of the first public women’s foundation, the Ms. Foundation for Women, established over 45 years ago.
Take us through a recent workday.
This job is like ADHD for the feminist, no two days are ever the same. One day may be focused on meetings with philanthropic or corporate leaders, while another may be spent at a grantee convening or talking at a conference about investing in women and girls of colour. Or I may be in our Brooklyn office making sure our audit is ready to go and creating strategies to raise women’s voices by day, and attending a donor appreciation cocktail reception before seeing Gloria: A Life by night.
50-60% of my job is travelling throughout the United States meeting some of the most badass feminists and activists throughout the country. Those days are always inspiring but can also be tiring! These days are full of personal interactions, whether it be breakfast meetings, keynote speeches, learning opportunities, or meeting with a classroom full of college students. Evenings often wrap up with dinner and strategy discussions on how to advance the work of gender equity and support women of colour within the community I am sitting in.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
I know I am not alone in this, but if I lost my phone I wouldn’t know where to go or what to do. It keeps me organised and paperless with Evernote when I’m out at meetings, keeps me informed on everyone and everything with Facebook, and keeps me sane with iHeartRadio feeding the beat of life into my ears.
What’s your workspace setup like?
The moment you step into my office you can tell that I am a very visual person. I work surrounded by walls full of feminist art and messages, a map of the U.S., a giant calendar, and a picturesque view of the East Side of Manhattan. Immediately in front of me, I have three screens, which are balanced out by plants throughout the room to help ensure calmness. When it’s clean, there is a very intentional feng shui approach!
What’s your favourite shortcut or hack?
Unpack when I return from a trip, even if I’m leaving again the next day.
Use POP meeting agendas as a strategy for ensuring each meeting is intentional and has a clear purpose, objective, and outcomes.
Perhaps most importantly, heat up the cream before putting it in my coffee so it stays warm for longer.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I have a calendar that fills an entire wall in my office—this is not an exaggeration! I take apart a desk calendar, tape each month to my wall, and colour code days according to my travel, board meetings, fundraising, and speaking opportunities. I make sure to note when my leadership team, and anyone I supervise, is on vacation in the next twelve months. While this is also on my phone, it is key to see the entire year laid out in front of me.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
To live out our credo to fully trust women, I am not a micromanager and trust the women that I work with to be as committed to gender equity and the mission and vision of the foundation as I am. We are a small organisation so we all work together and rely on each other; everyone has a role to play. I have a high calibre Leadership Team that takes care of finance and operations as well as programmatic work, which frees me up to be responsible for other areas, from board management and fundraising, to building up relationships and being on the ground with our grantee partners.
How do you recharge or take a break?
Hiking and being outside, whether it’s walking across the park by my apartment or taking a rare vacation to Alaska.
What keeps me going and recharges me each day is the fact that there are other amazing people each carrying a piece of the problems we face. It can be overwhelming to see the patriarchy continually denying women’s bodily autonomy, separating kids from their parents and losing them in the system, and waging attacks on Black and brown bodies on a daily basis. But if I do just one thing every day, I know I am doing my piece to enact change.
What’s your favourite side project?
I find great joy being a Girl Scout leader and mentoring students at the Ethel Walker School, where I am a trustee on the board.
What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
Can you share a music playlist you’ve made, whether for working or elsewhere?
Who else would you like to see answer these questions?
Our grantee partners and the Ms. Foundation team.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
I challenge you to be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the ground in the morning the devil says “Oh shit, she’s up.”
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
At the Ms. Foundation for Women, we believe in a just and safe world where power and possibility are not limited by gender, race, class, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or age. We believe that equity and inclusion are the cornerstones of a true democracy in which the worth and dignity of every person are valued.
In order to achieve our vision for the world, I believe we need to fund more women and girl-led organisations across the US and trust them to come up with the solutions to help and heal their communities. It will take the financial commitment of every single person to build women’s collective power—will you join us in this fight?