Breaking Barriers: Meet First Latina CEO Of Girl Scouts, Anna Maria Chávez

Anna Maria Chávez is the definition of women’s empowerment. From a young age, the Arizona native knew she would dedicate her life to public service, working in the federal government in her home state to now serving as the CEO of the Girl Scouts of the USA.

“I feel that I’ve been extremely lucky. I started in an organization as a child that impacted me in such an amazing way,” Chávez told VIBE. “Now, several decades later, I’m actually part of the team that’s making sure it’s here for another generation of girls.

The organization continues to encourage young women to become successful leaders by getting involved with the Ban Bossy campaign. One of its pivotal leaders and Chief Communications Executive of Girl Scouts, Kelly Parisi, said, “I think what we are most proud of at Girl Scouts is that we started a worldwide dialogue about what girls need to lead and what’s holding them back from leadership.”

Check out #VIBELeague’s latest honoree as she speaks on her mother and grandmother’s wise words, embarking on a leadership journey, and how to address challenges.

My profession in one sentence:
I live to inspire girls, volunteers, Girl Scout staff and alumni of all ages to engage and move forward in order to build a generation of girls of courage, confidence and character.

My MLK moment (Realizing the dream):
I had an extremely pivotal moment when I was actually 12 years old. I had been a Girl Scout for two years in Arizona and I had learned about the environment and the outdoors. I was on a picnic with my parents one weekend and noticed that some kids had graffitied over this very historic cave that had indigenous writing on it. It really upset me. I was talking to my mother about it and basically at the age of 12, I decided to become an attorney to protect the environment and help people defend their rights. From that moment on, I set my goal of becoming an attorney and being in public service. Girl Scouts really helped me flesh that out as to what I wanted to do with my career. I went on to Yale, and then the University of Arizona for my law degree. From there I spent several years in the federal government and ultimately working for Janet Napolitano, who’s the governor of Arizona, as her deputy chief of staff which led me to the Girl Scouts.

An impressive Girl Scouts stat:
I am such a believer in the Girl Scout leadership experience, because I know first-hand how powerful it can be, and how important it is to help support girls on their journey to adulthood. Our incredible alumnae are proof. With 59 million living Girl Scout alumnae in every U.S. zip code and 94 countries who are accomplished leaders, including 75 percent of the 20 women in the U.S. Senate, over half of the women in the U.S. House of Representatives, all five current serving female governors, and nearly every female astronaut, Girl Scouts is the largest leadership organization in the world for girls.

On handling roadblocks:
What I’ve learned from my parents and my grandmother [is] that challenges are actually a great opportunity to learn new skills. They said, “Anna, at a young age, you’re going to have a tool kit to deal with challenges. Along the way and along your path, you’re going to be met with opportunities to develop new skills.” In my role throughout the last 20 years, I’ve added a lot of tools to my tool kit.

I knew ____ would be the way to pursue my dreams:
Law would be the way to pursue my dream. Not actually just my dreams but my dreams of my community. Growing up as a girl of color in a poverty situation, I knew education and ultimately law would be the key to open up the future. Not only for myself, but for other girls like me. That has been so true. I have seen how the knowledge of the law, the practice of the law, teaches you to think in different ways. It teaches you how to spot issues in situations where others can’t. It gives you an extreme view around analytical thinking and it has been a tremendous path for me to help other people. I am very grateful that early on Girl Scouts inspired me and that my parents supported me because a lot of girls in my community didn’t go on to finish high school. The fact that I was able to graduate from high school, go on to an Ivy league school on full scholarship, go to law school on a scholarship and then pursue my dream of being a lawyer is just a dream come true. I’m very blessed.

My biggest personal win:
I am very proud to be the first Latina CEO of Girl Scouts. This allows me to be a role model for young Latinas everywhere.

My best advice to mothers or women in relationships trying to balance work and life:
I think they need to find a way to incorporate the things that inspire them. Whether you love music, movies or food—or like myself, ice cream—you have to figure out how to integrate all of the pieces of your life. I’m very fortunate because I work in a youth-inspired organization so my son has grown up knowing the power of children and he’s able to see me and work alongside me in community projects. I noticed that with anybody, whether it’s a man or woman or a child, if they’re passionate about something, it doesn’t stop at 5pm. It creeps into after work and on weekends because they’re so passionate about what they’re doing. I‘ve been very fortunate that from a very young age, I have been able to marry both the need of providing economic wherewithal for myself, and my family has been integrated with my passion for life and the passion to serve others. I’m constantly telling, specifically women and mothers who work with me and for our organization, to keep that balance but also work toward things that inspire you.

On creating a successful brand:
I think that the way of creating and keeping a strong brand is always being focused on the brand’s mission and the vision. For example, our brand is 103 years old. It’s iconic and historic, people know it and it also brings a smile to people’s faces when they see it. You also need to be flexible enough to understand that you have to stay relevant with the times. As long as you’re committed to the vision that has been set forth, you have to remain flexible to understand that you will need to change the way of work to meet the needs of your customers versus 10 years ago or 20 years ago.

My mentors in real life:
My mother and my grandmother when she was alive. I came from a family of very strong women, a matriarchal family who was very focused on education. They ensured that nothing got in the way or distracted me from that path. They instilled in me from a very young age an understanding that the decisions you make as a very young lady will have an impact on your life going forward and we have the responsibility to be of service to others. Now that I’m older, I’ve realized that they really did spend a lot if time with me, giving me perspective about life, taking everyday as a blessing and as a gift, seeing problems as opportunities and seeing the best in people.

My favorite Girl Scout cookie:
Samoas, also known as Caramel deLites in some areas of the country.

One mantra I always try to instill in young women:
To be the leaders in their own life. That leadership is not about one role or activity, it is about making decisions and owning your own life, and bringing others along with you in a positive way. Whether you are chairman of the boardroom or the home, you can make the world a better place, and serve as an example to others.

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