Women’s Fund of Greater Chattanooga, Executive Director
Women of Color Collaborative, Co-Conspirator
Tennessee State University, B.A
Vanderbilt University, M.Ed
A little about Erika…
Erika R. Burnett recently relocated to Chattanooga to serve as the Executive Director of the Women’s Fund of Greater Chattanooga whose mission is to improve the lives and overall well being of women and girls across TN. She enjoys serving as a master trainer, consultant, and facilitator across a variety of topics including strategic planning and board development, civic engagement, youth development, leadership exploration, and understanding and working across lines of difference. Most recently, Erika alongside Co-Conspirator Nicole Kemp, launched the Women of Color Collaborative. The Collaborative serves as an intentional incubator for women, curating supportive spaces and opportunities for collaborators to work, play and build together while centering their identity.
What motivates you?
Watching others learn, grow and expand their understanding of self and the world around them motivates me. I’m an educator. Equipping others and being able to engage in conversations/processes that move us towards creating the “world as it should be” sparks my drive, passion and creativity.
When you’re not working, where and how do you spend your time?
Right now the majority of my brain cells are being monopolized by the small human I’m growing. When I’m not reading blogs or making lists associated with childbirth/motherhood, I enjoy hiking with my partner, cooking and supporting women, especially women of color through the curation of various identity-centric learning and social spaces.
What advice do you have for women aspiring to be leaders in their field?
Identify your core guiding principles and live those principles every single day. Leadership starts first with owning your power. In order to own your power, you must identify your own value proposition internally. A strong compass will always guide you to where you are meant to be if you create room for yourself.
Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Why and how did this person impact your life?
Two of my elders (I call them my sister-auntie-girlfriends) come to mind: Deniece Ferguson & Kawema. Both of these women taught me important lessons: 1. how a job and sector will deplete you if you allow it and 2. the value and impact of women supporting women. I witnessed first hand how burnout robbed not only organizations, but our communities of additional greatness each of them had to offer. I also have the privilege of being the recipient of their engulfing protection, support and transformative love both in and out of the workplace.
What has been your proudest moment in your career?
Getting fired. I was terminated from my executive level position with a nonprofit after opposing budget and expansion decisions the board made, against my recommendations. Ultimately, although I was not present to see it happen, the commotion caused as part of my departure, shifted the trajectory for my previous staff by equalizing their workload and freezing (rather than decreasing) their pay. Additionally, the team used my wrongful termination as an opportunity for them to advocate for themselves with the new leadership in ways that had not previously attempted. Most gratifying termination ever!
What strides do you think members can take to make more of a difference in women’s leadership issues in the local community?
Share their stories. Understand policy issues that impact day-to-day realities of women outside of your circle/lived experience.
How would you best describe the benefit found in joining this organization?
That is still to be discovered. However, todate, I have enjoyed being surrounded by smart, dedicated, collaborative women who are committed not only to their own growth, but to the development of the women around them.