Nicole Small: Supporting STEM Women with the IF/THEN Initiative

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Nicole Small, CEO of Lyda Hill Philanthropies.

Nicole Small, courtesy of Nicole Small
  1. What do you wish you had known when you started out in your profession? 

So many things. There isn’t enough room.  I wish I had known that it was going to be a long and winding road and that, looking back, it would all make sense and would be so much fun! 

2. What is your current greatest professional challenge? 

My greatest professional challenge is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to engage with all of the wonderful teams doing amazing work to advance our communities, both for profit and not for profit.  We are constantly trying to think about balancing strategic long-term initiatives with short-term needs, given that this pandemic has illuminated so many deep issues around economic and health disparities. 

3. What inspires you most about your work? 

Every day, we have the privilege of interacting with and learning from some of the best thought leaders in the world and in our local community. Each of them have unique, inspiring views on how to make the world a better place. Whether it’s climate, cancer or COVID, we have some challenging issues facing our world today.  However, every day we have the opportunity to hear from big thinkers who are driving change across markets and communities in ways that allow us to remain hopeful.

4. How does your gender identity inform your work?  

As a woman and mother of two girls, I am constantly inspired by the amazing STEM professionals we have the opportunity to meet through our IF/THEN initiative. I have seen first- hand how these female role models are working to change the culture of STEM and inspire the next generation to pursue STEM careers.  Through their stories, these women have the power to create positive change and impact.

5. How can philanthropy support gender equity? 

At Lyda Hill Philanthropies, lifting women up across a variety of sectors is core to the work that we do. In fact, we launched an entire initiative, IF/THEN, to focus on elevating women in STEM as role models.  We know that, “If she can see it, then she can be it!”  Through this initiative, we selected 125 AAAS IF/THEN Ambassadors, a diverse group of women from a variety of STEM fields, to serve as role models for young girls.  In addition, we think it’s important to use all the tools available to us on both the philanthropic and on the investing side to help make positive change.  It’s as important to invest in gender-related initiatives on the philanthropic side as it is to help elevate, invest in and support women entrepreneurs, venture leaders, and others. We recognize that as a women-led philanthropic organization, it is important to constantly try to use all of Lyda Hill’s capital to make positive change. 

6. In the next 10 years, where do you see gender equity movements taking us?  

I am hopeful that we will continue to dramatically move the ball forward on gender inequities and that, in ten years, we will have better representation with a diverse set of minds at all tables,  allowing us to create better solutions to solve the problems of the day. 

More on Nicole Small:

Nicole G. Small serves as chief executive officer of LH Capital, Inc. and Lyda Hill Philanthropies. Within these roles since early 2014, she is responsible for overseeing the strategic direction of both entities, including financial and investment activities and philanthropic initiatives.

Prior to LH Capital, Small was the CEO of the Perot Museum of Nature & Science. During her tenure (2001-2013) she spearheaded the merger of three existing Dallas museums and led the development of the $200 million new Perot Museum in downtown Dallas.

Small has also held positions with several technology, venture capital and consulting firms, including serving as the founder and CEO of an internet start-up, an Entrepreneur in Residence at a California-based business incubator, and as an analyst with McKinsey & Company.

Small received an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University.  She currently is a member of the Dallas Assembly, YPO, Charter 100, and International Women’s Forum. She serves on the Boards of the A.H. Belo Corporation, Southwestern Medical Foundation, Communities Foundation of Texas and The Hockaday School in Dallas.  Shel resides in Dallas with her husband, two daughters and a dog.

This interview has been minimally edited.

In The News

Author: Julia Travers

I often cover innovations in science, the arts and social justice. Find my work with NPR, Discover Magazine, APR and Earth Island Journal, among other publications. My portfolio is at

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