Debbie Esparza

CEO, YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix

I try to come into spaces as my authentic self, full of love and joy. This encourages others to share the lead and co-create.

Why do you believe honoring achievement is important?

Honoring achievement is important, and what is even more important to me at this stage in my life is being able to activate that achievement for the betterment of the community, not just for self. This honor brings awareness for the entire team of staff and volunteers at YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix, not just for me. It’s about sharing the achievement and translating it into action

We may also want to consider that Achievement doesn’t always look like awards or accolades in every culture or lived experience. Sometimes it looks like a “small” accomplishment or a small win. The collection of those small wins is what makes an impact on our community. When more members of a community collectively have small wins, it creates big achievements. 

Our business community is impacted by achievement in a lot of ways, too. For example, being recognized for corporate giving, employee wellness, or positive and equitable work environments creates the potential for all the individuals in the organization to share in the achievement in a way that is relevant for them, their family and community. 

Honoring achievement is a very worthy endeavor, yet the achievement is rarely accomplished by only one person — it takes a village!

What insights have you gained in your career that would inspire others?

The single most important thing is the lesson I’ve needed to learn over and over throughout all my careers. Several times I have looked outside myself for validation or opportunity, and when it didn’t come, it created doubt and that thing we call imposter syndrome. Each time, it took years to build back my confidence only to find myself in a similar situation.

The lesson is that I need to trust my own authenticity, my lived experience, my intersections with my world; to trust what I hear my heart say yet listen without judgment to other perspectives. In other words, know who you are, be your full self. Embrace yourself and others where you and they are at.

I’m fortunate to have a deep relationship with a group of friends and family who are my village, my fan club. They are also the folks who will hold the mirror for me and help me see when I’m not being true. They have my back when I’m taking risks, they hold my hand and my heart when needed. This allows me to stay connected to what I know to be true: Debbie leads with her heart to empower, embrace and celebrate self and others. 

What can we do — now — to make a difference for young people/women in Arizona?

We can do a lot to make a difference for young people and women in Arizona, but these suggestions are not really for them. I’m proposing it should be with them. Those who sit in power and privilege need to make space for the strong, dynamic emerging leaders who are ready! They are women and people of color. We all must actively work to remove barriers in the systems that have historically kept women out and earning lower wages. It is up to all of us to create access in every part of our organizations and community. Sometimes, that means giving up the chair we currently sit in. 

Some of us may need to be courageous enough to hand over the reins, become the person who, instead of scoring the highest, is the one with the most “assists” — i.e., pass the ball!

Another thing to do now is listen to their voices. Young people see the world differently from how we did at that age. Through listening and understanding, we (together) may see systems, policies and structures that need changing. Then, it is all about using those voices, votes and positive action to create the change we collectively wish to see.

About Me:

I have diverse leadership perspectives with careers in banking, consulting, entrepreneurship, academia and 25 years in nonprofit executive leadership. I’m thrilled to bring all that experience to YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix. By centering my work on the advancement of marginalized communities and empowerment of women and girls, my viewpoint has always been focused through a lens of race and gender. I’m involved in the business community as part of the Glendale Chamber DEI committee, KNOW Women, Latina Giving Circle, the LGBTQ Center for Philanthropy at ACF, Arizona Coyotes Latino Advisory Council, and the inaugural Bell Bank Nonprofit Executive Round Table.

In Few Words

  • What was the last course, certification or training you took to improve yourself professionally? Leading with Equity – The Kellogg School for Nonprofit Management at Northwestern University 2021
  • What would you say is a single characteristic OTHERS might attribute to you that defines your success? Joy
  • What is the one thing you feel you could work on professionally to be a greater success? Listening 
  • What is the one professional skill you have that has gotten you where you are today? Inquiry
  • What is the single greatest issue facing Arizona today? The impact of any of the elements of a healthy community and how they relate to women and people of color.

See all 2022 Women of Achievement

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