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Minerva Foundation With Tina Strehlke

By July 7th, 2023No Comments36 min read
Home » Minerva Foundation With Tina Strehlke

Women in the workforce have been experiencing challenges in the social leaders’ profit sector- even up to this day! Women are still seen as unworthy of leadership opportunities and incapable of being instruments for social impacts, even when they have repeatedly proven the exact opposite. That’s why companies like Minerva are crucial to empower women in breaking the cycle of re-offending and ultimately making huge impacts on the issues of gender equity in society. In this episode, Tina Strehlke shares her own experience and background that brought her to the social profit sector and inspired her to enter Minerva, a Vancouver-based charity dedicated to advancing economic and leadership opportunities for women. Tina is the CEO of Minerva with 15 years of experience in designing, delivering, and creating programs for different people with different needs. Tune in and get a rich sense of the skillset, mindset, and ambitious goals Tina delivers for Minerva and how it all may become a game-changer to society! 

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Minerva Foundation With Tina Strehlke

In this episode, we have Tina Strehlke. She’s the CEO of Minerva. We are thrilled to have her on the show. We’ve been waiting for this for a number of months to get her on. We’re thrilled to be able to share her with you. In this conversation, Tina talks about the challenges of women in the workforce particularly in our social profit sector. She refers to it as the social impact sector but you get the idea.

She gives tactical advice on how leaders can provide development opportunities, particularly leadership development opportunities, for members of their team, so the women are ready to take those leadership roles when they come available. Tina also shares her own experience and background that brought her to the social profit sector. You get a rich sense of her skillset and mindset, and her ability to deliver on some pretty ambitious goals for Minerva. Please enjoy my conversation with Tina.

Welcome, Tina.

Thank you. It’s a pleasure to be here.

It’s so great to have you on the show. As a part of this season, we’re asking all of our guests this very important question right off the top. Can you tell us about the first time you can remember being involved in community service or giving back?

The first memory that comes to mind is I grew up in a family of four in a small community in Northern Alberta. I had two younger sisters. My mom was the first person who enlisted us into service in coordinating and hosting our sibling’s birthday parties. I had one older sister and two younger sisters. We would always be the two that would coordinate, host, organize, and come up with activities and games.

When I think about that now, it’s quite funny to think about that as community service but literally, my sisters would organize twenty kids to come to our house. They’d be hosted at home at these parties. Our job was to pay attention and see who was having fun, who has what they needed, did everyone get a treat, or did everyone get their goody bag. Thinking about the experience, the children were coming to our sister’s parties and ensuring that our siblings were having the times of their lives. When I think about my own career and that example, to me, service is about caring and paying attention to others.

That’s a direct line from birthday parties in Northern Alberta to being the CEO of Minerva.

That’s right.

You’ve had a very diverse career before coming into the social profit sector. For those who may not be familiar with your career, walk us through a little bit about how you did become the CEO of Minerva.

I’ll be brief. When I was studying at university, I was interested in international issues. I did the International Relations program at UBC. It was part of the Bachelor of Arts Degree. I’d done a year of college at home, and come out to Vancouver and moved here to go to school. I was interested in working overseas and being of service overseas.

My first idea about a career was international relations and international development. Out of university, I did do some travels overseas to attempt what that look and felt like. I did a project with Youth Challenge International. I spent three months in Diana and did a service there where we did a cataract screening project and build a healthcare center.

I came home from that enriched and having had a positive experience but also recognizing that as a young Canadian youth, I was a catalyst for funding because I had to fundraise to go there. I also recognized that my skillset to go there and build a health center wasn’t needed because all the local folks there had built their own homes and carved their own dugout canoes. It shed the light on what’s needed, what’s the skillset, and how are we being of service.

I started to look for other ways to get that international experience. I started working in hospitality tours. I did that for many years. It took me to Taiwan. It took me to other places in the world. Through that experience in working in hotels, working in service to others, and working in service to a team, I started to gravitate towards HR development, training, people development, service, communications and leadership. I came back to Canada and did some work in the career development field, which led me to Minerva.

It is quite a trip and done very quickly. I’m curious, you were involved in hospitality, which is a lot of people development and people building careers, often training people and skills that they didn’t have when they started. How did that experience transfer over to your work at Minerva?

