Take Five with Diana Mao


The T.D. Jakes Foundation (TDJF) is a proud sponsor of the Texas Women’s Foundation Women Leadership Forum & Awards Celebration, which honors female leaders and trailblazers making a difference in their communities through the Maura Women Helping Women and Young Leader Awards. TDJF president and CEO Hattie Hill will serve as a co-chair of the virtual event, hosted on April 29, 2021. In advance of the program, we asked honorees to share their experiences as female leaders in the business and nonprofit worlds and highlight steps we can all take to further advance gender equity in the workplace.

2021 Young Leader Award Recipient:

Diana Mao, Global Crusader & Protector Against Human Trafficking

1. When did you first become interested in giving back/social justice and how did your formative experiences influence your charitable work?

My grandmother, who is now 106 years old, was always very involved with her church. She served on her church Board. When I was 15, she began sending me on volunteer mission trips to the slums of Mexico, Egypt, and Brazil every summer.  This opened my eyes to the harsh realities of the cycles of poverty that children all over the world face.

When I went to college, I actually questioned my degree in economics because, deep down, I knew I wanted to make a difference in the world after graduation. Then, while traveling in Cambodia for a microfinance fellowship, I met a father who offered his youngest daughter to my male colleague. He was clearly desperate but felt that he had no other options for survival. After witnessing this, I was determined to do as much as I could to stop trafficking.

2. How has your business leadership experience impacted/informed your work building nonprofits and supporting communities?

I earned my BA in Business Economics from the University of California, Santa Barbara in Business Economics, and my MPA in International Management from the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. I always loved solving problems and advanced in the field of management consulting before launching my non-profit organization. I always had a burning desire in my heart to make a difference in the world. I am grateful that I get to use my education to do so. I like staying open to my team’s ideas and encourage them to use their voices and share their opinions. I consider myself to be a visionary and democratic leader because I’m interested in building personal relationships and rallying our team around our common mission to help vulnerable women and girls. Nurturing relationships is also what helps keep Nomi Network afloat for so many reasons: it helps us to expand our field partners, reach more women to serve, and maintain meaningful relationships with foundations who have invested in our organization and who are eager to see our labor come into fruition.

I know that working with survivors of trafficking can be a heavy emotional burden, so I’ve made a point of hiring women who have an intrinsic passion for the work we do. We support our team with lots of team building and open communication.

3. We know how important exposure and role models are to women and underrepresented communities. Who was one of your most important early role models and why?

 My grandmother has been one of my most important role models.  She has always been rooted firmly in her faith and has put it into practice in her life. She exercised her deep empathy and would often invite homeless people to Thanksgiving dinners at our home.

I also admired Kathy Ireland as a personal mentor. After she left her modeling career, I admired her persistence as she shifted to selling Kathy Ireland branded socks. She never gave up and kept pursuing and expanding her business goals. I admire her philanthropic spirit and the way she fights for people at all stages and places in life.

4. To create diversity, equity and inclusion at all levels, businesses need to lead by example. How do you lead by example and how can we advocate for women and ensure we are represented in leadership positions and on corporate boards?

As a minority Asian-American woman, I know firsthand the importance of creating an inclusive workplace and know the benefits that companies gain when they employ a diverse staff.  At Nomi Network, we are female-led and the majority of our staff are women from a variety of ethnicities and backgrounds.

We employ individuals and organizations who reflect the race, ethnicity, and culture of each unique community we serve. Our mentors and advocates reflect the demographics of our program participants, allowing each person served to see herself represented in a meaningful way. In addition to this representation within our staff, our curriculum includes training around racial/ ethnic identity in which we provide direction for how to navigate workplace biases and discrimination. These efforts help program participants to overcome barriers in the workplace. As we train women, they often become mentors to new trainees, creating a new cycle of healing in place of old cycles of exploitation.

5. How should companies think about charitable giving? How can they ensure that they’re directing their dollars to organizations that will remain accountable?

It’s important for companies to establish their impact metrics, not just output. Output is how many people received access to books, school supplies, or education? Output may vary from company to company, as they all have their own theories of change. While looking at output numbers might be attractive to measure success, impact is what truly demonstrates that an organization is making a difference. Our theory of change is that if you train a woman using our curriculum, she will earn income, save money and invest into the lives of her children, breaking the generational cycles of human trafficking in hot-spot areas. We have seen this hold true in the training sites where we operate. Companies can ensure that they are directing dollars to organizations that remain accountable by working collaboratively to determine their collective impact and encourage candid conversations around impact metrics, challenges, and opportunities. When the impact is being reached, companies should take a partnership approach to helping organizations scale their impact.

Visit the Texas Women’s Foundation’s Leadership Forum & Awards Celebration website to learn about the Maura Women Helping Women and Young Leader award winners, register for the event and support the cause.


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