Holly Decole Ashley
New Executive Director, CWLI
The University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, for both undergrad (Human Services Management) and graduate (MBA) studies.
What is your favorite aspect of being a leader?
I love bridging the gaps in our community—connecting people and businesses to the resources they need to succeed. This theme has emerged over the course of my career in many different ways, whether it’s communicating a message about an important social issue, raising funds to create a lasting community impact, or supporting initiatives to improve the economic vitality of our city. I enjoy being in a position to survey needs, identify solutions and most importantly engage others in action to address those needs. Once you’re in that position to make real change—especially as a woman—I believe it’s your duty to help others get there too. That’s what I love about leadership, specifically at CWLI.
What advice do you have for women aspiring to be leaders in their field?
Do not give up. I repeat—do NOT give up. If you want it bad enough, then you can find a way to reach your goals. It won’t be easy and the path sure isn’t straight or even obvious most of the time. You will likely have to change jobs or even cities, but as long as you keep yourself in the game, you will get there.
I personally believe that no experience—job, educational endeavor, even personal hardship—is wasted. Been discriminated against? Educate yourself on the resources available to you to fight it and next time you’ll be armed with ways to protect yourself against toxic people and cultures. Personal crisis? Afterwards, you’ll find you’ve developed more empathy and become more resilient to future difficulties. Lost a job? The process of seeking new employment or even changing careers will most certainly help you develop the grit you might have been lacking. So do the work, learn from your personal experiences, take that class, and keep a positive attitude that all the effort is preparing you for those future leadership positions.
Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader?
One of my previous female supervisors.
What do you see as the biggest challenge facing female leaders today?
Breaking culturally ingrained gender stereotypes and to stop talking ourselves out of opportunities.
Approximately how long have you been involved with CWLI?
I had attended a Leadership Luncheon earlier in the year, but was not a member of CWLI prior to accepting this position. Quite honestly, I had only heard about the organizations from a few colleagues in passing and didn’t fully understand all the benefits of membership—like mentorship, financial literacy, policy education, leadership studies, and networking with some of the city’s most amazing women leaders. It wasn’t until I was encouraged to apply for this position and began researching CWLI and speaking to its members that I understood what a resource it is. So now it’s my job to make sure other women know about us!
With what other community organizations/activities are you involved?
I volunteer regularly with my daughter’s school, the Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, as President of their Strings fundraising committee and Vice President of the Friends of CSLA Fund. I also serve on on YMCA’s Youth Leadership Chattanooga committee, providing programming support for their Economic Development Day activities, and I serve as volunteer coordinator for the regional First Lego League (FLL) robotics competition. This year, I’ve enjoyed volunteering a bit with a few local political candidates, who all happen to be women. Additionally, my husband and I support the work of the Partnership’s Sexual Assault Center, our local NPR station (WUTC 88.1), and United Way of Greater Chattanooga through modest financial contributions.
What initiatives are you excited to tackle with CWLI?
Our organization has experienced tremendous growth recently, especially in the number of members and in the brand equity CWLI holds. I am focused on sustaining that growth and value while creating metrics that will demonstrate the impact our programming has on the community.
There is value in knowing what the leadership gaps are in Chattanooga for women, identifying how we are meeting the needs within those gaps, and what additional work needs to be done to improve our service delivery model.
What changes do you hope to see in the organization as it grows?
I would like to continue working to attract a diverse group of women to CWLI—those from different life experiences, economic stations, career levels, and ambitions. Sometimes there are financial or social barriers to accessing resources like ours and I would like to work on removing those barriers so we can develop more women leaders.
What strides do you think members can take to make more of a difference in women’s leadership issues in the local community?
Don’t be afraid to speak up and expect to be valued for what you’re worth—professionally and personally.
Don’t be afraid to share your story with other women. Although each of our members’ personal and professional stories are unique, there are common themes of barriers knocked down, wins and losses, and tips on how to handle each…these stories help other women navigate their own leadership journey.
How would you best describe the benefits found in joining this organization?
One of the greatest benefits of CWLI membership is it gives you access to women leaders from a broad spectrum of professional backgrounds and personal experiences. It’s like having unlimited access to a personal career coach. Since we have a wide variety of programming and no engagement requirements, members can choose to access only those programs that work for them. Additionally, each engagement is inspiring—reenergizing you for the work that lies ahead.
To read more about Holly, head on over to the blog.