Building Connection Through Workplace Community | By: Andrea Lovanhill In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day, we’ve asked the Committee for Children Executive Leadership Team to reflect on their personal journeys, the women who’ve shaped them along the way, and how they’re working to break biases. Our first post is from CEO Andrea Lovanhill. When I was in high school, one of my first jobs was at a movie theater. I can still remember the smell of fresh buttery popcorn, the sticky floors that were impossible to clean, and the buzz of excitement that came with the release of a new film. I worked alongside half a dozen other high schoolers, a patchwork crew from different cultural and economic backgrounds who were all connected by a passion for film—and I loved it. One of the greatest lessons I learned while working at that tiny theater in Kentucky was how powerful a community can be when it’s strengthened by a deep connection. Even further, I learned the importance of actively choosing work that is engaging and meaningful to me, and to have that workplace and staff community actively choose me. Decades ago, it was the magic of cinema and community that drove my engagement. Today, it’s the safety and well-being of children. Looking back, it seems natural that I found this sense of purpose and connection in work that supports social-emotional health and educational opportunity for children. My grandmother, Verna, and my grandfather, James, both raised me with the distinct belief that I could be anyone and do anything I wanted if I was willing to show up and work hard for it. My grandmother was a guiding force in my life, and she taught me the importance of setting concrete goals and pursuing my education in ways that would build toward those goals even when it felt challenging. Most importantly, she taught me to put people first, and that every human is deserving of a healthy life lived with dignity and a sense of belonging. This was something she learned early in her career as a nurse. She used to say that having to work with patients throughout a spectrum of emotions and experiences while demonstrating professionalism and kindness made her a better person. The work was so rewarding that she just retired last year—after 63 years of nursing. My grandmother also taught me how to navigate my own professional life with resilience and empathy, growing even in challenging situations. She was a source of learning for me then and remains so now. Without the support system provided by my grandmother and other strong women I’ve met along my journey, my path to achieve my personal and professional goals—and build the life I hoped for—would have been cut short. As I advanced into leadership positions over the course of my career, I witnessed a sharp decrease in diversity of race, gender, and socioeconomic background, as well as a lack of commitment to building equitable solutions to bridge those gaps. I became hyperaware of every meeting where I was the only known member of the LGBTQ+ community in the room, or when there were no company leaders of color, or when a person was denied an opportunity due to their economic, cultural, or religious background. When we foster belonging, advocate for equity, and promote diversity, we commit to a shared vision that ensures everyone thrives. My hometown of Bowling Green, while experiencing poverty rates at twice the national average, is also home to a thriving university with programs that attract students from around the world. It has also acted as a resettlement community for refugees and asylum seekers for more than 40 years, and is one reason why breaking bias, amplifying and uplifting others, and creating safe, equitable, and inclusive spaces remains foundational to my personal and professional values. I believe social engagement, relationship building, and community-wide support are fundamental to a creating a positive workplace where others succeed. While pursuing my master’s degree at University of Washington, my program gave me the opportunity to build connections with a network of people who could support one another in our careers through ups and downs. Through that program, I saw a pathway to creating safe professional spaces where we can build strong relationships and trust with each other and that is what I seek to foster wherever my career takes me. As my grandmother used to say, it’s best to “choose work where caring for people and making a difference is the most important thing.” Whether you’re cleaning sticky floors in a tiny theater or presenting concepts in the boardroom, remember to always listen to that voice inside that tells you to seek joy and fulfillment in your work and to recognize how much of that stems from supportive, affirming connections with your workplace community. Here at Committee for Children, we’re fond of saying that all learning is social and emotional. But learning isn’t something that stops when you graduate. People learn with and from each other over the course of their lives, and for many of us a huge part of that happens in the workplace. In my opinion, it is just as valid to say all work is social and emotional. That’s a huge part of what makes us human.