Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, women continue to make important gains in representation, and especially in senior leadership, in organizations across the globe. Here, Adrienne Dixon, Ph.D., president and CEO of Sarah A. Reed Children’s Center, discusses the importance of women in leadership and the increasing role that diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) have in impacting organizations and their bottom line.
You have a unique perspective on leadership, following in the footsteps of pioneer Sarah A. Reed and as the first woman of color to lead the agency in its 150 years. Please share your thoughts.
As I reflect on Sarah Reed, a woman way before her time, I think of the construct of resiliency and one’s ability to demonstrate the capacity to recover, learn and develop despite adversity and challenging obstacles. This is a crucial skill for leaders in general; however, for women it often requires a higher degree and expectation. My personal journey began long before coming to the Children’s Center and is rooted in my early experiences growing up under the guidance of my great-grandmother. She too was a resilient woman born way before her time in 1890 on the heels of Slavery with the equivalent of a sixth grade education. She would frequently say, “You can do whatever you want if you put your mind and heart to it.”
Those early experiences and lessons shaped and guided me throughout my professional journey. I started at Sarah Reed as an intern and part-time employee and developed my path of leadership over three decades.
People often remark about the journey but are unaware of the unique challenges for women and particularly women of color that often lead to internal conflict and pressure in negotiating diversity. When I transitioned into the executive leadership role at the Center, it was at a critical time when the country was just coming to grips with the implications of COVID-19, social injustice and economic disparities. I am proud to carry on the legacy begun by Sarah Reed and the Center’s founding group of women 150 years ago.
Sarah A. Reed Children’s Center is a multi-service agency focused on children and families struggling with life traumas. Tell us more.
The Children’s Center has proudly served our community for 150 years and is one of the first Sanctuary®- certified treatment facilities in western PA. Sarah Reed employs over 300 staff members, operates five campuses in Erie and is a leader in the behavioral health community. We successfully treat individuals with mental health, behavioral health and severe emotional challenges, many of whom are victims of trauma and abuse. Today, we serve more than 1,700 children (ages 3 to 18), adults and their families annually, from Erie and 50 counties throughout Pennsylvania.
DEI is becoming more widely discussed by employers today. How much does DEI matter to your organization?
We are committed to knocking down barriers that foster an advantage for some groups while creating obstacles for others. We recognize the impact on one’s overall sense of self and well-being. We are dedicated to being a part of a cultural shift that will help bring about a resilient community that fosters cultural humility, equity and sustainability for all.
In fact, our July 2021 Diversity Summit grew out of the many initiatives and emotional experiences of our organization and will continue to be an opportunity to expand our shared knowledge while deepening our commitment to tangible action and influence.
You will be the keynote speaker at the MBA’s April 7 Women in Leadership IMPACT event in Erie. What are some key aspects of your presentation?
The conversation will center on the importance of advocating for DEI in the workplace to:
- Foster successful organizational culture, health, productivity and sustainability
- Discuss the ability to influence performance
- Foster creativity
- Have a diverse and innovative talent pool
- Reduce turnover
Why do you believe women in leadership/DEI is so important for employers to learn more about?
Historical barriers and challenges are emotional and deeply rooted in organizational culture. It is crucial to examine the barriers and challenges that hinder the path of women and especially women of color to leadership roles. It is critical that we openly discuss ongoing ethnic and gendered beliefs that make being a woman (woman of color) in leadership emotionally, professionally and socially challenging.
For more info about Sarah A. Reed Children’s Center, visit www.sarahreed.org.