I lived in Taiwan for three years and I worked in a hotel there. What I bring forward is the service element, so understanding people, understanding needs and solving problems. In a hotel, you’re solving problems every five minutes and it’s immediate. They’re not long-term problems. Usually, it can be pretty short-term, “I need a feather pillow. I prefer this instead of that,” but that culture of solving and equipping people to be able to work in a dynamic environment that’s ever-changing, and solve things quickly and have people leave feeling satisfied and listened to was a big part of it, so the communication side.

The other part about Taiwan is living and working in that community and working in a hotel. All of our hotel guests were business people. I learned about the labor market by being there because I would chat with guests and say, “What are you doing in Asia? What are you doing in Taiwan? Why are you here? Tell me about that business.” I was able to learn about a lot of different aspects of work, business, careers, and the labor market.

That’s what enabled me to come back and find work in the career development field. I came home and I started working as an employment counselor here in BC. I worked for a career development firm, supporting people in finding their path back to employment after being unemployed. The organization I worked with did contract work with the government. We ran things like the work BC centers, and programs for skilled immigrants, youth and older workers.

That’s where I got the skill of designing and delivering solutions that were human-centered. How do you help someone navigate a change in their career? Something unexpected that’s happened, being new in a place and not knowing where to restart your career. That’s where I increased the depth of my ability to solve problems and to take what I learned in service, hospitality, communication and business and say, “How do I apply this now to this new context?”

As you’re talking, I’m thinking and connecting the dots to how that career background and pathway leads to being CEO at Minerva. Some of our readers might not be familiar with what Minerva is. Tell us a little about what Minerva does here in British Columbia.

Minerva is a Vancouver-based charity and we’re dedicated to advancing the leadership of girls and women. We’re working towards gender equity. We’re looking at increasing economic and leadership opportunities for women. How I learned about Minerva is that I used to refer people to their programs. When I was an employment counselor in that first job back in Canada, I knew about Minerva because they offered programs that were related to job search and offering mentorship, and many opportunities for people who’d been disconnected from the labor markets, so for skilled immigrants, new immigrants, and moms who’d left the workforce.

For me, the connection back to becoming CEO, I had fifteen years of experience designing, delivering, and creating programs for all kinds of folks with different needs. I saw a job opportunity that came up. I was at a spot where I needed a change. I needed to learn something new. I needed to shake my tree a bit. It had been many years since I had uprooted, gone overseas, and traveled or did different things. I love the company that I worked for. I loved my colleagues. I grew up in my leadership at that organization. I was there for fifteen years. It was the hardest thing in the world to leave that environment.

I recognized for myself, as someone who values learning, that I was in an environment as a senior leader and I wasn’t learning anymore. I knew that everyone around the table knew we could finish each other’s sentences. We knew who do what in a proposal. We were still falling into these roles. I thought, “It’s probably time to do something a little bit risky again.” I accepted a six-month contract at Minerva as the program’s director at the time.

When I took the interview, I said, “Is this a six-month contract or is there potential?” The then-CEO said, “We want to build this into a role. We want to hire the right person who can help make that happen.” I said, “I’m pretty confident that I can figure out how to stay employed in Minerva, “ so then I was the program’s director. The threads are leadership development, human development, careers and learning. I think that ongoing growth and learning are the big things that drive me in my career.

I appreciate you sharing that. There are very few leaders in the social profit sector that do have that direct line from sibling birthday parties directly to the C-suite. Many of us find our way into the sector from other places. It’s changing a little bit. There are some younger professionals who are getting to be in very senior and leading organizations who started in the social profit sector, never left and became increasingly more senior.

It is good to share the varied paths that people take to leadership. The work of Minerva is very important. There has been a big focus on what the workplace looks like now through the pandemic, big issues related to childcare, which typically becomes an issue for women in the workforce. Not that it shouldn’t be. It should be a family issue or it should be an issue for everyone. From the perspective of Minerva and your desk, how has the pandemic and how we’re coming out of it affected the role of women in the workplace?

