Most people have a natural desire to build up their community - but many women have distinct obstacles, obligations, and aspirations. Women bring a unique perspective to supporting and building female communities within our organizations. Our #LeadHership spotlight this month is passionate about helping the people around her find solutions to those obstacles, find their passions, and hone their skills to become the leaders we need.
In honor of American Heart Month, we are thrilled to spotlight McKensie Neff for her #LeadHership in the Tucson community. McKensie is the Executive Director for the Southern Arizona Division of the American Heart Association (AHA). Throughout her professional career, she has had the opportunity to develop organizational and leadership skills over the past 13 years in sales and non-profit fundraising.
Within her role as the Executive Director, she leads the development, implementation, integration, and evaluation of strategies and plans to achieve the region's health impact goals. In addition, she develops and implements ongoing business plans for market growth through strategic partnerships, key fundraising events, and philanthropic donors.
Recently, McKensie was recognized as a recipient of the Tucson Hispanic Chamber Award 40 Under 40 in 2020 and was a recipient of the 2018 Women of Influence Award. She says the 40 under 40 award helped open her eyes to being an advocate for the women around her. She feels driven to coach them and guide those future leaders towards these types of awards and recognition should they want to pursue it.
Being a part of Greater Tucson Leadership (GTL) as well, McKensie has been working on gaining a better understanding of what it means to be a community leader. With GTL, she regularly takes deep dives into issues facing our own community such as economic development, border issues, education budgets and much more. She is always working to make sure that she stays true to using her strengths as a tool for change. Being an advocate in the community means people want to listen to what you have to say, but that only goes so far.
“Authenticity is key, it’s important not to create a false persona that people will eventually see through. This breaks down that trust relationship with those that look to leaders for mentorship.”
Before joining the nonprofit sector, McKensie worked in the hospitality industry. During her time working in the hospitality industry, she was awarded the 2015 Starwood Hotels Arizona Catering Manager of the Year. She worked with a family-owned business, and essentially became part of that family in the process. She says one of the biggest takeaways from this experience was a phrase they would say often. “Take the high road”. This experience gave her invaluable tools that she carried into her work with The American Heart Association.
“I fell in love with making people happy and creating great experiences for them.”
While McKensie enjoyed the rush she felt from this demanding, high paced industry. She wanted to start a family and knew this would not be conducive. The transition to working from home due to the continuing pandemic has really changed how the modern workplace views motherhood. Previously, it was frowned upon if you were interrupted on a work call by the everyday demands of parenthood. Now the appearance of a child, spouse, or pet during a video conference is normalized for many businesses. She says, “Simply, it’s about time.” We are seeing more businesses embrace the family as part of their workforce and that inherently increases the loyalty and the investment level for staff.
Another change that McKensie has seen – and hopes to see more of – is the focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace and all our community systems. She says the AHA has fantastic programs to address this issue. They have quarterly meetings and ongoing conversations about how to address those issues head on. The AHA has embraced open conversations about these issues and hope that more organizations will follow their lead.
“If everyone takes even one step towards change, we would make fantastic strides.”
People across the country are welcoming this challenge in different ways but it forces a deeper look at all business operations. Not only should businesses be asking, “How can we be more inclusive?”, they need to be asking bigger questions about their application process. Are the applicants diverse? If not, why? Has the business created an environment where people don’t feel as if they should, could or want to work there?
McKensie thinks that the best way to encourage women and diverse populations is get involved as early as possible. While mentoring is important and critical, there is a need to also take that control yourself and create your own path to leadership. School aged people can start by getting involved in things like athletic programs or student council. Even someone as young as second grade can be their soccer team captain for the day and that can help them start to learn about leadership. Those opportunities are the foundation for creating that path to great community leaders. She says she signed up for all the programs in school that weren’t “cool”. Not shying away from those experiences has helped her become the leader she is today, and she still leans on those experiences now and hopes to build that same foundation for her children.
Thank you, McKensie, for your work with the Southern Arizona Division of the American Heart Association, for your #LeadHership, and your passion for change.