Gwen Tillman of Tides on Investing in Women: It’s Simple

Editor’s Note: This interview in our Feminist Giving IRL series features Gwen Tillman, Chief People Officer for Tides, a philanthropic partner and nonprofit accelerator.

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

By the time I took a sabbatical from working in the technology sector, I was burned out. I didn’t realize how burned out I was until I allowed myself some time to step back and figure out what I wanted my life to be about. As one of the very few Black women in my field, I constantly drove myself to perform at 1000%, and I think that’s true of many Black women who feel the systemic pressure to constantly prove themselves. What I wish I knew early on in my career is that none of us can function at 1000%, when our bodies and our souls are functioning at 50%. We have to be better advocates for our own well-being because nothing is worth risking your health. Find a career that is consistent with your values and an organization that grants you the grace to live a balanced life and feeds your soul, at the same time. I am happy to say, I have found that at Tides.  

2. What is your current greatest professional challenge?

Tides is a very unique place in that it serves as a hub for innovative organizations that are addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges. We are working to create a world of shared prosperity and social justice founded on equity, human rights, economic empowerment, a sustainable environment, quality education, and healthy individuals and communities. As Chief People Officer, I am responsible for leading all aspects of Tides’ human resources, including designing and implementing people strategies and solutions for the organization and its key partners to strengthen capacity and deliver on their missions. How do I help ensure that our employees don’t face the same burn-out that I experienced, especially given the magnitude of their work? That is the greatest professional challenge I face and one that I am committed to overcoming each day because when our employees and partners succeed, the communities they serve all succeed.

3. What inspires you most about your work?

So many things! I don’t know many people who can say that the work they do can help improve and save countless lives. Or that they are part of an organization that is rooted in racial and social justice–not to fill pages in a CSR report, but to truly bring about systemic change in communities that need it most. At Tides, our mission is to accelerate the pace of social change, working with innovative partners to solve society’s toughest problems. The only way we can do that is to take a collaborative, bold approach to the work. I could not be more proud to work for an organization that is doing the hard but important work internally to practice justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

4. How does your gender identity inform your work?

I think we all bring every part of our identities to the table in everything we do and, when we don’t, it eventually becomes an issue of personal integrity, which contributes to burn out.  I am naturally nurturing and empathetic, which I believe is essential in this job. As women, we tend to take on multiple roles of managing, motivating, supporting, making sure things get done, and caring for the people in our circles.

5. How can philanthropy support gender equity?

Great question. Veris Wealth Partners reported that globally there has been a rise in gender lens investing, with current public assets under management totaling $3.4 billion as of June 2019. Yet, women receive less than 3% of venture capital, with less than 1% going to women of color. If we want to support gender equity, we must invest in women and women-led organizations. It’s as simple as that.

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

I think last summer showed us that we are at a pivotal time of disruption, particularly in terms of social and racial justice. Women—specifically women of color—ran for office in record numbers, while this same demographic came out to the polls in record numbers. And this trend goes beyond politics and into board rooms, C-Suites, philanthropy and community work. If things are to change for women and women of color, we need to be in more leadership positions, and this is happening. In ten years, I hope we will look back on this time as the catalyst for gender pay equity, our first female president, 50% of women in boardrooms, and a philanthropic ecosystem that fully recognizes and supports women-led organizations and ventures.   

More on Gwen Tillman:

Gwen Tillman is the Chief People Officer for Tides. Prior to joining the organization, she spent more than 15 years working with nonprofits, and she has more than two decades of leadership honed while building and driving global people programs for premiere high-tech companies. In her most recent role as vice president of People Development & Community Engagement at AppDynamics, Gwen worked with leaders and employees at all levels across the business to grow and express their leadership in ways that were personally meaningful, while also generating the intended organizational outcomes.

This interview has been minimally edited.

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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 jtravers.journoportfolio.com.

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