We all know that the pandemic shed light on the things underneath the surface that might not have been so visible that were inequitable or challenging. It’s not as on the lips or as prevalent or at the forefront of our conversations about work. When I first started this field, I had different people say, “Gender equality is not that bad in Canada. If you look at other places in the world, it’s pretty okay here.” Sometimes having that feeling of like, “What’s there?” I think the pandemic helped us to see that there are still visible and invisible barriers for lots of folks who are in the workplace. Gender is one aspect of where that can play out. There are other aspects and identities that also are facing challenges.

The pandemic shed light on the things underneath the surface that were inequitable or challenging. Click To Tweet

With the pandemic and seeing the inequities, and how quickly things can change when they need to around flexibility, work from home, altering arrangements with jobs, allowing kids to run through in a meeting. The work culture of embracing like we have to figure out a solution and do it differently set the stage for workers and organizations to say, “Why are we playing small when things can change and we can embrace a different way of working?”

The idea that things could be worse as a badge of honor doesn’t get you very far, I would think. Are there different questions that Minerva is exploring or supporting people with as a result of this change in flexibility, and the ability to change that we collectively demonstrated over the course of the pandemic?

We saw a couple of things happen. We saw women who are connected to whatever, either through programs or alumni. We heard two things. One was, “I’m pulling back. I need to do things differently. I have to pull back on work and opt out because of family, life, health, and all these other things. There was sometimes that opting out, pulling back, the great resignation, re-evaluating, perhaps making other choices about career. At the same time, we had a lot of our alumni and women in our program step up bigger.

There are new opportunities. There are new needs. “I can lead differently. I can own more. I can do things differently than I did before and take on more leadership.” We also saw women who got busier, taking on more leadership, stepping out, and playing bigger than they had before because of the pandemic and those impacts. What Minerva is doing is we’re trying to dig in to understand what is happening in the workplace at the moment. What is the experience of women in BC? We know the secondary research.

There’s a lot of data on barriers invisible. It’s very well documented, but now we want to understand what’s still prevalent and what’s still getting in the way, and at those moments in a woman’s career where things can stall or maybe go offside a little bit. Early career and mid-career are areas that we’ve always worked on. Now, we’re trying to figure out if there is something we can do that would deepen our impact because we’re understanding the workplace in a better way.

One of the things we’re observing not just us at the Discovery group but across the social profit sector is there is a run for the exits for a lot of senior leaders that may be Boomers or maybe had enough in a lot of organizations. In many cases, it’s a very healthy generational shift in organizational leadership. In a sector that is 75% or 80% female in the social profit sector, they will see women in those more senior roles. How does Minerva work to help identify or help support women who are making that step into the bigger jobs?

DSP 14 | Minerva Foundation

Minerva Foundation: In many organizations, there is a very healthy generational shift in organizational leadership. In the social profit sector that is 75 – 80% female, we will see women in those more senior roles.

What we have done for a long time is provide resources, access, programming, and community for women who are in those roles. One of the biggest things we do is we do offer leadership training. We work with girls starting in high school. We have a program now that’s engaging post-secondary students, and then we work with women leaders early in that career when they’re first aspiring to leadership or stepping into their first leadership role. That is a time when promotions happen less frequently for women than men.

Also, a lot of people get put into roles when maybe they’ve been good individual contributors but haven’t learned the skills of leading a team or getting work done through others. We also work with women at the mid-career, so mid to senior. Also, in terms of clarifying, “Who am I? Where am I going? How do I want to have an impact?” Also, sometimes addressing some of the places where women have stalled out.

Our biggest contribution is offering the opportunity to learn in the community with other women and in peers and do leadership training that is very personal. Our programs are about your values, strengths, who are you, what are you bringing to the table, and where you want to have influence. Once we tackle that, the other stuff is easy. The motivation is there, and the techniques. All that stuff falls into place because it clicks in terms of like, “This is who I’m as a leader and how I want to lead.”

The other thing the pandemic has brought to the fore is we’re valuing skills and leadership that we perhaps didn’t put as much value on before. Some people might say these are feminine traits or masculine traits. There are a lot of characteristics of leadership that come from masculine characteristics but we don’t get very far.

