Behind the career: Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat

May 25

Position: President and chief executive of Washington Area Women’s Foundation, a District-based organization that supports low-income women and girls in the Washington region.

Jennifer Lockwood-Shabat became interested in issues affecting women and girls when she was young. She started her career as a legislative analyst for Women’s Policy Inc., a bipartisan caucus for the women members of Congress. After 10 years helping to craft the legislative agenda there, she moved to an organization that advocates for women’s reproductive health before arriving at the Washington Area Women’s Foundation, where she will now take the helm.

What’s been the greatest advice you’ve received from a mentor?

Women’s Policy Inc. was an incredibly flexible workplace, and I was afraid of losing that flexibility. A mentor there, the executive director, pushed me. She said I was ready to move to the next level and that she felt she was holding me back. “I can’t give you what you need. It’s time for Mama Bird to push you out of the nest.” That was a hard conversation in many ways, but when I look back at it, it was absolutely the right conversation. It showed me the power of taking risks. It’s okay to step out and do the uncomfortable, because there’s great learning in doing that.

How have you grown most as a leader since your earlier days?

Being a mom has changed how I view myself as a leader. It’s very important that I walk the walk of the talk that I’m talking. It’s important that I model it not only for my children, but for the staff. You can do this work, and you can be all in and give it everything you have, and still have a very fulfilling life outside of work. You do make sacrifices along the way. There’s a way to do it to be balanced. You can be all in your career but not lose sight of home at the same time.

What’s the key to being successful in that balance?

It’s not perfect but I’m incredibly lucky in that I have a husband who is 50/50 with me in this work. The moments when I have to be 70 percent at work and 30 at home, he picks up that other percentage. And vice-a-versa. I’m fortunate that I’m surrounded by family, friends and co-workers who step up and make it possible.

One of the things here at the foundation is that we’re very focused on work-life balance. Our policies here demonstrate that in terms of the flexibility and paid time off. We encourage a workplace environment where people have the ability to do what they need to do and it doesn’t always have to be in the office nine to five.

What kind of leadership does working in women and children advocacy demand?

Something important to me is being able to build bridges. This region is home to some of the most wealthy and educated people in the country. At the same time, we also have pretty depressing statistics of the number of women living in poverty. How do you build a community that bridges the divide between those two? I also think that when people say “women’s issues,” it pigeonholes the work. The reality is that all issues are women’s issues. It’s not only about women, but we need the men in our community to join in the work and hear their voices. It’s not just one entity or one nonprofit or one government program that’s going to eradicate poverty. It will take all of us working together to ensure that women and girls can stand on their own and be economically secure in this community.

What are the reasons why leaders might not embrace that fully?

Collaboration and partnership is a really hard thing to do. It takes time, and it’s really hard work to build up those partnerships to take the work to the next level. If we’re going to find the solution that moves the needle on poverty in this region, that’s what it will take. Often times nonprofits don’t necessarily have the time to operate in that space.

What book are you reading?

“Scarcity: Why Having Too Little Means So Much” [by Sendhil Mullainathan]. It’s a very powerful book about scarcity of time and resources. It’s about very busy people not having enough time and being very harried and stressed. As you get into the book, you realize we all make decisions based on scarcity. He makes a powerful case of how and why people make decisions that they do in times of scarcity. It’s been an eye-opening and intriguing book for me to read and something I would like to share with the staff.

— Interview with Vanessa Small

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