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An Interview with Maria Chavez Wilcox, CEO of YWCA Seattle


Maria Chavez-Wilcox is the Chief Executive Officer of the YWCA Seattle King Snohomish chapter. As the first Latina CEO of the organization, she holds over 30 years of experience as a nonprofit leader, social services advocate, community leader, and philanthropist. We had the honor of asking Maria some questions about her personal and professional journey, her work, and her insights on women (especially women of color) taking leadership roles.








Q: Can you tell us a few formative professional experiences and relationships that led you to your role today?

MCW: I held several national leadership positions, and led teams for United Way across the country for many years. I was also only one of four BIPOC women in the entire country represented in the leadership ranks.


Q: How have your experiences as a Latina and as an immigrant shaped your approach to the work that you’ve done, that you currently do, and your leadership?

MCW: As a small child, I crossed the border with my single mother with nothing but a few items of clothing and my teddy bear.

It wasn't until later in life that I realized the full impact of how much she had to sacrifice to bring me to the USA from Peru. In honor of my Mom and all BIPOC women, I am committed to making a difference for all the other little BIPOC girls in our country and those still battling our borders!


Q: What motivated you to step up and become a leader in your organization?

MCW: Is there any other option? Not for me! 


Q: What are some of the key issues and priorities that your agency is tackling right now? 

MCW: Combatting racism and striving for social justice (that all people should have equitable access to wealth, health, well-being, and opportunity regardless of their legal, political, economic, or other circumstances); navigating the politically charged environment in which we operate; meeting the escalating needs of women we serve despite having reduced resources to fully carry out our mission. 


Q: How do you push for change around ideas that are new, or not that popular? 

MCW: By setting the example, using my voice, advocacy, and engagement at all levels. 


Q: How can women support other women in their organizations?

MCW: Help them identify and overcome barriers they are encountering. I mentor and lift up women to the best of my ability in both my professional work and personal affiliations.


Q: What advice would you give to the next generation of female leaders, or young women who are looking to enter your field?

MCW: Be bold and take risks! Seeking security and quieting your voice is not the answer. Roar and stand confidently in your beliefs and give them the power of your voice! Seek out women mentors you respect and have a good support network of women around you.

As Stacey Abrams says, "We are not assured victory, but we all have a responsibility to act!" I would add not only for ourselves, but those following in our footsteps.


We are grateful for trailblazing leaders like Maria Chavez-Wilcox in the work of achieving gender equality and gender justice through an intersectional lens! To learn more about Maria Chavez-Wilcox, read her profile at the YWCA website and her profile written by the Puget Sound Business Journal



*Image owned by YWCA USA.

**Responses edited for clarity.