This past week, I had the honor to be recognized by the NASW-NYC Chapter with a Social Work Image Award. This was the first award of my social work career and was received as I celebrated my 5 year anniversary with The Network for Social Work Management.
During my acceptance speech, I shared three of the many things that I’ve learned from this role.
1. Social Workers Lead. We lead in many ways and have what it takes to manage organizations and work in non-traditional ways. We have the skillset and the ability to do more than clinical work. We are multi-faceted professionals. With additional mentoring, support, and training, our possibilities are limitless. We must take our rightful seat at the table and do what it takes to learn more about technology, data, artificial intelligence, marketing, branding, business, and innovation. It is only then that we can have a macro impact.
I was given the opportunity to lead The Network for Social Work Management because my board took a chance on me. We need more executives and boards of nonprofits believing in and giving an opportunity to someone who can grow in the role. I realize if not for my board, it’s unlikely that someone like me-younger woman of color would have had this opportunity so early in their career. We need to mentor and sponsor the next generation of leaders. Talent management is important and we need to begin building a pipeline of a new generation of leaders now.
2. Silence is complicity. As health and human service leaders, we need to remember why we do what we do and our code of ethics. Social Justice is a defining feature of social work, but are we as active as we once were? Could we do more? We can no longer be silent when it matters most. Injustices are happening every day, which impact all of us in some way. We must speak up. We must act. Social Workers have to engage with policies and politics.
3. Diversity, equity, and inclusion matter. The nonprofit sector is the third largest sector in the US. The US itself is becoming more racially diverse. Many of those we serve are people of color. What are our practices within our organizations? Do we practice what we preach? How often do we look inwards at our own biases and practices and how it may not be reflective of our stated values? How can we effectively help others if we’re not doing our best to correct our own unjust practices?
I continue to learn every day and am fortunate to have many mentors among me who seek to broaden my knowledge, perspectives, and opportunities. I also do the work to stay current and develop myself professionally.
I’m passionate about this work and excited to continue doing my part as a social work leader to encourage, mentor, and support others in this field.
Thank you to NASW-NYC for this recognition and the Board of The Network for Social Work Management for providing me the opportunity to come into my own as a leader.
Lakeya Cherry, MSSW, is the CEO of The Network for Social Work Management (NSWM), an international membership organization dedicated to strengthening social work leadership in health and human services. Lakeya became CEO of NSWM in October 2013. Her prior experience includes a senior management role at 2U, Inc., a technology company partnering with universities to place degree programs online, and various direct practice roles in New York City and California. Cherry currently serves on the boards of Community Health Improvement Partners (CHIP) and the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP). She is also a Doctoral candidate at the USC Suzanne Dworak-Peck School of Social Work with an expected graduation date of May 2020.