If we say, “Men are like this and women are like this, and it’s good and it’s bad,” but we have seen valuing of relations, collaboration, and empathy as a leadership skills. We are seeing some of these traits that are focused more on human relationships, employee engagement, and fostering and supporting employees to do their best. There sometimes have been areas where women leaders have excelled.

That’s a balancing of we need all the skills of leadership. There’s a time and a place for all the skills we can bring to the table. I think now we’re seeing it a bit more coming to the forefront of things that maybe women leaders have done well for a very long time. We can present that forward as something valuable, and an asset to an organization.

Those skills you described that are more commonly associated with female leadership and women leaders are exemplified in the social profit sector, but also talking about the flexibility of workplace and engagement, retention of teams, which seems to be the number one issue in most medium and larger social profit organizations. It falls right into there.

It’s not a surprise. This isn’t a revelation that command and control aren’t going to work. It’s been outmoded for far longer than the pandemic. I want to go back to something you said. You said, “When it clicks, people will participate in your programs. When it clicks, they’re ready, then their natural skills and their professional skills can take over.” Can you give us an example or can you remember a time when you’ve seen that work for someone where it is like, “That just clicked?” What does that look like?

Many women will have an experience in leadership, especially in a corporate environment where they are trying to step in and emulate what they see around them. Show up as a leader in the way that is expected. There’s some research and data that talks about the ideal prototype of an employee. A lot of it goes back to old ideas of how we work, when we work, and what those things are. Historically, it’s been men who’ve had the freedom and flexibility to be that ideal worker, whether it’s long hours or putting in the extra time or those kinds of things.

What we hear a lot from women in our programs is that they feel a little stuck, constrained, not seen, and not knowing how to have the influence they want. What clicks for them is when they can understand themselves and who they are, and step into that without apology and without feeling like, “I also now have to do all these other things.”

Women are often told, “Lower your voice. Don’t use so many words. Take out more space.” They were given this advice on how to be leaders and be successful, and we’re being coached on how to navigate a biased environment. We say, “What does that mean to you? What does leadership look like to you?” We do a lot of work around values, personal values and core values. What are they? How do you know that those are the true ones? How do you show up? How do you demonstrate those?

We do a lot of work with women on explaining what that looks like. Sometimes women will say, “My core values don’t align with where I’m at and when I’m doing. Therefore, I need to make a change.” That can be a moment of things clicking. Another spot is digging into strength. What are you good at? All of us as employees and even as students, get this in school. If you’re not strong in an area, people are always like, “Why did you get a B there? How do you bring that up to an A?” Instead of saying, “You got an A over here. How do you get that into an A+?”

The moment of things clicking can be when you realize your core values don't align with where you are at and what you are doing, and therefore you need to make a change. Click To Tweet

We grow more in the areas where we’re strong and we’re not truly talented but we focus on our weaknesses. That’s another block and a place where things click. It’s like you can’t have a job where you never do anything you don’t like. If you can orient yourself, your job, and your work, and organize yourself in a way that you’re doing most of what you like most of the time, your success is going to come a lot more naturally because you are going to be putting that energy and effort into the things that you care about, you are passionate about, and you’re good at.

That clicks for people where they can either reorganize their work life, delegate things otherwise, find other people who have strengths that are companionable to theirs so that they can pass things off, and do more of what they love and stop focusing on what they’re not good at and trying to be something they’re not. Be more of what you are.

If you got an A and a B, and you want an A- average, you just get an A+ and you’ll be fine. Focus on what you’re best at. I think that’s good advice. The other piece that I see in the clients that we get to work with across the country are female CEOs feeling like they have a higher responsibility for creating a culture that is warm and nurturing. For women who that’s not their natural way of being, they see that as a weakness and something they need to work on. I have never had a conversation with a male CEO about needing to work on being warmer and more nurturing in their environment, never.

In our sector too, as leaders, regardless of whether it’s men or women, we’re often leading as the sector has been developing. We’re often learning from the negative example. I think of bosses that I had earlier on in my career that I know I’m not going to be like her or I’m not going to be like him, or in a situation that’s challenging like that, I’m not going to do what they did.

The value of Minerva learning through the positive and doing it through self-exploration is valuable. I’m curious how you are leading these programs, having a background in developing programs. When you’re facing a challenge as CEO, who do you turn to for advice and a reminder of yourself and your values?

