After law school, Cindy Dyer started her career fighting gender-based violence in Dallas, Texas as a prosectuor. Little did she know, one day she'd be leading the fight for safe communities around the world. Now the Vice President of Human Rights at Vital Voices Global Partnership, Dyer works with international women leaders to create safer communities for women and girls.
Dyer credits her passion, her ability to take risks and her Fairygodboss with creating her dream career. We talked to her about her path international work, her role models and how she overcame imposter syndrome to become a global voice on violence prevention. Then, she shared her best advice for women who want to make an impact — whether at a mission-based organization or in the workforce more generally.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Cindy Dyer,
Vice President, Human Rights at Vital Voices Global Partnership
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get where you are now?
I often joke that I got into this job by sneaking in the back door like a stray cat, because I never fathomed that I would be living in Washington, D.C. and working on international women’s issues. I began my career working on the issue of gender-based violence at the local level as a prosecutor in Dallas, Texas. I advanced to the national level when I had the opportunity to serve as the Director of the Office on Violence Against Women at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). I moved on to focus my work internationally when I came to Vital Voices in 2009. I currently have the opportunity to work with women leaders all around the world who are creating safer communities for women and girls.
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
I am proud that I had the courage to follow my passion and pursue the job that I wanted to do, rather than the one that I thought would advance my career. When I was still a young prosecutor in Dallas County, I had the opportunity to join the fledging Family Violence Division. Many of my friends and colleagues advised me against this move, but I felt strongly that I wanted to try to prevent murders in addition to prosecuting them. That decision in 1994 paved the way for my entire career and I am so proud that I had the fortitude to follow my passion.
What is a challenge that you’ve faced and overcome?
When I left DOJ to work at Vital Voices, I faced a challenge that I called a “crisis of confidence.” I worried that I did not belong in the international space and began comparing myself to others who had gone to Ivy League schools (I did not), spoke other languages (I did not) and spent their careers studying international relations (I did not). However, I realized that while I lacked those valuable experiences, I brought different valuable experiences and knowledge to the room. While many people have thought about, studied and researched laws related to gender-based violence, I am often the only person in the room who has actually obtained a protective order for a victim of domestic violence, prosecuted a sexual assault case when the victim was too frightened to come to court or argued with a judge who thinks that gender based violence is a “private, family matter.” I have truly been in the shoes of the women leaders with whom I work and that connection gives me a unique value.
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
Vicki Isaacks! Vicki was a prosecutor in Dallas County, Texas when I first joined the District Attorney’s Office. She was a wonderful Fairygodboss to me in so many ways. She encouraged me to follow my passion to become a specialized gender-based violence prosecutor — even when my other prosecutor friends told me I was crazy. She taught me the value of sharing the glory. Vicki was more experienced and influential than I was, but she did not hoard her power and influence; rather, she shared it with me. She willingly passed on knowledge, opportunities and connections. I try to be as generous with my colleagues as Vicki was with me.
What do you do when you're not working?
I love to hang out with family — my husband, Jason, my son, Aubrey and my daughter, Evie.
If you could have dinner with one famous person – dead or alive – who would it be?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg!
Lightning Round: What is your karaoke song?
As a favor to others, I do not sing karaoke songs.
Lightning Round: What is your favorite movie?
Easy: "When Harry Met Sally."
Lightning Round: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
My shopping vice is definitely gourmet groceries. I have no hesitation about buying expensive cheese (Locatelli Pecorino Romano), salt (Maldon's), and organic seasonal vegetables (Pimientos del Padron)!
What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
Never let an opportunity to give a compliment pass you by; The power of a kind word cannot be overstated. People appreciate hearing when they have done something well, and that appreciation inevitably comes back to benefit you. Additionally, you have more leeway to provide criticism when it is needed, and that criticism will be more impactful and effective when you have previously provided praise.
Why do you love where you work?
I love where I work because I feel like I am contributing to positive change in the world. Additionally, I am inspired and motivated by the amazing leaders I have the pleasure of working with — both in Vital Voices’ international network of 15,000 women leaders and within our own organization.