Women leaders still invited to sit in the back, says new executive director

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Women leaders still invited to sit in the back, says new executive director

Categories: feature, News, racial equity

In January, we welcomed Dunetchka Otero-Serrano as our new Executive Director. A native of Puerto Rico, Dunetchka relocated to Portland, OR to pursue a career in nonprofit service and management. She brings a strong portfolio to YWCA Clark County and a desire to advocate for social justice in her new role. 

We recently spoke with her about her background and her thoughts on creating social change. 

Dunetchka Otero-Serrano

What inspired you to follow a career in social service?

My mom was a social worker. My first job out of college was in the Senate of Puerto Rico. I was fascinated by public service at a young age, so I went on to do a master’s degree in Public Administration.

Were members of your family instrumental in shaping your career choice?

Both my parents were involved in different social justice movements growing up. They often included us in community activities and encouraged us on civic engagement.

As a woman of color, what obstacles did you have to overcome to succeed in your field?

Honestly, I have experienced more obstacles after having a bit of success. I didn’t really see a high level of intentional oppression or opposition until I worked my way into higher roles of leadership. Women of color, all women, are breaking glass ceilings at every level, but there still seems to be an expectation that we should not express confidence in our analytical, strategic thinking, and skills capacity without waiting for permission to do so. Because of these experiences, I know it is a privilege to get to work at YWCA Clark County.

Did you have valuable mentors to guide you? Can you mention one or two who gave you especially wise advice?

I had and still have amazing mentors. I would start with my art professor (Profesor Cruz) in high school, I don’t remember any specific advice but his high expectations of each of us has stuck with me. I learned with artmaking that almost everything is possible if you look at things in the right way or a different way. I try to apply that to life and work.

The second, would be Teri Lorenzen, former ED at Raphael House of Portland. Her integrity and clear way of leading an organization always inspires me. She taught me much about financial management.  In reality, many of my friends are my mentors too, most of them are skilled, smart women, that also hold me accountable to my values. I really got lucky with my friends!

What was your initial experience like when you first came to the Pacific Northwest? Did you encounter any challenges, traditions, preconceived notions that you were not expecting?

Ah!  So many! There were some silly things too, it took me so many years to find someone to cut curly hair, or figure out how to dress for the weather. There is no strong Puerto Rican community in Portland. Everyone has an idea of who I should be. I am always explaining myself, my culture, my race. As a Puerto Rican, I am of African, Spanish and Taino descent. It is what makes us proud.

What are your guiding principles on the job and in the Community?

  1. Kindness first, 2) Dream big and go about those dreams with certainty, and 3) Remember we are playing a long game. Real change does not come quickly.