Sometimes I have the opportunity to sit next to people at a gala and take advantage of their wisdom, which I did with you and meeting people. Generally, I’m a voracious learner. I’m someone who seeks out content information. I’m driven by that ability to grow and evolve and keep fine-tuning. People I do rely on at the moment. I’m part of a social impact group. I’m lucky enough to be invited to this group and have the opportunity to learn from other nonprofit leaders, both at this larger level.

I also have a mini group of smaller nonprofit leader CEOs that get together once a month and have a drink and talk about our challenges and what’s happening. I do try to surround myself with people who are in my field, in my area, who I can build trust with, and be pretty vulnerable with to say, “I don’t know how to do this or I haven’t encountered this before or I’m frustrated with this and something poked me, and now I need to work through. What’s that about? What am I going to do with it?”

I have a couple of networks of nonprofit leaders that I meet with regularly and try to create that space with. I’ve got a very supportive family. My sisters are paying me back for all that work on their birthday parties because they know me well. Being able to call people who know you well, who can either say, “We’ve heard this before.” My sisters are great at saying, “We’re seeing a pattern here,” and that’s my trigger for, “Maybe it’s time to do something about it.”

That’s the people that have known us long. They could say, “I’ve heard you. You’ve had this tone the voice before.” You never want to hear it but it’s always very helpful. I want to ask you about the team that you have there at Minerva. I have a very dedicated group of people. Do people come to work there because they are attracted to the mission of the organization and you don’t need to worry about them losing sight of the North Star? Is there something as CEO that you need to do or you do to keep everybody pointed in the same direction?

I think it’s both. I feel very lucky that we are a team of nine, and that the mission is a big driver and a big attractant to Minerva, in general, for donors, sponsors and employees. People can get on board with that idea of equity and inclusion, and find ways that we can make space for more people at the table that aren’t at the table. The mission is the driver.

The other thing is we’re a small organization. We did some work in 2021 with an HR consultant to work on our compensation and our performance management frameworks because we’re like, “We have to walk the talk.” We’re a women’s organization. We want to promote women’s leadership. We want to help women progress economically in their careers. I was like, “What are we doing? What do we have in place?”

For small organizations, it can be hard to find the time, resources, and expertise to create the systems and structures. It is something that we haven’t invested in to make sure that we can stand behind our processes, that we’re giving people feedback and helping develop, and that we’re being as competitive in our compensation as we can be as a smaller organization, and feel confident in that.

We have invested in those things. The other thing I’m working on is the clarity of goals. We get so busy in operations in our day-to-day, but how do people see themselves in the work and see that the work they’re doing isn’t just getting the work done, but is moving the organization and the mission forward through their work and the things they do?

We get so busy in our operations and our day-to-day, but how do people see themselves and the work they're doing isn't just getting the work done but is actually moving the organization and the mission forward? Click To Tweet

The way they set goals, they can also have opportunities for growth and learning even if there isn’t the next level of job on our ladder. We don’t have necessarily a lot of in-between jobs, but creating those ways that people can grow their skills, develop their capacities, try new things, and feel like they are progressing even if their job title doesn’t change.

As you said, it is so challenging for not just small organizations in the sector, but all organizations to take that look at structures, job descriptions, expectations, and salary bands, and make sure that it is not only competitive but certainly equitable. As the CEO of a women’s organization, are there moments in that when you’re like, “This is going to be tough,” or you wanted to be careful not to ask a question a certain way because you weren’t sure how you would handle the answer?

Do you mean in the process of building process or working with staff?

Building it and working with staff.

Honestly, the biggest question was, “What’s going to come back in terms of a comp survey if we do the market research. How far off are we?” I think that’s a big challenge in the social impact sector. The idea of people should be paid less because they’re doing great mission-based work or that we shouldn’t be investing in staff training and development, and building good teams and capacity is a huge question mark.

I was very fearful of what was going to come back in terms of that data. Either is it going to be confirming this low bar or is it going to encourage us to reach higher? If we’re reaching higher, then what does that mean for the operations and the organization fundraising to be able to step up and meet that bar, and look staff in the eye and say, “We’re meeting the market rates. We’ve also not just looked at non-profit but we’ve looked outside of non-profit to make sure that we’re competitive.” That was the scariest part. It’s like, “What’s going to come back?”

