Photo credit: Chloe Jackman
Simone Marean and Takai Tyler are the co-CEOs at Girls Leadership. Simone is the organization’s co-founder, and Takai started out as the Chief Operating Officer and transitioned to co-CEO in July 2020. Learn why shared power matters and what they have learned from it.
How did the decision to become co-CEOs come about?
Simone: I have felt aligned with Takai on priorities and values from day one. Over the last three and a half years we solidified our commitment to serving all girls by centering our work on the needs of the most marginalized girls to better serve all girls. And I could see where my experience growing up as a White woman limited my understanding of the experience of girls of color, no matter how much I read, learned, and worked to understand things differently. It felt limiting to have one White person in charge of Girls Leadership, when most of the girls we serve, most of the girls in the U.S., are girls of color. The more Takai and I worked together, the more our trust deepened and I knew we needed to have equal power and equal value.
Takai: One of my goals when I started at Girls Leadership was to help broaden who we serve. At one point, Simone and I discussed that I was already doing the work of a co-CEO and because of that, I should have the same title and compensation and be viewed the same way. We have always worked as equal partners and we knew that we were stronger together.
What is a key communication lesson you have learned from sharing power?
Takai: Authentic communication is essential. And there has to be time carved out to have difficult conversations. We became co-CEOs at a critical point in U.S. history in the summer of 2020. In addition to COVID-19, there was the focus on violence against Black folks and racial injustice. I needed to process a lot amidst the organization’s transition so authentic communication truly was crucial.
Simone: Processing deeply together through personal, vulnerable conversations is a superpower for many women, but as a White woman, I hadn’t had a lot of those conversations with Black women or Latinx women. I am so grateful to have the ongoing opportunity to address those barriers, and it’s been powerful to see what we can achieve when we address what keeps us apart.
Photo credit: Etienne Fang
What do you want people to know about your shared leadership model?
Takai: People often assume that co-leadership is not possible, but it is. You don’t weaken an organization or company through shared leadership — you actually strengthen it. It’s time for people to reimagine what it means to lead from different perspectives.
Simone: Whether it’s in a school, nonprofit, or company, we need to let go of the idea that sharing power means “giving something up.” Sharing our power is ultimately collective liberation that benefits all of us. Some people have expressed concern that if Girls Leadership centers the needs of girls of color, then people who are White (parents, teachers, donors, etc.) will have to give something up and lose something in that process. I believe that our work to better serve marginalized girls will also improve our programs for privileged girls. It’s all connected.
What might surprise people about shared leadership?
Takai: Shared leadership has to be intentional; it requires each individual to make a commitment to the work of that relationship, and this dynamic impacts the organization by virtue of the fact that not only are team members looking at the CEO, they’re now looking at the relationship between the two co-CEOs. The health of the shared leadership relationship reflects the health of the organization.
Simone: The corporate leadership assumption is that shared leadership doesn’t work, but the leadership definition we often circle back to comes from Harvard Business School: make others better as a result of your presence, and make that impact last in your absence. Takai and I are committed to making each other better, and it is incredibly rewarding.
Excerpted from an interview conducted by Etienne Fang, founder of Redefining Having It All.