Interviews

Mission-Driven Leadership & Lifting up Women: an interview with Katie Wales

Welcome to our next interview in this series celebrating Black History Month and Women’s History Month. We have been highlighting and celebrating the contributions of leaders in the nonprofit sector. If you missed our other interviews, you can find them here.

This week, we spoke to Katie Wales, Executive Director of The Eisenberg Foundation.

Tell us about your role at the Harold E. Eisenberg Foundation.

As Executive Director, my role encompasses both leadership and management, so I get to both strategize and execute.  My portfolio includes oversight of development, events and programming, our awesome staff team, partnership with the Board of Directors, and overall operations. 

That is no short list! Do you feel your identity as a woman has impacted the career you have chosen? 

I would say yes, though I may not have thought of it in such an overt way. I am very mission driven and I believe that this sector attracts many women for that reason. 

Also, running nonprofits requires an unbelievable amount of attention to detail. Being able to really dive in and tackle a variety of skills from soup to nuts is something I see women excel at. They have the ability to do that in a way that impresses me. 

Those personality traits and skill sets gel really well with those that are needed to be successful in nonprofit organizations. 

You have an all female team at Eisenberg, much like our team at Evolve. Has that been intentional? How do you support the women on your team? 

Our best candidates have been women. So no, it’s not intentional but it has been the outcome. I feel extremely blessed to have had a strong team of women for many years. 

I think it’s very important for women to support one another and lift each other up. Making sure I, by example and by direct mentorship, encourage women to speak up and use their voice is incredibly important to me. I want them to know they earned their seat at the table and that they are heard – if, for example, someone is interrupted, I try to step in to make sure they get to finish speaking. If they have a great idea, I try to say it again and to give them credit. I try to highlight their successes and their accomplishments every chance I get.

That’s wonderful, and I have seen you do those things during our work together. On the flip side, who are some of the women you look up to?

Michelle Obama is one of my absolute idols. Her perspective on empowerment of women is something I go back to again and again.

More personally, my own mom is a really powerful woman. She is an artist and she has trained me to use my voice and to think outside the box. 

My mother in law is an Executive Director of a nonprofit in Cincinnati and she is someone I go to frequently with professional questions. She has helped me navigate so many complicated questions.

How do you think the nonprofit sector can become more equitable and inclusive?

I think that there needs to be a shift in thinking so that we don’t starve nonprofits through their resources. The brightest minds will flock to wherever they can find the most rewarding roles. When we’re not willing to pay nonprofit professionals competitively, and because there are so many women, we don’t give them the fuel they need to live their full potential. 

The first question we should ask when assessing a nonprofit is what measurable impact they have rather than how much they are spending on “overhead.”  If we measure nonprofits through that lens and provide them with the resources they need to succeed, it will be a more equitable and diverse sector as a result.

More specifically, at the Eisenberg Foundation, diversity, equity, and inclusion are huge priorities in our real estate education programs. We are launching a new program called Level, which aims to have the industry look more like the communities we live in through awareness, mentorship, learning and training. We’ve made a concerted effort to work with Historically Black Colleges and Universities. 

We recently hosted our Real Bright Summit which had participants from 90 universities. Through this event, we broadened our demographic in so many ways, so we are planting the seeds for tremendous growth.

This year our virtual Real Estate Challenge will be working on a site on the South Side of Chicago in an underinvested corridor. We are focused on bringing in students from schools nationwide, with a focus on HBCUs. One of the silver linings of the pandemic has been the blurring of geographical boundaries and we are seeing our reach come to fruition.