Girls Inc. of Worcester CEO inspires young women by example to be ‘strong, smart and bold’

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By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor

Victoria Waterman gives a TEDxNatick presentation, “Today’s Girls are Tomorrow’s Leaders”.

Throughout Victoria Waterman’s career, there have been a number of “serendipitous steps” that have happened along the way, leading her to the right place at the right time, she said. And although she has enjoyed the different roles she has held, it is her current position, as CEO of the nonprofit Girls Inc. of Worcester, where she feels not only has she made a significant mark, but that she is truly where she is meant to be.

Girls Inc. is a national organization with affiliates in the United States and Canada that has a central goal of inspiring all girls to be “strong, smart and bold.” The Worcester affiliate is the organization’s second oldest and celebrated its 100 year anniversary in 2016. It serves approximately 1,000 girls each year, with a mix of research-based programs and mentoring relationships designed to help young girls become more confident and develop leadership skills.

As the former president of Leading Women Mass, Waterman worked with women helping them to develop strong business, financial, and strategic acumen through a variety of leadership programs, strategic networking events, and other resources. Prior to that, her career was in the banking industry.

Waterman is confident in her role as a leader – she knows she has a strong work ethic and a resume to back up that confidence. But when she was asked in 2009 to join the Board of Directors for Girls Inc., and then to become its president, she hesitated.

“I thought, ‘I’m not qualified! Why are they asking me?’” she said. “But they wouldn’t take no for an answer.”

“So I shifted my mind-set to imagine that if they were looking for someone with a fresh set of eyes, an understanding of business and leadership, representing a role model with a passion for the mission, and a network of strong women leaders, then I didn’t know anyone more qualified than me,” Waterman said.

So she accepted the position as board president and “loved it from the beginning.”

Three years later, another serendipitous step happened when the CEO at that time stepped down when her family moved to another state.

Another member of the board encouraged her to apply for the CEO position, but again, she hesitated, not certain she was the right woman. But after much introspection, she decided to apply. And in August 2012, she was unanimously named as the organization’s new CEO.

“I thought, ‘If not me, then who?’ I guess the lesson here is believe it when people tell you can do something!” she laughed.

As the nonprofit’s chief executive, she is also a liaison to the community as she advocates for young women. She serves on numerous other boards and committees and gave a very successful TEDxNatick presentation, “Today’s Girls are Tomorrow’s Leaders”.

Waterman is quick, though, to tout the important work the organization’s 15 fulltime and 45 part-time staff does.

Girls Inc. also has an incredible roster of approximately 800 volunteers throughout every part of the organization ranging from guest speakers, to behind the scenes, to building mentoring relationships.

“We couldn’t empower so many girls and families without the volunteers,” Waterman said.

Victoria Waterman with some of the girls at Girls Inc.

Many of the girls who have come to Girls Inc. have developed the skills to go onto further success, in continuing education and careers. But sometimes it’s not always easy and it’s not always a straight path, as illustrated by one alumni’s story, Waterman said.

The young woman had been coming to Girls Inc. for years. She was doing so well, in fact, she was named “Girl of the Year” and earned the esteemed Girls Inc. National $15,000 college scholarship.

“Then, she went to her first choice of colleges, and didn’t have a successful freshman year,” Waterman said. “When she came home, her father was disappointed because he felt she had let us down.”

“For the first time in her life, she stood up to him and said ‘Girls Inc. taught me to be strong, smart, and bold. That’s where I need to be.’”

Victoria Waterman reads to a young girl

“We welcomed her with open loving arms and helped her get back her confidence,” Waterman said. “She ended up taking classes locally, was accepted back to the college of her dreams and graduated in the degree she set out to earn from the beginning.

“If you told me I would be doing this 10 years ago, I wouldn’t have believed it. To honor the people who saw something in me before I saw it in myself, I aspire to intentionally look for that something special in others and inspire them.”

Girls Inc. is always looking for more volunteers and of course, monetary donations. For more information visit www.girlsincworcester.org, or call 508-755-6455.

Photos/submitted