Get to know our unstoppable 2021 Academy of Women Achievers Awardees
YW Boston is pleased to announce our 2021 Academy of Women Achievers awardees. On May 25th we will once again come together to celebrate the achievements of five unstoppable women in Boston. We hope you will celebrate our Academy’s 26th anniversary and join us in honoring this year’s awardees:
- Betty Francisco, General Counsel, Compass Working Capital and Co-Founder, Amplify Latinx
- Karen Holmes Ward, CityLine Host and Director of Public Affairs and Community Services, WCVB Channel 5
- Representative Liz Miranda, State Representative for the 5th Suffolk District
- Altaf Saadi, Sylvia Ferrell-Jones Awardee, Instructor of Neurology, Harvard Medical School, General Academic Neurologist, Massachusetts General Hospital, and Associate Director, MGH Asylum Clinic
- Deb Taft, Chief Executive Officer, Lindauer
Similar to last year, this year’s Academy of Women Achievers Celebration will be held remotely. There will be networking opportunities, and our awardees will speak in the form of a panel discussion. Latoyia Edwards, Emmy Award-winning anchor on NBC 10 Boston and necn, will join us as host. Tickets are free, with a suggested donation supporting our mission to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.
YW Boston cannot wait to induct five of Boston’s most influential women this May. To learn more about their work and passions, please read our interview with them:
Please share a little bit of history of your career path and how you came to be where you are today.
Betty Francisco: “I began practicing law at the height of the dot.com boom which gave me tremendous exposure to a variety of tech and life sciences start-ups, public companies and the investors that fueled their growth. As a transactional lawyer, I loved seeing businesses grow through financing transactions, mergers and acquisitions and strategic partnerships. I then got the chance to go in-house as general counsel for Sports Club/LA and Reebok Sports Club/NY, a national, luxury fitness brand that was a pioneer in the fitness industry. This was my dream job at the time because I wanted to be part of growing a brand that helped so many people live a healthy lifestyle. In 2015, after the clubs were acquired by Equinox Fitness I decided to take a break from law and start my own business. I founded Reimagine Play, a startup that offered fitness programming for children and families in Greater Boston. At the same time, I began angel investing to provide early capital to startups owned by women and people of color. I also co-founded Amplify Latinx, a social venture building economic and political power in MA, and helped to build its Power Up business program which is supporting Latinx small business to connect with resources to grow. A few years ago, I realized that I wanted my career to sit at the intersection of helping underserved people and communities to build wealth while also tackling the systems of racism and inequality that have created barriers to economic opportunity. I joined Compass Working Capital in 2018 as their General Counsel. It’s one of the most innovative nonprofits helping working families build assets and financial security, while also making asset-building the norm and not the exception in our nation’s anti-poverty programs. I will soon be transitioning into a new role as CEO of Boston Impact Initiative, an impact investing fund working to close the racial wealth divide in Eastern MA. These collective experiences have put me in a position to be an advocate and champion for communities of color and for underserved families and small businesses.”
Karen Holmes Ward: “I developed an interest in journalism in high school at Shaker Heights High in Ohio! I was in the media club, served on the yearbook staff, was the announcer for the daily public address messages to the student body and was the first female to announce at the Boys Varsity Basketball games! From there, on to Boston University with a major in broadcast journalism, and after graduation I landed a series of part time jobs at WEEI, WBZ, WGBH with my first fulltime opportunity at WILD Radio where I eventually became News Director. Though it was a lot of hard work, along the way I was sustained by the knowledge that I was on a path that I had chosen in a career that I love.”
Representative Liz Miranda: “Starting my career as a community organizer was the catalyst of a lifelong effort to build resident-led leadership, elevating those who are most impacted by the challenges we face to be the experts, policy wonks, and thought-leaders in our path forward. From community organizing to youth violence prevention work and nonprofit administration, I’ve focused on elevating my communities’ lived experiences in the places where decisions are made. After family tragedy, losing my brother Michael to gun violence, I made the decision to run for public office to fight for the intersecting, root causes of violence. Despite politicos’ citing a lack of experience in government or traditional pedigrees, I won every ward and precinct in the 5th Suffolk District.”