It’s exhilarating at the top of the rollercoaster. It’s exciting but pretty scary too. We’ve worked with a couple of organizations over the last few years to protect anonymity but where they have done salary surveys in conjunction with some of the work that we’ve been doing with them. In each instance that I can recall off the top of my head, the board has often been shocked at what competitive means.

There may be board members and may even be still some leaders in the sector who believe they should work for less, and all of those types of things. The market doesn’t look like that and the market doesn’t respect that should when it comes to building teams. You’ve gone through and gone through that exercise at Minerva. What advice would you give to an organization that was beginning that process or was a leader who was nervous about starting that process?

The value of doing it is worth all or some of the angst and the difficult conversations or the implementation. One of the things we had to get our head around also was the implementation with staff and what was possible. If we said, “We have the market data. This is what we’re aspiring to,” but there’s also a reality of what’s possible. Can we get there in one year? Can we get there in three years? How do we build the plan?

I think it’s the workaround like, “We need to know. We need to have that visibility,” because we are competing. We’re not just competing within our sector. We’re competing across sectors and we’re in Vancouver, so we’re competing in a market. It was very worthwhile. The advice is to work with a consultant who knows and get a nonprofit that can work with you.

What they did for us that was so beautiful was they took our jobs. We created job success profiles, and then we shop the data. Not just for non-profit but also for market rates outside of non-profit, but scoped it to the size of our organization. We looked at revenue and what are the job components. In nonprofits, we often have one person who has three different jobs. We looked at that and said, “This job needs all these three things.”

If you were in the private sector, maybe you’d only be doing that one thing. Here at a nonprofit, we only have one role. You’re doing a little bit of everything, and then we tried to match salaries so we could go back to our employees and say, “We looked holistically at your job. We looked at the salaries for all the components.”

An example of this would be a communications person. Here is a comms person. We have someone who does video, graphic design, social media, and internal communication. They do a bit of everything. We said, “We tried to set a find and make sure that graphic design was reflected because you do that work. That’s part of your salary.” That also enabled us to have a very tailored salary.

If someone Googles and says, “What’s the salary for a communications marketing consultant?” It might not look like our salary band but we can explain how we got to our band, why it’s competitive, and why it’s tailored to Minerva. I feel very confident about that. We learned a lot of tricks like that. The other piece was the coaching to be able to support the leaders and the team to come out and roll it out and talk to staff.

The other thing we had to do is then benchmark in plays and say, “We’ve never done this before but now we’re going to tell you where you fall on this scale, and where we think your performance lines up with the compensation, where you can grow, and where there’s development.” That was also pretty new for how we manage and how we’ve led our teams before.

What’s different after you’ve gone through that? How are things working differently at Minerva?

We’re still integrating it and figuring out how it’s different but the big opportunity is to be able to take the goals and the aspirations of the organization and line it right up with individual work and their career so that we can say, “In addition to outputting the day to day operations, this is also how we’re linking you to the strategy, and the work that you’re doing has to also have that long-term connection and view.” I do think staff feel more connected. They feel more grounded. They feel more excited because they can see how they’re contributing to the bigger picture.

DSP 14 | Minerva Foundation

Minerva Foundation: The big opportunity is to take the organization’s goals and aspirations and line them up with the individuals’ work and careers so that in addition to outputting the day-to-day operations, your work also has that long-term connection and view.

I appreciate you sharing that because that’s something that I know a lot of organizations are thinking about and often don’t embark on until there’s a crisis. Something bad has happened or is happening and they think, “Now we need to do this.” As you described, it works so much more smoothly if it’s intentional, strategic, and executed over a period of time so you’re not responding to a crisis.

I want to pivot back to the purpose of Minerva. One of the things I’m interested in understanding better or learning more about is the role that the social profit or not-for-profit sector can play in supporting women in the economy and leadership positions. What do you see as someone who was outside of the sector who’s come into the sector or as a senior leader? What work do we have to do? How do we get started or continue?

