An Interview with Regina Malveaux, J.D., CEO, YWCA Spokane

For more about the series, Black & Bold: Perspectives on Leadership, click here.

Regina Malveaux, J.D., CEO, YWCA Spokane

Believe you can!


Regina Malveaux is recognized as a tenacious advocate for women, youth and children. In this interview, she reflects on milestones along her personal and professional journeys that have shaped her and the communities she has served.

Tell me about your current role.

I’m the CEO at YWCA Spokane. The position I aspired to throughout much of my career was to lead a large human services organization. Fifteen years ago, I started working with the YWCA, specifically because of our dual mission to eliminate racism and empower women, and its connection to my personal narrative and story.

I’ve been CEO for the last six and a half years and prior to this role, I was the executive director at South Hampton Roads YWCA in Virginia. It was a great place to run my first agency, which was half the size of my current organization. At a smaller agency the executive director wears many, many hats including staff management, development, budget management, and donor and community relationship building. My role as CEO is in large part about building internal culture, agency strategy, fiscal accountability, and facilitating systems change.

If there was a soundtrack of greatest hits related to your career, what would make the list?

This is my favorite question! “Bravo” by Ledisi, “Rise Up” by Andra Day, and “I Was Here” by Beyoncé really resonate. I used Beyoncé’s song in a personal development journaling course and made a video version of a vision board. This song really connects with me in terms of what I hope people will think of my contributions to women’s and children’s lives and the systems that impact them when I am gone.

Dear Mama” by Tupac reminds me of the relationship between my son, Kellen, and I. He is now 27, but during adolescence he cycled in and out of the juvenile justice system and was expelled from four high schools largely as the result of a dual diagnosis of bipolar and substance abuse. We have journeyed together, and that song captures the journey, which has greatly impacted my life’s trajectory. I didn’t feel able to fulfill potential in my career until he was out of crisis and an adult. I had stepped back from leadership to help him navigate being a teenager with challenges. I ended up working for a community organization and helped them create programming for criminal justice affiliated youth re-entering society and leaving a gang environment. The role was outside of my bailiwick in victims’ services and women’s empowerment, but I felt compelled to impact the lives of young Black men in my community at risk of gang violence and long-term incarceration.

Work in the social sector can be very personal and linked to one’s values. Can you think of a time when your values were in tension during your career and how you reconciled that tension or not?

Absolutely. I will admit that I didn’t reconcile it with as much professional maturity as I could have. I have quit two jobs in righteous indignation. My first leadership management role was with the Jacobs Center for Neighborhood Innovation. A family foundation had purchased a sizable amount of land in the Black community where my parents had their first home. Within the community, there was concern about a land grab by “the white man.”

Dr. Jacobs had written a book called The Compassionate Conservative, which my friends found laughable since I’m so liberal. It was ironic for me to work for Republican philanthropist, but the organization was doing good work and I was hired to support this first-of-its-kind community development public offering where residents could buy into the development. There were certain U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) requirements for the level of assets and investment sophistication, so we had to file with the state to get permissions. (Regina Malveaux pictured at right.)

I was the liaison between the securities attorneys and the community, helping to build support for community residents to purchase shares once the public offering was approved. There were community voice and resident meetings that helped shape and inform the development happening. We had four key values written on every wall and at some point, it came to feel like we/they were manipulating the outcomes as if they were developed by community. I ultimately felt in conflict with what we were saying versus what I believed we were doing and left the organization.

Can you share an experience in the workplace where you have had to reclaim your time? What was the context? How did you navigate it? What was the outcome?

I interned for Congresswoman Maxine Waters in 1998 between my first and second year of law school. I have worked for YWCA for 15 years and work in an environment that is 97% women. I think in general most women tend to have more respect for each other than some men have for us.

Our organization has a legal partnership with another organization where we co-own our building. There is equal ownership in the building, and we vote on issues related to that co-ownership. Some years ago, there was a complicated financial transaction and the partner organization’s accountant tried to “explain” the scenario to me as though I didn’t understand. After the third time, I said that I absolutely understood the issue, but didn’t agree with his proposed approach. He looked to my CFO to ask a question as if to say, “Can you help her understand?” When our CFO supported my position, he turned to the board treasurer and basically did the same thing. I told him that I had tried to be polite in this meeting, but it felt like he was trying to question my competence.  I told him that if he couldn’t respect me and quit “mansplaining,” then he needed to leave my office.

What’s your approach to self-care? Are there any rituals you use to survive and thrive?

The short answer is not really; it’s one of the challenges I have. I have always been a workaholic, so work has felt like second nature to me. In this role, I don’t see clients anymore, so I don’t experience trauma in same way that my staff does. That said, therapy and reflection are tools I try to utilize.

I moved to Norfolk and Spokane without ever visiting those cities. All the people I love live somewhere else. I must fly home to “fill my cup,” so I am doing more of that.

I am an only child and will admit to really enjoying my solitude. I spend lots of time at home recharging, and for the most part, I really enjoy my own company.

We come from a resilient and strong lineage. How would you describe the type of ancestor you want to be and why?

I just want my family in particular to look back and say, “Our mother/grandma, was kick-ass and did so much to better the lives of other people.”

What advice would you offer other Black women trying to develop or amplify their voice and become self-advocates?

Self-confidence is key to everything, and the sooner you can stop doubting yourself and identify and believe in your talents, the easier self-advocacy will be. There are books that are letters you would write to your 20-year-old self. I have been pretty self-actualized, with a sense of who I wanted to be, but have recognized that has ebbed and flowed. In high school, except for dating, I was overly confident. After an abusive first marriage, I lost most of that confidence.

In my early years as a single mother, I struggled and experienced living in poverty. The universe treats poor people badly. I had some confidence based on my experiences growing up financially comfortable, but systems and people can erode your spirit and cause you to question yourself and your value. Once I graduated from college, I was no longer living in poverty and was accepted to law school while raising a 5-year-old and a 7-year-old. You couldn’t tell me nothing!

If you could change the social sector in a way that would benefit, lift up, or affirm Black women, what would that change be?

There are so many. Two examples are the YWCA young women of color cohort and a sexual assault coalition in California. The Office on Violence Against Women did a study about the small number of Black women leading gender-based violence organizations. The reasons for attrition included both that those leaders didn’t have all the competencies they needed to run organizations like that and the reality that 5-10 different skill sets are required. The majority of us haven’t had opportunities to learn those things; you can’t have expertise if you’ve never been given the leadership opportunity. Boards of directors must be intentional and insist upon organizational leadership that diversifies the talent base. The sector must be intentional about promoting and supporting women of color in order to prepare for success in these roles.

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