Wonder Women: Carolyn Berkowitz, corporate social responsibility expert

Wonder Women: Carolyn Berkowitz, corporate social responsibility expert

By Jill Vitiello

Carolyn Berkowitz
Carolyn Berkowitz, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP)

Wonder Women is a blog series that lets me introduce you to amazing businesswomen doing remarkable work. Meet Carolyn Berkowitz, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Corporate Citizenship Professionals (ACCP).

ACCP is a membership organization for professionals working in for-profit companies or corporate foundations who manage corporate responsibility or citizenship programs. Last year, Carolyn joined the organization as President and CEO, bringing decades of experience working for some of the nation’s leading non-profits and corporate foundations. Having operated at the convergence of government, non-profits and corporations, Carolyn’s broad experience and perspective inform the momentum of ACCP, which provides networking, thought leadership and advocacy for its members and the communities they serve. Vitiello Communications Group has been a guest blogger for ACCP, and now it’s our turn to hear from Carolyn.

Q: When did you first realize that you were doing your life’s work?

A: In many ways my life’s work has focused on identifying and matching resources and strategies to surround a social problem and identify unique solutions. For me, I first realized this at America’s Promise, where I worked at the community level to create coalitions for youth all around the country. I learned quickly that the bigger picture is to take a holistic approach of support to any community issue; that no one person or one organization can work alone to solve big problems. It really does take the different talents and resources of many.


Q: What is the one word that best describes you?

A: I would say the word is creative. I am a weekend artist. My mother was a professional artist and I do abstract paintings and mosaics for fun. Mosaics are a beautiful metaphor – taking broken pieces and putting them together in a new way to create something entirely different, perhaps even better. It’s very much a metaphor for how I work. Bringing personal creativity to my work has trained me to see new solutions to society’s problems, taking pieces and parts of different approaches and putting them together differently.

Q: How do the pieces fit together?

A: Today’s problems are steeper than they have been in the past, and the divide among those who have access to resources and those who do not is deeper and wider. The corporate sector has incredible ingenuity that it can apply to community problem solving. However, that is challenging because the corporate sector is generally made up of individuals who have. We must challenge ourselves to really listen to and respect the voices of those we are trying to serve. Corporations and foundations must be mindful of how they engage in community, not to do good for people but to do good with people.  They need to bring their own unique skills to the table rather than seek to replace the roles of government and the nonprofit sector.  For corporations it is a particularly difficult time because there’s a real societal expectation of them to take stands on social issues and to respond immediately. When I ask ACCP members what’s on their minds, often the first thing they say is “responding to social issues at the speed that social media and society expects.”

Macy hiking

Q: What is the one daily practice that energizes you the most?

A: Being outside with my dog, Macy. I love to hike with her. We enjoy the fresh air and the exercise. It’s a treat to see her joyfully running around off the leash. We can’t go hiking every day but getting her outside for a daily walk is fun and it grounds me.

Q: What can women do to realize their own ambitions?

A: The first thing that women can do is to have confidence in their ambitions and have confidence about being ambitious. It is not a bad thing to be ambitious; it’s a really good thing! It is bad to practice your ambition on the backs of others, but it’s great to set your sights high and approach your journey with a real desire to learn and grow. That’s how I define ambition.

I also believe in the adage, “fake it until you make it,” which to me means act the part of the person you want to be. How women show up is really important. We need to learn how to ask good questions at every point in our careers. Not only is the practice of asking questions a great way to show up and listen, but it’s also a great way to tap into the wisdom of others. One thing I’ve read is that many women won’t apply for a job unless they have every single qualification. I thought, really? The truth of the matter is that you have to put yourself out there, and if you don’t embrace your own potential, no one else will either.

CollageI tell young women all the time that they should only apologize if they’ve genuinely made a mistake. Don’t apologize generally because it diminishes your authority.  Instead, try replacing “I’m sorry” with “Thank you.” Thank you for your patience, thank you for your understanding, not I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner.  Women need to seek out mentors — women and men who impress them.  Watch how they present, how they listen, and what they prioritize. In my opinion, success is a combination of being humbly ambitious, owning your authority, asking questions, and putting yourself out there.

Q: Who is the most interesting influencer for you right now?

A: Women like Dianne Feinstein! Some of the senior women senators. These women succeeded in breaking through sexism in all of its forms to get to where they are today. They came up and gained influence in an age when it was really difficult for women to be recognized. When I see their grace, their power and the credibility of their content, I’m impressed over and over again.

Q: How has your ability as a communicator enabled you to be an effective leader?

A: Communication is one of the most important skills in business, certainly in corporate social responsibility. Relating to people, meeting them where they are and having authentic conversations is key. If I have been influential in my career it is in part because I’ve appreciated the value of both data and stories. Sometimes you’ll get people who are all head and sometimes you’ll get people who are all heart, but those that are most impactful know how to use both. You’ve got to be able to appeal to the hearts and minds of your audience in order to make change.

abstract paintingQ:  What motivates you?

A: What motivates me is the opportunity to bring justice to the world, using all of my skills and all of the tools that are out there to do so. I want to be the best I can be at whatever I do. I want a better world for my children and theirs. I want to bring my whole self to my work and to my relationships, because otherwise it’s a waste of my time. I don’t have to be perfect; because humans are not perfect, but I hope I am learning and growing every day.

Do you have a question for Carolyn or me about communicating for heads and hearts? Ask it here in our comments, or reach us on Twitter: @cberkow; @JillVitiello.

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