Dr. Altaf Saadi: “My career path is rooted in my personal and family experiences as immigrants. My parents were subject to Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship in Iraq. Growing up, household stories of past torture or persecution were commonplace. I was born in Iran at the tail end of the Iran-Iraq War. We then immigrated to Canada and later to the United States. I experienced the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy on Muslim-Americans, as well as the U.S.-led Iraq War. Throughout this entire time, my family was navigating new countries and cultures with limited resources. When deciding on a career in medicine, I wanted to ensure I remain engaged in policy conversations and population-level issues while prioritizing the humanity of each of my patients. I am grateful for physician leaders who paved paths that showed me this was possible, and this is what I have tried to do in my current role. I am a neurologist and researcher focused on health disparities and the care of marginalized populations including immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers. I strive to be community engaged and policy-relevant in my research and to elevate the experiences and voices of communities that are too often relegated to the periphery in academia, healthcare, and other spaces.“
Deb Taft: “Transforming organizations and industries has been a through line. I was fortunate to start my career in an innovative unit at Bank of Boston at a time of major change in commercial banking. Moving into fundraising as the field was burgeoning, I built my early nonprofit career in some Boston independent schools that were setting the pace for K-12 diversity at the time, but struggling with inclusion and belonging. In those years I also helped found City Year as a volunteer, helped launch a national Native American educational program, and gained a Simmons MBA that gave me powerful leadership, management and quantitative tools. I went on to senior and executive roles in healthcare, higher education, and ultimately at the national office of the Girl Scouts, always combining my passion for mission-based work and social justice with my affinity for leadership and business. In this latest career chapter, moving to professional service firms that serve the nonprofit sector enables me to lead amazing teams that create national and global impact.”
Why do you think advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion is important to you – in your role and personally? How have you seen your work make an impact?
Betty Francisco: “Since I began my career, advancing diversity and inclusion in the law and in business has been part of my personal and professional identity. The work is deeply personal to me because I have been “la primera” or “the first” in so many spaces. I am the first in my family to go to college and to law school, and to become a lawyer. I was the first Latina General Counsel in Massachusetts according to the HNBA. I was often the only woman and person of color in a room. I wanted those coming up behind me to have a more supporting experience, and so I became an advocate for Latinx representation and economic inclusion. That’s part of why I co-founded Latina Circle and then Amplify Latinx which is focused on advancing Latino leaders into positions of power and influence. Our goal is to develop a strong network of Latina and Latino leaders who will mentor and sponsor each other and “lift others as they climb.” With over 5,000 Latino leaders in the Amplify network, we have been influential in bringing visibility, access and representation of Latinos across sectors. Being “in the room” does not mean you’re always “at the table” in terms of being able to influence decisions and strategies. It’s these Latino leaders who are coming into their power as advocates, disrupters and changemakers creating inclusive and equitable cultures in their workplaces and in civic and public institutions.”
Karen Holmes Ward: “Landing at WCVB, one of the best local television stations in the country, has over the years given me the opportunity to ‘channel’ the power of the television station to help community causes that advance diversity, equity and inclusion. My program CityLine is the perfect platform to share stories about communities of color that many may not be aware of…and I am very proud that our CityLine internship program has provided training opportunities for dozens of diverse people now working in meaningful broadcast positions around the country and the world.“
Representative Liz Miranda: “For too long, government has made decisions for people and not with people. It’s not enough anymore to simply invite someone to the table, it’s on us as elected officials to ensure that those who are most marginalized are represented in leadership and decision-making spaces across government and industries. The COVID-19 pandemic’s disparate impact on communities of color is an example of the enormous consequences we experience when decisions are not made by the people who are most impacted. Even in Massachusetts, with the best health institutions in the world, equity in our communities was an afterthought when it should have been a core pillar of our initial distribution plans for economic relief, testing, and vaccine distribution. When we create space for meaningful participatory government, where voices are not only heard, but encouraged, policy decisions have greater outcomes and less unintended consequences. “
Dr. Altaf Saadi: “Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion is very important to me personally as an immigrant, Muslim, woman of Iraqi and Iranian heritage. I want to make sure everyone, regardless of their background, can thrive in society. Professionally, there is significant data that demonstrates that the more diverse and inclusive the field of medicine is, the better outcomes there are for our patients who also come from a diverse range of backgrounds. My work has made an impact in a variety of ways. For example, one of my research projects focused on understanding how hospitals can ensure that all patients feel safe when accessing health care, regardless of their immigration status. Thanks to a grant from the California Initiative for Health Equity & Action, I created a publicly available website and toolkit (www.DoctorsForImmigrants.com). It has moved me beyond words to see hospitals or clinical departments adopt policies informed by my work, affecting the care of hundreds of thousands of immigrant patients and healthcare workers. The best feeling is receiving messages from people outside of medicine (like policymakers or lawyers) who have benefited from my work. There is so much potential for impact when we elevate community voice and equity in not only what research questions we ask, but how we engage in the research.“
Deb Taft: “Advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion is both a business imperative and a moral imperative. Diverse organizations perform better and produce better outcomes. We all know that, and I have repeatedly seen the impact. But there is also a moral imperative to ensure leaders who are proximate to communities make decisions for the people, businesses, and organizations engaged in those communities – whether a city, a state, a company’s target market, or a nonprofit community served. I have been fortunate to serve as Board Chair and Board member for one of the most significant civil rights organizations in the country. We’ve driven our Board from 10% to 45% BIPOC and nonbinary members in 3 years, our leadership and staff composition in similar directions, and equity and belonging had to be centered. Our discussions, inputs, decisions, and outcomes are dramatically different today in terms of inclusion, intersectionality and impact. I want that for every organization, that same vibrancy and brilliance and creation of smart solutions.“
After this past year, what opportunities does Greater Boston have to create a more equitable society? What work must we do to get there?
