When Linda Goler Blount started working in engineering and epidemiology, she probably had no idea she'd be a CEO one day. But now, she leads a team dedicated to a cause she is truly passionate about: ensuring Black women are physically, emotionally and financially healthy. The Black Women's Health Imperative (BWHI), based in Washington D.C., combines research, market intelligence, social media and policy analysis to implement programs and inform legislation that allows Black women to make the best decisions for their health.
Blount told Fairygodboss how she got involved in such an important cause, then gave her best advice for getting employed at an organization you love. Plus, she shared where she draws inspiration to make a difference everyday.
Fairygodboss of the Week: Linda Goler Blount
President and CEO, Black Women's Health Imperative (BWHI)
Tell us a little about your career. How did you get to where you are now?
For a public health professional, I’ve had an unusual but exciting career trajectory. I came to this work by way of engineering and epidemiology. Right out of school, I started by working for a hospital system, and then the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) designing GIS systems to track HIV infections. After 5 years at CDC, we packed up the family and moved to Trinidad and Tobago where I got to see health and health care from an entirely different perspective. I worked to set up disease surveillance systems, insurance systems and consulted with ministries of health on a number of ways to keep women safe from STIs and violence. When we returned from Trinidad, I made a slight detour and went to work for the Coca-Cola Company.
While it was very unusual for an epidemiologist to work for Coke, I learned something tremendously valuable. We in public health have a product to sell, just like Coke. Our product is health. I used that insight to guide my work at the American Cancer Society, where I was the first ever Vice President of Health Disparities and then with United Way of Greater Atlanta where I led all programs.
This prepared me for the position at BWHI, where our approach is quite different from most health organizations. We start with the assumption that there is nothing wrong with Black women – that we are inherently strong, resilient and passionate about our health. We combine research, market intelligence, social media and policy analysis to implement programs and inform legislation to make sure Black women can make the best decisions for their health.
What is an accomplishment that you are proud of?
We recently released Black Women Vote 2018: A National Health Policy Agenda. It is the first ever legislative agenda focused on Black women’s health. We have made this agenda freely available to community groups to make sure women are educated on important health issues and understand where their candidates stand on key health issues and to hole them accountable. We will update it and use it until the 2020 general election as well.
What is a challenge that you've faced and overcome?
When I took this role, we were still feeling the impact of the financial crisis and its impact on fundraising. Our budget was 80% government funded and just the year before, there had been a sequestration which cut our funding by 50%. That was a scary place to be. So, I reached out to my board and network for help. I was open and honest about our situation and, in fact, used to begin all of my talks with “we need help.” I found that honesty, however difficult to admit, paid off. We have nearly tripled our revenues and government funding is now 40% of our budget.
Who is YOUR Fairygodboss? and Why?
My Fairygodboss is Louise Johnson, my maternal grandmother. She was superintendent of a detention center in 1940’s Mobile, AL. She overcame all manner of racial and gender discrimination to lead a very challenging organization with grace, love and compassion for the inmates, many of whom were able to leave the detention center and be successful. And she made an unbelievable gumbo!
What do you do when you're not working?
I love to cook and have family and friends over. There is nothing more nurturing to my spirit than good food, good music, good company and laughter. We routinely solve the world’s problems over dinner.
If you could have dinner with one famous person—dead or alive—who would it be?
Byllye Avery – the founder of the Black Women’s Health Imperative. She just turned 81 and is still going strong.
Lightning Round: What is your karaoke song?
Respect by Sister Aretha.
Lightning Round: What is your favorite movie?
Lightning Round: What book would you bring with you on a desert island?
Poor, Not Dumb by Capital Seed Intelligence Unit. It's a book on behavioral economics.
Lightning Round: What is your shopping vice? What would you buy if you won the lottery?
My shopping vice is — sigh — lipstick. If I won the lottery, I’d buy property on which I build housing (and an amazing kitchen) for all of my family and friends to get together from time to time. Then, I’d give the rest of the money away to education and health organizations.
What is the #1 career tip you'd like to share with other women who want to have successful careers like you?
I have the privilege of speaking with women on a regular basis and am often asked this question. My response is always that you must know what you love and know what has you saying "this is where I need to be and what I need to do." That may change over time, and that’s ok. Work towards doing that. It might mean being a volunteer at first. But even if you can’t get paid, and even if you can only do that thing a few hours a week, you will feel good about yourself and your life. That will matter and you’ll know you matter.
Why do you love where you work?
Everyday, I get to live what I talk about. I am blessed to work with women who are not only smart and talented, but committed to ensuring Black women are healthy — physically, emotionally and financially. The issues we address can be very difficult but we support each other, we laugh and we celebrate together. We all get to work with women across the country