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 Maura Women Helping Women Award Recipient:
Cheryl Polote Williamson, filmmaker, author, speaker & entrepreneurial activator
1. When did you first become interested in giving back/social justice and how did your formative experiences influence your charitable work?
My father is one of the hardest-working men I know. I watched him take childhood dreams and relentlessly labor to make them a reality. Now with a multimillion-dollar international construction firm, he is one of the most respected businessmen I’ve ever seen. Even more impressive, he is respected more for what he has given than what he has made. My father influenced both my entrepreneurial and philanthropic spirit. For years, I watched my father work hard to actualize his dreams. At the same time, he made taking care of his family and giving to—and taking care of—others even more of a priority. I share in his legacy of giving. I am a strong advocate of women and women’s issues. I support women whether disenfranchised or business owners, through resources, trainings, programs, and grants.
2. How has your business leadership experience impacted/informed your work building nonprofits and supporting communities?
I am a servant-leader, always looking for ways to expand my platform to support, assist, and uplift others. I have successfully ushered more than 500 individuals into thriving entrepreneurship. I use the same expertise and influence to support the underserved through lectures, classes, summits and conferences on leadership, entrepreneurship, money management and etiquette. As a bestselling author with a books-to-business platform, I lend this experience to my foundation by teaching individuals how to tell their story and leverage it into business opportunities. Additionally, my foundation supports communities through food and clothing drives, and cares for women, children, and families in need.
Using my business leadership savvy, through the help of partnerships with other community leaders, influencers, and volunteers, my foundation focuses on transforming the lives of disadvantaged, disenfranchised, and previously incarcerated women by educating and equipping them with the tools for life and business. Since its launch in January of 2019, my organization has supported the personal and professional development needs of women who have experienced significant trials, along with the well-being and social needs of multiple communities—and has served more than 10,000 women and children, as well as essential and front-line workers during the pandemic.
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, Annie Lou Polote. Before there was real estate school, she owned houses that she rented out to tenants. She was an entrepreneur, which inevitably influenced my father to become one. He, in turn, influenced my entrepreneurial spirit.
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 support the words of the late Honorable Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “Women belong in places where decisions are being made.” I lead with this belief in mind. I create with this thought in mind. I am notorious for creating space for other women at every table I’m invited to and creating tables for women where no invitation was given. I recently launched a magazine for women, about women, by women, that uplifts the voices of capable, daring, inspiring, yet unsung women who spark change on the local, national, and international level. I am a staunch advocate of women supporting women and certainly of women in leadership. I believe in the importance of women-led organizations. Not only am I an active, vocal, influential member of three of the largest, most prestigious women-led organizations, I “practice what I preach” within my own organizations by having a majority of women on the Board within my foundation, and by providing monthly grants to women in business and women in media through my other companies.
5. How should companies think about charitable giving? How can they ensure that they’re directing their dollars to organizations that will remain accountable?
Do your research to reveal organizations that are doing the work and have a history of proven accountability. Study how an organization is structured, their connections, endorsements, their track record, accomplishments and accolades. Fully transparent, highly proactive organizations with proven sustainable work ethic and accountability are what companies should look for when considering how and where to direct their charitable dollars.
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.
Next up: Jin-Ya Huang
Back to News & Insights