Describe your role at Bellwether.
As Chief Operating Officer, it is my job to ensure that Bellwether’s policies and practices are supporting employees, centering residents, and advancing our commitment to equity and antiracism. I also see myself as a coach, mentor, and translator. Since my first job in leadership and in affordable housing was about 30 years ago, I’m often able to provide additional insight about how a particular function works and help employees see understand the business. Most of my work involves collaborating with other leaders and employees to put in place new systems, tools, training, and other support mechanisms that will prepare us for the growth we have planned.
What do you find most meaningful about your work?
Mentoring & coaching has always been one of the most rewarding aspects of my job. Fortunately, Bellwether has so many strong up and coming leaders that I am able to spend time with, support their career development and maybe prepare one of them to take my job on in the future.
Since participating in the 2.5 day Understanding & Analyzing Systemic Racism workshop in 2019, our equity & antiracism work has become some of the most meaningful work for me. Our Equity Committee and so many employees are engaging more deeply in educating ourselves, in speaking up and holding Bellwether accountable to live out the values we strive to achieve – and carry out our Strategic Plan, that calls us to more deeply center residents and work towards becoming a more equitable and antiracist organization. We are being called to think more deeply about our policies, practices, actions, and inactions. To question whose comfort we are centering when we make decisions and to bring more voices to the table.
Tell us about a woman that you admire or are inspired by (past or present).
Jessica Vazquez Torres, National Program Manager for Crossroads Antiracism Training & Organizing, has been one of the most inspiring human being I have had the pleasure of working with over the past couple of years. She led the 2.5-day workshops on Understanding and Analyzing Systemic Racism that I attended through the US Bank Community Development Corporation in May 2019, and then here at Bellwether in December 2019. She has an incredibly strong voice, leads with humor, humility, and authenticity. What stand out most about Jessica for me, is her ability to meet each of us where we are in our antiracism journey and bring her unique storytelling skill to share honestly and vulnerably her own journey and the journey of the organization she is leading – neither of which are perfect, and both of which include contradictions and imperfections that reside in all of us as individuals and all our organizations. Jessica calls us to be honest with ourselves and our organization. She calls us to acknowledge and hold both our aspirations and our shortfalls that need to be addressed to get closer to realizing our aspirations. She asks us to examine the stories we have been trained to tell ourselves – that we are the expert, that our organization is the best. She asks us to see that we can only get better if we are able to acknowledge that there are areas where we don’t know everything and therefore can benefit greatly be inviting in more voices, listening more deeply and sharing power with people who have typically been left out of the conversation.
What Colleagues Say:
“Cheryl’s ability to listen, guide and inspire has been magnificent. She will also take guidance and welcomes advice from people who are more subject matter experts on certain topics. She will take calculated risk yet not gamble. She is a strong pillar of support for her staff, teams and the organisation, helping me to stay focused and giving me the tools to succeed in my role. She is empathetic, works to build trust, and with that, is able to set the conditions and space for us to operate in an efficient manner.”