The T.D. Jakes Foundation (TDJF) is a proud sponsor of the Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas’ 2021 Women of Distinction, which honors female leaders—from high schoolers to adults (including our own president and CEO Hattie Hill)—who have blazed a trail in their fields. In advance of the celebration, we’ve asked these extraordinary women and young women to share their experiences and offer advice for how to further advance equality in the workplace.
Cris Zertuche Wong, Senior Vice President at Goldman Sachs
1. When did you first become interested in giving back and how did your formative experiences influence your charitable work?
I’m an advocate for women, girls, for people with Alzheimer’s, so I’ve learned how to prioritize those things in that order. I think like most people, I learned it (giving back) at home seeing it through my parents. I think philanthropy is at the heart of Hispanic culture, it’s not always about writing the check. It’s about helping family and your neighbors, and your church. My mom used to make tamales to raise scholarships for young Hispanic kids, she would help sew dresses for our church and I saw those things. At the time, I didn’t necessarily equate that to charitable philanthropy but that’s where it starts, it starts at the home. From there, as I became more surrounded by women that had the same values, I saw that giving back becomes more important. You start to recognize how those programs personally help you and I was a beneficiary of so many of those organizations that help us today. I participated in Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls club after-school program. I received a scholarship from the Hispanic Communicators of Dallas. Those have been milestones in my childhood and career that have stuck with me, and its why I give today.
2. How has your business leadership experience impacted/informed your work building nonprofits and supporting communities?
I think that with young girls, the programs that Girl Scouts offer are teaching them to go into the community and, you know, even when I think about Scout cookies—those are valuable skills that I think we carry on with throughout our lives. It’s important to have fortitude, resilience, and compassion when working within an organization or being in a leadership position.
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 parents moved my family from East Los Angeles to Texas to get away from the harsh environment. I have five siblings and all except for me went to live with my Aunt in Texas. Due to the financial situation, my parents and I lived in the Arlin Motel in Arlington, Texas. And across the street from it was a rec center. To get out for fresh air, my mom would take me to the center, and that’s where I met my first ever Girl Scouts club that I was ever involved with. It was a safe place and environment that I could connect with girls my age. It brought my mom a sense of security and consistency for me. Twenty-five years later, I was living in Mexico and moved back to Texas and enrolled my daughter in Girl Scouts. At the time, she didn’t speak English but her leader was bi-lingual and connected with her.
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?
I love the mission of Girl Scouts, building girls with character, confidence, and courage. I love that because those are the type of values that we want our girls to have, especially girls of color and underrepresented women. I tell people all the time that Girl Scouts is a leadership development program. You learn how to have self-empowerment, be a leader, and many other skills. It’s one of those programs that will carry you through life. I still carry those values through my work today and instill those values into my daughters. It’s very important that we show girls that they are the future. Empowered women have some level of influence and a platform. If you’re not using those to help others, then I don’t think you’re a champion. We have to create a space to empower other women and be involved in the women’s network.
5. How should companies think about charitable giving? How can they ensure that they’re directing their dollars to organizations that will remain accountable?
I sat down with a mentor of mine and said I want to get back into the corporate business world. Every day I think it’s an organization that is just built for and thrives on excellence. I think people are surprised, sometimes, when I talk about the code for Goldman and describe it as collaborative and consensus-driven. Everyone that comes across our business is always amazed by how Goldman leverages its brand not just for commercial and economic purposes and the impact it may have around the world to better communities. We have an amazing program for entrepreneurs; we have an amazing program for women entrepreneurs; we have Community Days and we have 100% matching programs with strong foundations.
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