Leadership Corner Blog
Each month the CWL newsletter will spotlight one of our amazing Alumnae, staff, or Board members as an opportunity to share their leadership story along with encouraging words of wisdom.
Our first guest was Rachel Gowland who is a 2013 New Leadership Oregon (NLO) alumnae and NLO Alumnae Committee Chair, working in fundraising now at Reed College. We spoke with Rachel about her NLO experience and how this experience transformed her life.
CWL: When and how did you decide to apply to NLO?
Rachel: I ended up applying to NLO because, one day I was hanging out in at Student Union building of University of Oregon and I saw Mariana Lindsay, former CWL Executive Director. I knew her from Portland. She said, she was running this program called NLO. So, I applied and it was the most life-changing program I have ever been through.
CWL: Did you decide to apply right away?
Rachel: When I applied it was at a time when I was wanting to expand my leadership capacity. I was applying to a variety of things. The year before, I had done a program at the Bus Project, where I was a PolitiCorps Fellow. I didn’t apply super intentionally but I thought it would be fun. I remember, on the first day, there was an alumna, who said this program will change your life. But even then, I was kind of like “really, though”. But at the end of the program, I felt like it baptized me and I am still here.
CWL: How life changing was it?
Rachel: Well, I am still here. That is truly all I have to say. I am never, never not going to be involved in the Center for Women’s Leadership because the Center gave me the permission to step into my own leadership potential. I also have a lot of wonderful friends, who are even going to be at my wedding that I have stayed in touched with.
CWL: How were the days at NLO for you? Is there any moment that you still remember during those days?
Rachel: A particular training stands out to me the most from this experience. We had a training on equity. Prior to that, I had participated in a lot of trainings about understanding my own white privilege and understanding oppression. But at that point I was sort of stuck in a “now what” place. I was like “what am I going to do with this information?” None of the information that I had received up to that point was really clarified. But, she played a game with us which ended up being a very emotional exercise. The trainer said something that I will never forget, “When you have privilege, your privilege is like a key, don’t carry this key with shame, don’t hide the key, or throw away the key, but use the key to open the door.” When she said “Use the key to open the door.” That, I think, was a really important lightning bolt moment for how I understood my privilege. I think what it did was that it framed how I viewed the whole conversation moving forward in other arenas too. It was just really life changing moment and I cannot often quote people.
CWL: Would you like to say something to women out there who have not been at NLO yet?
Rachel: Do it, apply is all I have to say. If you have any questions, apply. I feel like I have advice for people who have got through the program too.
CWL: So, what now? After this experience, how things have changed for you?
Rachel: Previously, I worked in politics in a time when there were conversations about how women are treated. On the one hand, we have a historical number of women elected to state wide offices, State Houses and Senate seats, and a historically diverse group of people as well. At the same time, we had our first ever campaign in Oregon successfully unionized as Campaign workers and singed a contract. On the other hand, we are having a lot of conversation about sexual harassment in Salem. I think, by having the network and connections that I have at the Center for Women’s Leadership, I found a lot of support in doing various things that I have done. I went down to the Capitol in December and testified on a particular work group about enforcing better standards at the Capitol. I did not testify using my story but I read the testimony of someone else who could not be there. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to speak out if I did not have resources like the Center for Women’s Leadership. It can be really scary to speak out to things like that.
Rachel: My biggest piece of advice is that often times, early in your career, you go through a lot of obstacles as a young person. You may be get looked down on at work and it can be a struggle to be heard. There can be a lot of self-doubt which is what it was for me. As a woman, we tend to take adversity as a sign that we are not meant for something and I want to encourage the women out there. I encourage you to take it as a sign that you are meant for something and that you are being prepared for it. Just because you face adversity it does not mean that anything is wrong with you. Often times it is just the world you are being prepared for; for what comes next and being even more qualified to handle situations in the future. I know that I needed to hear this when I was younger. I encourage you to take it as a sign that you are meant for something and you are being prepared for it. I want to shout that message from rooftops because I think everyone needs to know it.