Spotlight on Leaders: Tanis Crosby, Executive Director, YWCA Silicon Valley

To celebrate Women’s History Month (even in April!), we’re putting the spotlight on five community leaders in San Jose, and sharing their insights about the civic issues facing Silicon Valley, their approach to leadership, and the key projects they’ll tackle in 2018.

Tanis Crosby is the Executive Director of YWCA Silicon Valley, which works every day to eliminate racism and empower women through advocacy and local programs. YWCA Silicon Valley opened in San Jose in 1905.

Where do you get your coffee in San Jose?

Caffe Frascati: the espresso is perfect.  It’s the best coffee.

What is your favorite place in San Jose?

YWCA Silicon Valley’s home: the Linda Haskell Empowerment Center, in downtown San Jose. This building is special, and it’s more than four walls. It is a symbol of the enduring might of women who make the impossible possible. This is my favorite place.

What kind of media are you consuming these days?

I am trying to reduce my media intake. I am trying to paint more, play board games with my family, be with our dogs, and re-learn piano. I will watch news at night, and news in the morning, and that’s it. I have been looking forward to my New Yorker every week. I’m trying to be intentional about the fiction I’m reading. I really enjoyed The Power, by Naomi Alderman, and The Animators, by Kayla Rae Whitaker, both women-centered fiction. I love dystopian fiction, and my favorite author is Margaret Atwood… but the genre just feels a little too real right now.

The things that are giving me absolute joy are listening to Hamilton, and I will lull myself to sleep by watching West Wing on Netflix.

When you have a complicated work problem, who do you call to discuss it?

It depends on the problem. I’ve got lots of thought partners: the incredible diverse team here at YWCA, including our board members.  I’m looking for honest reflection and dialogue about where we’re going to go next.

Tell me about YWCA’s role in the San Jose ecosystem.  What issues are you trying to address?

The YWCA eliminates racism and empowers women. We work at the intersection of gender, race, and violence. We recognize that in order to make big bold change, direct service is insufficient. Service without social justice is no service at all. We have a triad approach – direct service, issue education, and public policy. That can only happen when you’re working in partnership with a collective impact mindset.

We’re focused on three issues: Ending racism and violence. Working to end homelessness for survivors of violence. And closing the prosperity and education gaps. I recognize this are big, bold, audacious goals, and it is our imperative to work towards them.

Our housing programs are an example of our triad approach. My colleagues Amie McClane and Adriana Caldera recognized the extraordinary need to develop trauma informed housing for survivors of violence — we were turning far too many people away from the YWCA domestic violence emergency shelter. As a result of partnerships, we were able to launch rapid rehousing program for domestic violence survivors, and now we have expanded it to serve human trafficking and sexual assault survivors. But we’re not stopping there.

My colleagues have identified – through listening to our program participants, reviewing the data, and research – policy changes that are needed to end discriminatory housing and eviction practices that particularly impact survivors of violence.  We do this work not just to deliver services, but to change the system that’s holding people back. That gets to the heart of injustice, and how injustice is recreated through policy. That is the YWCA’s role.

What is a 2018 project you’re really excited about?

One project I’m really excited about is Curated Pathways to Innovation, which sets women and underrepresented minorities on the path to STEM careers, with a focus on computing. We’ve got an incredible cross-sector partnership with Ocala STEAM Academy, HPE, HP, Santa Clara University, and Purdue University. We are creating this game-changing solution that is moving opportunity forward for an incredible body of diverse students. Curated Pathways guides and incents participants, and the machine learning algorithm recommends programs to students, and student to programs.  Data is revealing what interventions are needed, and how women and people of color are identifying what is and what is not working for them. We’re leveraging technology for a ground up solution for collective impact and moving the needle on STEM inclusion. This program uses data to identify bias in the pathways to STEM careers.  It’s incredibly exciting.

We’re really excited that CEDAW (The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women) was passed at the city and county level. Now what? How do we make sure that the priority issues for women and girls are being brought forward by women and girls? To that end, I’m really excited about a project that has recently been funded by the Knight Foundation, called Ignite. We’re really interested in how we connect young women, particularly young women of color, in advocating for priority civic issues for women.

When we are creating initiatives that connect direct services, engagement, and policy, that’s the sweet spot of change.

Tell me about your goals as a community leader. What do you want to accomplish?

I want to eliminate racism and empower women.  

Well you’re really aligned with YWCA, then! (laughter)

In all sincerity, I’m feeling insatiable. It feels like this moment of time is calling upon us all to do more. I’m thinking about how I show up, how I enable others. That’s different from succession planning or building a bench; it’s being mindful about how we’re creating the conditions of existence in our organizations, in our lives, in our community. I’m a person with incredible privilege. It’s not only what I’m going to do: it’s how I’m going to show up, how I’m going to listen, how I’m going to commit to the work. It is inner work, and team work, and community work.  

How do considerations of race, gender, and class interact in your work?

I think the question is how they don’t interact. From thinking about how we make decisions, to thinking about how am I choosing to react or not react – they are part of the fabric of all that we do, in addition to how we do it, in addition to why. 

Tell me about the women and girls who benefit from the work of YWCA.

We all benefit from the work of the YWCA.

The people who benefit from the work of the YWCA are not just people who are most impacted by race, gender, and violence.  It’s not charity work. It’s justice work. You and I lose when our sisters, particularly women of color, are not having the same justice as us. None of us should be satisfied until there is justice – not for some of us, but for all of us.

I wish for a world where you don’t get killed because of the color of your skin.  I wish for a world where you are not going to have to worry about being raped or assaulted before you graduate because you happen to identify as a female student.  I wish for a world where you are not at significant risk of homelessness because the person you love commits violence against you. That world benefits all of us. It is a world that is possible.  This is the world that we at YWCA work for, and the vision that keeps us all going.


Thank you.

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