Betty Francisco: “The COVID-19 pandemic, the economic crisis and the racial reckoning have created one of the most fertile environments for truly advancing equity-driven, anti-racist policies and practices across sectors, particularly in business, government and in philanthropy. We must seize this moment to advance transformational change, not just piecemeal or incremental fixes. Several things that have already begun to take place must continue to move ahead: 1) Focus on policy change to disrupt systems and practices that perpetuate inequality and the racial and gender wealth gaps; 2) Transform the face of organizations so they are representative of the diversity of Greater Boston, which will soon be majority people of color; and 3) Collaborate and co-create ecosystems that prioritize equity and inclusion and put power, money and control in the hands of the people and communities most impacted by racism.”
Karen Holmes Ward: “The social awareness and racial reckoning of the past year has challenged us all to amplify the issues of concern expressed again and again by those who have been marginalized and blocked from access and opportunity. While none of us can solve the whole problem, if each of us makes an effort individually or within our places of business to use OUR access to change lives, maybe collectively we can all move Greater Boston toward a more equitable society.“
Representative Liz Miranda: “The greater public has witnessed the inequities we’ve lived and known for decades, and with that attention, I believe comes great opportunity and responsibility. Now is the time for us to expand what is politically possible, and reimagine and redefine public safety, health, economic mobility, and more. Moving forward, we must dispel this notion of rugged individualism, restore a sense of community and collective responsibility, and not be afraid to invest in people.“
Dr. Altaf Saadi: “The COVID-19 pandemic made existing inequities all the more glaringly obvious. It highlighted how inequities, when left unaddressed, will surface and resurface, as well as result in an enormous human toll. But there was a predictability to what we saw, and we can anticipate seeing the same inequities, if we don’t look toward structural justice. That means working toward equity across all sectors, systems, and policies. That means making equity central to every effort, embedded from the beginning and not as an after-thought. That means holding to account the organizations we are a part of, including our government officials, who made pledges to confront racism and inequities this past year. This is work for the long-haul and requires ongoing intentionality, commitment and reinforcement.”
Deb Taft: “Boards and leaders are still thinking incrementally. We will not undo centuries of structural racism and oppression with little steps. Organizations must take off the risk-averse lenses, let go of white and male power paradigms, and make bold and definitive change. I have more hope than ever with Kim Janey in the Boston Mayor’s office and so many other Black, Brown, AAPI and Indigenous women leading in legislative, judicial, and civic roles. We must be in coalitions, not siloed. The job of white allies is to enable proximate leaders to lead, to keep working on our own biases to see how they get in the way every day, and to use our voices and actions relentlessly for transformation. Greater Boston has often led societal change in the Americas – let’s lead here, again.“
Is there anything you are currently working on that you are excited to share?
Betty Francisco: “There are two projects I am particularly excited about because they focus on ecosystem and network building, both which are critical for an equitable recovery. I am one of the founding members of the Coalition for an Equitable Economy, a broad cross-sector coalition of stakeholders from across the state that is building an equitable small business ecosystem and focused on ensuring that Black, Latinx, Immigrant and low income small business owners have the resources they need to thrive. We recently launched the Coalition and a MassINC report titled “Unleashing the Potential of Entrepreneurs of Color in Massachusetts” which explores the barriers that hold back entrepreneurs of color and perpetuate inequality, and sets forth a blueprint for building an inclusive entrepreneurial ecosystem. The Coalition aims to provide coordinated programming, technical assistance, research, and advocacy to revitalize our small business ecosystem and enhance racial equity in Massachusetts’ economy. In addition, I am a co-founder of the Investors of Color Network, a grassroots initiative building a thriving ecosystem of Black and Latinx accredited investors to close the racial funding gap in startup capital. ICN is mobilizing and activating investors of color across the U.S. through the syndication calls, investor training and advocacy. Building the bench of investors and fund managers of color and women will inevitably move much more investment capital into Black, Latinx, Asian and other overlooked entrepreneurs. This will be a priority for me as I transition to the CEO role at Boston Impact Initiative.”
