By Sheri Davis-Faulkner, PhD
Co-director, WILL Empower

WILL Empower is at the cutting edge of national efforts to identify, nurture, train, and foster lasting relationships among a new generation of women labor leaders. At the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO) we often say that women with a crew are more likely to be bold and courageous. Working to build such a crew from a new generation of women leaders in the labor and economic justice movements is the mission of the WILL Empower program, a joint project of CIWO and the Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor at Georgetown University. 

June 25th marked the first convening of the inaugural WILL Empower Executive Leadership Cohort. Fifteen women leaders gathered at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ for the first of three retreats. They represent large public and private sector unions, immigrant and Black worker centers, and community-based organizations where worker well-being is central to the mission. This predominantly women of color cohort is setting the foundation for a powerful network of diverse women reaching across sectors and different forms of worker justice organizations to broaden and deepen our vision for the future of our movements.

WILL Empower Executive Cohort
View the bios of our Will Empower Executive Cohort Members

WILL Empower Executive Cohort Members:

  • April Sims, Secretary Treasurer of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO; Seattle, Washington

  • Maritza Silva-Farrell, Executive Director of ALIGN NY; New York City

  • Merrie Najimy, President of the Massachusetts Teachers Association; Quincy, MA

  • Stacy Davis Gates, Vice President of the Chicago Teachers Union; Chicago, IL

  • Ursula Price, Executive Director of the New Orleans Workers Center for Racial Justice; New Orleans, LA

  • Angelina Cruz, President of Racine Educators; Racine, WI

  • Andrea Acevedo, President of SEIU Healthcare MI; Norton Shores, MI

  • Flor Rodriguez, Executive Director of CLEAN Carwash; Los Angeles, CA

  • Rhonda Rogers, Director of Women's, Human Rights, Young Workers, & Community Service Departments at the Machinists Union; Hollywood, MA

  • Janel Bailey, Co-Executive Director of Organizing & Programs at the Los Angeles Black Workers Center based; Los Angeles, CA

  • Reyna Lopez, Executive Director of PCUN (Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste); Woodburn, OR

  • Anna Harvey, Coordinator of UNI Global Union's Finance; Nyon, Switzerland

  • Natashia Pickens, President of CWA (Communication Workers of America) & Missouri State Workers Union Local 6355; Louis, MO

  • Darlene Lombos, Executive Director/Vice President of Community Labor United/Greater Boston Labor Council; Boston, MA

  • Angela Lang, Executive Director of BLOC (Black Leaders Organizing Communities); Milwaukee, Wisconsin

  • Hilary Glasglow, Executive Director of Colorado WINS; Pueblo, CO

This retreat provided a unique opportunity for participants to share their perspectives and expertise with each other and to rejuvenate themselves. In addition to focusing on their individual leadership needs, we explored common and distinct challenges they have with shifting and advancing their organizations as new leaders. Together we surfaced, examined, and began thinking of ways to disrupt habits of white supremacy culture and patriarchal styles of leadership that too often are the default leadership style or simply considered markers of “professionalism.”

Our guest speaker Lauren Jacobs, Executive Director from Partnerships for Working Families, reflected on:

  • the role of financialization in our current economic conditions, 

  • the need for more intersectional economic analysis, 

  • the future of workers, and 

  • why we must broaden our frame from worker justice to worker liberation. 

Having a predominantly Women of Color (WOC) cohort--mostly Black and Latinx; explicitly valuing WOC leadership as necessary investments for the future of our movements; and drawing upon their expertise/experience to co-create a rigorous learning environment set a good tone for the first of three retreats. 

We also worked with Lorraine McCall of Breathe Balance Energize to provide a variety of resilience practices as part of the curriculum to ensure cohort members left feeling replenished in addition to having stronger connections to their roles, organizations, and their purpose. Participants remarked that they felt safe to be more present in their full identities and be comfortable with the discomfort this often causes. 

With the Executive Cohort Program WILL Empower is setting a foundation for articulating new ways of leading that are conscious of the people in the role, who they lead, how they strengthen their organizations, and how they shape their movements, while bringing an explicit race/gender lens. The facilitation team included: Robin Katcher of Katcher Consulting, Sheri Davis-Faulkner and Marilyn Sneiderman with the Center for Innovation in Worker Organization (CIWO), and Lane Windham with the Kalmanovitz Initiative on Labor and the Working Poor. Our primary goals for this retreat were relationship-building, setting individual leadership development goals, collectively making sense of this movement moment and introducing change management theory. This cohort far surpassed our initial expectations and our wildest imaginations. 

We have been to the future and we win with this Crew of women leaders!