Earlier this year, before Virginia Moore passed the torch to current president Anastasia Teague, they both sat down with YWA membership to answer questions about their journey with the organization, how they’ve developed as leaders, and what it takes to run an all-volunteer organization with grace and professionalism.
Virginia joined YWA just after moving to Austin in 2015. She didn’t know anyone yet, was working from home, and wanted to meet other women in the city.
Anastasia, on the other hand, had been in Austin for years — but found she knew only people in her own industry. “I wanted to expand my network with women who were both career-minded and community-minded,” she said.
How do you go from membership to board president? Virginia and Anastasia had similar stories… and it starts with being a committee chair. Both women applied to be a committee chair despite not being sure exactly what it involved. But they knew it sounded like a good way to get involved with the organization and meet more people.
Those chair roles led to VP roles, and then president-elect. “I think of it like building blocks,” Virginia said. “The whole journey has led to new opportunities along the way.”
Their stories are a testament to the mission of the organization: to support, empower, and connect women.
“Vanessa [Fuentes, a former YWA president] saw something in me that I really didn’t see in myself,” said Virginia.
One of the most important things a board member does, she said, is to identify other strong leaders in the organization and encourage them to get more involved — just like Vanessa did for her. “Strong leaders inspire other people to lead,” Anastasia said.
What it Takes to Lead
Leading the board of an all-volunteer organization is a lot of work, and not a decision to be taken lightly. Anastasia weighed the decision carefully and talked to her husband about what the implications might be on her time. Ultimately, they decided she should go for it.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity to make a difference,” Anastasia said.
But it can be overwhelming at first. There’s a lot to keep up with, and that’s on top of a full-time job. Virginia pointed out that, to be a strong leader in YWA, above all, you need to be super organized. Then, there’s the classic leadership skills like having a strong vision and being a clear communicator. Finally, you have to think about the environment you’re creating for your board and their committees.
When everyone’s a volunteer, you have to create an environment that’s “fun and inspiring for everyone,” she said.
Anastasia adds: “You have to prove that you’re able to get things done through other people.”
Leading Through Crisis
As Virginia reflected on her year as president, she noted the challenges that come with the things you could never have anticipated — a worldwide pandemic, for instance. “And now I can add crisis communications to my resume!”
But COVID-19 opened up some new opportunities for the group, too, so Virginia and her board members set out to make the best of it.
“Every single person on the board had such a positive attitude about this new reality. That’s a testament to just how incredible our members are,” Virginia said. “It really inspired me.”
While two of YWA’s major annual events — One Night in Vegas and AU40 (with YMBL) — had to be cancelled due to the virus, other programming was moved online quickly, and the addition of a members-only Slack group gave members a new way to connect in a predominantly virtual world.
“Experimentation is huge,” said Virginia. “This new digital era allows for us to fail fast.”
Hard Work, Big Rewards
Every new step leads to a new opportunity, whether it’s proving your leadership skills at work or finding your passion for a new path forward.
“People at my company do know that I’m involved in YWA, and I think it has led to a lot of opportunities there,” said Virginia.
She sees a lot of personal growth in herself over the past five years, she said, “and watching other board members grow, too, has been incredibly rewarding.”
“My network is so much bigger because of YWA. My world is bigger because of YWA. I see a totally different future for myself because of this experience.”
Virginia and Anastasia will serve for the 2020-2021 board year as Past President and President, respectively.
About the Young Women’s Alliance
YWA is an organization for young professional women to come together as a community to empower and support one another through social and professional events as well as community service in the Austin area.