I think understanding what the gaps are. It’s understanding what’s visible and what’s invisible, where are those gaps, and how they play out in your organization. We get a lot of calls from organizations that want to address that gender imbalance. Usually, it comes down to either recruitment or retention. Part of it is also figuring out where are you losing people or where’s the gap happening to even try to figure out where you narrow in. You have to talk to your employees about what are they seeing and what are they feeling because it’s not cookie-cutter.

If it were cookie-cutter, we have solved gender equality already but it’s not. You have to figure out what the nuances are and where people are either stalling, feeling a gap, feeling left out, feeling that they can’t contribute or move forward, or where there are blocks to promotion or blocks to hiring and things like that. I think about the problem of how we invest in our employees for our sector. How do we build good teams? How do we invest in people? How do we ensure that people feel they can build a career?

The company I worked for before was a private company, but we did primarily contribution agreements with the government. In many ways, we operated like a nonprofit in terms of we didn’t have a lot of extra profit or revenue things that we could spend. We had to be very creative, and I think that the blessing of our industry is that we are very creative. We can think outside of the box. We can work around constraints. We can try and figure out how to make something with nothing.

We also need to keep aspiring to how we keep investing. For women, one of the biggest things is investing in leadership development. There are huge increases in how women either get engaged, step up, and build that confidence to be able to put their names forward and aspire for bigger roles. There’s also a huge value in building a network in a community.

Everyone needs a network in a community as we talk about job search and progression and things like that. Networks are important. For women having a tight network of women shows the value and benefit beyond those connection points because often, there is a bit of that helping me understand or helping me make connections or helping me work through something I might be experiencing and need to make sense of.

Networks are important, but for women, having a tight-knit network of women shows value and benefits beyond those connection points. Click To Tweet

For our programs, we always have a cohort attached to it because the value of that networking connection goes beyond maybe for job search or business opportunities down the road. It comes back to that trusted, tight-knit group of peers that you can rely on to give feedback and input if you build it right to progress your career. Sometimes, I understand we don’t have time. We don’t have money and don’t have time to invest in developing our staff or creating those opportunities to build those network connections.

That idea is that people working in the sector should work for less, and that should be because it’s to do good and to help other people. How much of that is gender as a perspective because the sector is predominantly female?

Women-dominated professions tend to have lower wages. We know that’s true. The care economy and cashiering and catering. I think they call it the five Cs, but there are many occupations that even in the skilled trades if you look at the skilled trades, the trades where women are dominant, pay less. We do have a dynamic. If it’s female-dominated, there’s naturally a devaluation of that work. What attracts people to our industry and our sector is caring, wanting to make a difference, and wanting to make a change. It holds people in terms of it does feed a need and value.

I do think it is part of it. The idea that you put others before yourself, women are socialized often to not put themselves first, not to ask, and not to negotiate. We are socialized to take a back seat and put others’ needs before our own. I haven’t done the research but I bet that does play into some of the perpetuating attitudes and beliefs that we have about the sector.

For leaders who are tuning in to our conversation, whether they be men or women. What can people in positions of authority do to address that gap in our sector?

A lot of us are trying to start to have those conversations with donors and funders around the education of how things work, and stepping into those conversations around. We’re seeing more donors who are starting to be interested in supporting the infrastructure of the organization. I think finding ways to keep investing in people’s leadership and their well-being.

The formal and informal ways that you can is to continue to encourage people to be leading, and also taking a pause and taking rests, and taking care of each other, and knowing that if we don’t have people in the organizations who are strong, healthy, resilient and able to, then what comes out into our communities is also not going to get us very far.

It’s demonstrating leadership but also putting some boundaries in place around. It can’t be all for nothing, and sometimes we have to put limits on what’s possible or say no to something if it’s not furthering our mission or it’s going to burn out our staff. I started to do that a bit in 2021. We were pushing hard on some different initiatives. COVID in a way was a blessing because we could say no to some things. With that, I’m talking about events especially.

A lot of us do nonprofits. A lot of us do events and it can turn into busy work. It can turn into, “Someone wants to do this with us and let’s make it happen.” What you’re investing and asking of your staff is more. Sometimes as a leader, it’s also taking a pause to say, “What’s the real value of that? What’s the real cost of that?” Let’s not negate the cost of staff, time, energy, hours, passion, and all those things to make something happen that might be a short-term gain.

