Shifting to a Co-Director Leadership Model!

After a fiscal crisis just over a decade ago, our team got to work, thoughtfully reimagining an organizational structure that honors the collective wisdom of all stakeholders and fosters long-term sustainability. As a first step to diffuse power from traditional executive leadership roles, we spent years co-developing and finalizing our Cultural Praxis which was finally completed in 2014. Four years later, we engaged in a six-month process of brainstorming and consensus-building — fleshing out our organizational DNA in our 2018 Theory of Change. This document, our North Star, outlined our mission, vision and strategies designed to ensure our work was grounded in justice, shared power and supportive of emerging leadership at all levels. As a continued embodiment of these visions and values, we are pleased to share an exciting shift in our current leadership structure. Effective July 1, 2021, W.O.M.A.N., Inc. will be transitioning into a Co-Director Leadership model. Mary Martinez, our former Associate Director, will be joining Jill Zawisza, former Executive Director, as Co-Directors. 

The following accomplishments illustrate the power of sharing our power between two, seasoned and dedicated directors and, of course, the support of an equally dedicated and powerful leadership team:

  • Shared power is effective in social justice movements: 

Domestic violence and other forms of oppression pivot on an imbalance of power, and continued abuse of that power. All of this is abetted by a normalization of ‘power-over’ dynamics in our communities, organizations and homes. As such, sharing power is at the heart of just relationships and in advancing social justice. We can use our power as an organization to create structures that require shared power in order to work toward collective liberation.

Instituting a Co-Director model is (another) step in this direction. We will help de-center whiteness in our organization, create examples of how staff can further share power together, and with our participants.

Building a Co-Executive Director model serves as an antidote to many elements of WSC

WSC has taught us to embrace paternalism & power hoarding, where ONE person power holds the positional authority & is not encouraged to share it across an organization. This puts the lionshare of power at one person’s feet. While this is reflected in our current, written organizational structure, it is not reflective of our day-to-day work.

Divesting from WSC allows an opening of pathways for women and gender expansive folks of color to step into leadership. WSC has put unfair barriers in place for WOMAN, Inc. community members to achieve their full potential. If we are intentional about our praxis, we will not only continually seek out staff who are BIPOC, but create meaningful outlets for advancement, and ongoing reflection on how we embody our efforts toward collective liberation.

  • Build structure, budget and capacity to support leadership development: 

Allows us more space to invest staff development, as well as a diversified set of skills, perspectives and community connections. Not only does this enrich the co-director role, but it helps to bridge knowledge and experiential gaps when facilitating decision-making processes.

  • See everyone as an emerging leader: 

Everyone at our organization is a leader, and by creating clear pathways to heightened positional authority, we offer real opportunities and aspiration to our extraordinary leadership team.

  • Succession planning will become easier: 

While we are extremely fortunate to have limited staff turnover, we know that folks leaving WOMAN, Inc. is inevitable. Having a Co-Director model will help in succession planning as well as bolster community security should one of the Co-Director’s transition out of WOMAN, Inc. for any reason.

At W.O.M.A.N., Inc., we believe wholeheartedly in the power of the collective. While a co-directorship doesn’t single-handedly recalibrate central paradigms of power, it’s an embodied action to move toward our broader goals of building leadership from the ground up in our movements to address violence and oppression. We’re looking forward to the ways this adjusted model can help us meaningfully adapt to the emerging needs of our communities, and strategically experiment along the way.


Our adaptive and collective approach got us through the giant and swift changes that shelter-in-place required of us. During the pandemic, our service provision increased over 75%. To allay the traumatic impact of domestic violence exacerbated by the pandemic, we added three remote support groups, broadened our peer counseling program and answered double the support line calls than in years previous. We are so proud of our team. Together, we maintained our service provision, continued with our 24-hour commitment to survivors in both Spanish and in English.

However, funding has yet to meet this increased need. As such community donations like yours take on greater meaning than ever before. We seek to expand and deepen our network of donors as we remain firmly rooted in supporting survivors who experience oppression and marginalization. By giving, you make it possible for us to support our communities while authentically living and further cultivating our values.

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