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.
Hattie Hill, President & CEO at the T.D. Jakes Foundation
1. We know how important exposure and role models are to women and underrepresented communities. Who was one of your most important role models and why?
It’s critical that we find role models and put them together with organizations like the Girl Scouts, so young girls can have exposure to them. They need to be able to learn and to have role models, especially in a field that is new and emerging, that they don’t even know exists. There are certain jobs that women and girls often have no idea of. If you think about it, we, boys and girls, are born with the same aptitude. Why is it that we have more men in those jobs than girls? It’s because girls haven’t had as much opportunity to see and get comfortable with these careers. I have a lot of girls who say they are afraid of math and technology, and so that’s why these types of organizations are critical to leveling the playing field.
I’ve had someone who invested in my success or mentored me at every stage of my life. It started with my mother. I am one of six girls raised on a farm by a single mom in Arkansas. We were very poor. Early on, my mother was big on education. She would say, ‘you know, I may not know how to give this to you but I want to put you in a place where you are with people who can give you that knowledge.’ We had organizations like the Girl Scouts and other community organizations, so I was able to at least see that there was something better. If you can help just one person in a family, especially in communities of color, you often find that it will change the entire trajectory of the family, and that’s what organizations like Girl Scouts will do.
2. 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?
One way is by actively reaching out to communities of color. I believe that Girl Scouts of Northeast Texas CEO Jennifer Bartkowski has made a real difference by focusing on this. She is looking for partners like the T.D. Jakes Foundation that serve a diverse community. The leaders of organizations must get out and find places in the community for exposure. If you think of the Girl Scouts’ STEM camp, when I was visiting, I was just amazed at the number of girls of color in the program, so that tells me that her efforts are getting results.
3. Why is it important to introduce girls to STEM education?
I think it’s important for girls to be introduced to STEM education or STEAM because we don’t have the numbers. I mean, if you look at the statistics, we literally do not have the numbers of women and girls in the STEAM and STEM fields. To do that, my boss Bishop T.D. Jakes says all the time that ‘girls can’t be what they don’t see,’ and I totally believe that and so, for us, it’s critical that we and put those two together so they can see it.
4. What does it take to be successful as a woman in your field?
I spent my whole career in basically a male-dominated space in corporate America, working with CEOs. It’s about the network and learning from other people so you can continue to move forward, but, most importantly, you should always remember that it’s not just about you because you have to be a role model for the next generation of leaders still fighting for a space and place in our society. That gives me the energy to wake up every morning.
5. Why is it important to invest in girls?
It’s important to invest in girls because, if you think about what our communities need for us to be economically sound and fully whole, everyone has to participate in educating and engaging with them. Business leaders should recognize that these young women are the people who are going to come in and make a difference for an organization, so that’s a reason to invest. It’s also creating role models to, again, keep that cycle going. We owe it to them to make a difference in our community every day, and a healthy community makes a healthy economy and world.
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