It reminds me of advice that we give quite often, which is more is not a strategy. It’s doing more events and doing more of the same thing. It’s not even about finding scale or scalability. It’s about the sustainability of the organization and the people within it. I like the whole answer but particularly the first part, which was investing in leadership development. For an organization that hasn’t done that traditionally or has done it piecemeal, how can it get started? What would your advice be to a leader that’s like, “I heard Tina say this. I’m going to listen to her. I’m going to start investing in legit development.” How do they get started?

Formal and informal, there are lots of great formal programs that you can invest in. Anytime you’re looking at purchasing a program, paying for a program, or sponsoring a program, make sure you’ve got the buy-in from that team member and that it’s a good fit, and that you have a plan for how it’s going to come back. The worst thing you can do is send someone off and be like, “Great, you did it,” but not integrate that back.

Integrating into conversations of, “What did you learn? How is that session? What are you reading about? Do you want to share that with the team?” If you’re going to invest in someone to go away and do leadership training, make sure you’re talking to them about it. You’re asking them about it. You’re helping them bring it back into their work so they’re applying it. A lot of training is not successful because people go and do it, come back and don’t apply it. Be very thoughtful about that.

As an organization, there are lots of informal ways in team meetings that you can start to bring something forward, “Here’s a leadership idea. Here’s an article I read. Here’s a book.” We started doing a book club. We started doing not a super high-paced monthly schedule. It’s not super strenuous but it’s like, “Let’s read something together and talk about it or let’s put some time on the agenda to talk about this topic or this issue.”

Our business is leadership. That’s a topic we talk about a lot, but I do think there are other ways that you can bring in things that are relevant to your organization, the topic that you deal with in terms of the work you do day to day that can bring questions about leadership, and start bringing it forward. The third thing I would say is to talk about values. Talk about the values of the organization and as individuals, and how those show up. To me, that’s the foundation of a leader.

DSP 14 | Minerva Foundation

Minerva Foundation: The foundation of leadership is to talk about the values of the organization, talk about values as individuals, and how those show up.

What’s important to you? How do you demonstrate that? How do you walk that talk in your day to day? You’ll get to know people on your team and what matters to them. What matters to them is where they’re going to lead. That’s where you can start to pick up and encourage them to keep demonstrating that, and stepping in bigger ways that they can have influence using their values.

That’s great. Three straightforward steps that leaders can take. Thank you for sharing that. I want to know with the perspective you have, both on our sector and on the world in general, what are you looking forward to?

I’m interested in the conversation that’s emerging around where to with philanthropy, and where to with the social impact sector. I’m following the social innovation fund quite closely. I’m very curious because I do think we have a little bit of pressure to be more like corporates. Run more like a business. Run like a corporation. Efficiency is the scale and the growth.

I feel like the problems we’re solving now are big wicked problems. No one has been able to solve them on their own yet. No one ever will be able to. That idea of how can we build networks, how can we build collaborations, how can we figure out how to work a system? I’m hoping that there will be more opportunities for organizations to partner in ways that we can utilize our strengths, and not try to be everything to everyone but work in partnership in a way to tackle some of these bigger challenges. I think just the conversations of what needs to change, what has been working, where is inequity entrenched, and what needs to change in our models of funding, philanthropy, and decision-making that create more space for people who’ve been left out.

That’s great. I appreciate that advice and the perspective that you’ve shared throughout our conversation. I want to thank you very much for being on the show.

Thank you so much for having me. I enjoyed the conversation.


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About Tina Strehlke

DSP 14 | Minerva FoundationFounded in 1998, Minerva is a registered charity that is dedicated to advancing the leadership of women and girls. As CEO, Tina brings more than 20 years’ experience in leadership, career development, program design, adult learning, human resources and communications. Tina has a Bachelor of Arts in International Relations from UBC and a Master of Arts in Communications from Royal Roads University. She has lived and worked in Germany, Costa Rica, Guyana and Taiwan. Tina currently volunteers with Her Mentors and is a member of the Essential Impact advisory group.