As part of its mission to ensure every woman and girl in our community has equitable opportunity to reach her full potential—no matter place, race or identity, Women’s Fund of Central Indiana invests in women’s development. More than 20 years ago, Women’s Fund introduced OPTIONS, an initiative designed to help women cultivate their philanthropic power and build relationships. And, in 2023, we partnered with Black Leadership + Legacies, Inc., founded by Carolene Mays, to launch the Executive Women of Color Leadership Program that prepares women of color to move into positions of power and influence and to engage meaningfully in their careers, community and civic life.
Cecily Johnson Cruz has experienced both programs. She is part of the first cohort of the Executive Women of Color Leadership Program and is also an OPTIONS Alumnae (class 19).
Get to Know Cecily
Cecily is a consultant at Taylor Advising, a woman-owned, Indianapolis-based firm. Taylor Advising (along with Everwise) was one of the sponsors behind this summer’s Pink Glitter Bomb Barbie premier at Kan-Kan Cinema and Restaurant that benefited Women’s Fund and Girls Inc.
Cecily is very passionate about her work: “I have a great team, and a lot of the work we do is strategic planning focused. We also do a lot of diversity, equity and inclusion work. Our goal is to help organizations do their best in serving the community. As a consultant, I meet with awesome people and organizations. I love just networking with different people in different walks of life.”
Outside of work, Cecily loves to spend time with her partner Dustin, and together, they dote on their son Xander. She also enjoys listening to podcasts about public relations and true crime. In addition to listening to podcasts, she is an avid reader. Cecily is committed to being a lifelong learner, which is, in part, what led her to Women’s Fund.
Becoming Involved with Women’s Fund
Cecily’s first introduction to Women’s Fund was when the organization hosted First Lady Michelle Obama in 2018. Sometime after the event, Cecily was invited to attend an informational session about the OPTIONS program. “I met some wonderful women, and a couple were in my class, which was neat. I didn’t get to speak with them at the informational session, but it was great to see familiar faces at the first class. There was a welcome reception at another OPTIONS Alumnae’s house. The presentation was awesome, and I thought I’d love to be a part of that.”
The value of philanthropy drew Cecily to apply for OPTIONS and later to Executive Women of Color Leadership Program. “The common term I kept hearing was philanthropy. I understood that Women’s Fund is a philanthropic organization. And I love that it is the women’s fund, but I wanted to know more about the why?”
Through OPTIONS and Executive Women of Color Leadership Program, Cecily learned how Women’s Fund supports women and girls in Central Indiana—and why the support is so crucial.
Experiencing both OPTIONS and Executive Women of Color Leadership
After participating in OPTIONS, Cecily was still passionate about critical issues facing women and girls, so when the opportunity to participate in the Executive Women of Color Leadership program arose, she was thrilled. “What drew me to OPTIONS is how the program goes in depth about philanthropy. And the Executive Women of Color Leadership Program has built on top of what I learned in OPTIONS, but in a different way that is specific for women of color.”
“OPTIONS offers a space where I have my peers with me, and we all relate on some level of experiences we’ve had as women. OPTIONS is philanthropy focused, but there were conversations on what philanthropy looks like as it intersects with certain communities and how there are disparities in certain communities, whether that’s medical assistance, legal service or food deserts.”
Cecily found similar commonalities with her peers in Executive Women of Color Leadership Program but also something more specific. “We are having the same conversations, but I can look around the room and know that everyone in that room understands exactly what I’m talking about. They feel it because they’re living it. They too are living through issues unique to us as women of color.”
A Space for Women of Color to Connect
“Yes, we learn about philanthropy, but it also gives us a space to talk about things that only women of color experience. Some of those experiences are only relatable to us.”
The program has given her something very rare, “I feel that I’m more transparent and vulnerable with my Executive Women of Color Leadership Program cohort because, again, I know that someone there can relate, and I know that someone there is living or has lived an experience that I’m sharing, they’ve walked in my shoes essentially. That sets the group apart.”
The Impact of Executive Women of Color Leadership Program
The Executive Women of Color Leadership Program cohort has experienced many fun and informative activities this year, but Cecily noted some standouts. “There’s so many things I enjoyed. One activity that stands out is we had a session at IU Health, and the CEO, Dennis Murphy, came to speak with us directly, which I thought was neat. The day was about the intersection of Black women and healthcare.”
“More recently, we had a session, which was a self-care day. The first half was hearing about the importance of self-care and some strategies and tools for self-care. And then the second half was truly relaxation.”
Cecily shared that she has learned so much from being a part of the Executive Women of Color Leadership cohort, but something that has stayed with her is the importance of life balance. “I always say work-life balance, but I realized I was actually balancing work and throwing life in there when I could. In this most recent session, we talked about life balance. I realized it’s much more of a balancing act. It’s okay to pour more into life. You can be great in philanthropy, you can be great at your career, you can be great at home, but you can also be great for yourself. And I love that.”
About Women’s Fund
At Women’s Fund of Central Indiana, we are dedicated to mobilizing people, ideas and investments, so every woman and girl in our community has an equitable opportunity to reach her full potential – no matter her place, race or identity. We invest in organizations that help women in our focus areas, caregiving, intimate violence, economic empowerment and girls’ programs. Learn more about Women’s Fund.