Dr. Altaf Saadi: “One current research project I am working on assesses the socioeconomic and health effects of individuals who were released from immigration detention during the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the effects of their release on their families. I have a wonderful collaborator and friend, Dr. Caitlin Patler in the Department of Sociology at UC Davis. Together, we are creating an interdisciplinary, community-partnered, policy-relevant project that we hope will offer solutions in addressing significant problems with immigration detention across the United States.”
Deb Taft: “Our Lindauer clients are demonstrating a far more profound level of commitment, long overdue in the nonprofit sector, to diversify leadership, teams, and Boards. We believe it’s our responsibility as search partners to educate, push, hold up mirrors, and shine bright lights where needed to turn intentions into reality. We all know the data about greater pool diversity leading to higher likelihood of hiring a leader with diverse lived experience. But the goal is actually hiring and advancing talent – not just building diverse pools, therefore, but ensuring leaders and Boards actually shed their hiring biases and transform their organizations for inclusion and equity. This takes constant focus and tremendous fortitude against inertia and resistance. It’s daunting, but I have tremendous optimism.”
What advice do you have for women striving for equity in their workplaces and throughout Greater Boston?
Betty Francisco: “This is a time to be bold, vocal and courageous; it’s the time to call out injustices, to upend existing power structures that no longer serve us, and to offer solutions that are shaped by those most impacted. Women can no longer afford to be silent or hope that others will drive forward change. We must recognize that our future is inextricably intertwined by how well our Black and Brown communities do in the recovery. Each of us plays a personal role in creating equity and inclusion in our workplaces. It’s often small individual actions that have the most impact. Make it a point to listen and ask colleagues how they are doing and how you can support them. Open a door for a colleague by recognizing their good work, sponsoring them for stretch assignments and by making an introduction that can propel them to the next level. Be willing to share power and decision making from the breakroom to the boardroom by including staff, especially women of color who are not typically “at the table.” Support entrepreneurs of color by demanding that your company spend with them, by personally buying and investing in their ventures, and by making an introduction to a potential customer or investor. Finally, broaden your own network by partnering with, and supporting organizations like, the YW Boston, Amplify Latinx, BECMA, ALPFA, Conexion, GBLN, GetKonnected, The Partnership Inc, and other professional affinity groups, who have incredible talent of color.”
Karen Holmes Ward: “My advice to women striving for equity in their workplaces is to remember the wise words of someone who said “There are no shortcuts to success. The road may be long and not easy but it’s worth the walk”. As you strive for what you want in the workplace, remember to stay balanced and renew your strength, energy and self-worth through family, friendship, and community activities. And if you think you deserve it—whether it’s a new project, a raise, or a promotion—fight for it!”
Representative Liz Miranda: “Don’t be afraid to take up space, the girls who talked too much in class are now the women making decisions and leading our communities forward. Radically celebrate yourself and your work, the contributions you make will not always be clapped for unless you showcase them. “
Dr. Altaf Saadi: “One of my favorite quotes is the following by the poet and writer June Jordan: “Most people in this country think that they are wrong, and most people in this country think that they have no power. And I think the first and most important thing for any of us who wants to change that is to say that’s not the case. And just insist on that.” I believe all women, and especially women of color, need to foster this power and energy so that our workplaces and communities are more equitable.”
Deb Taft: “Build networks and coalitions of others committed to equity and meaningfully engage – go deep vs spreading too thin. If you are a white cisgender ally, this gives you inputs and data to make better and different decisions; if you are a leader of diverse lived experiences, this creates support and strength in numbers, to reach tipping points. “Change your feed” – on social media, what you read, what you listen to, with whom you engage – to ensure a true diversity of proximate voices and insights to inform your thinking every day. Never stop seeing your own biases. Join a Board, bring allies, and take measurable actions to change that Board and that organization. If you are in a leadership role or on a Board, put an equity lens on everything you do – not just the big decisions, but the everyday ones that keep organizations in their ruts. Vow to hand your leadership on to diverse and proximate leaders, and don’t settle. And be very comfortable being uncomfortable in order to create equity for those who have suffered with inequity for far too long.“
Learn more about each of these unstoppable women by joining us for our 26th Academy of Women Achievers Celebration.
May 25, 2021
11:30AM – 1:30PM
About YW Boston
As the first YWCA in the nation, YW Boston has been at the forefront of advancing equity for over 150 years. Through our DE&I services—InclusionBoston and LeadBoston—as well as our advocacy work and F.Y.R.E. Initiative, we help individuals and organizations change policies, practices, attitudes, and behaviors with a goal of creating more inclusive environments where women, people of color, and especially women of color can succeed.
As part of that work, we are helping organizations prioritize Diversity, Equity & Inclusion and become socially connected while staying physically distant. During this time, YW Boston is providing organizations with digital workshops and resources to help them better understand the challenges faced by their employees. For more information, please contact Sheera Bornstein at firstname.lastname@example.org.