Philanthropy New York CEO Kathryn O’Neal-Dunham takes a holistic approach to her work and is well-attuned to how relationship dynamics within and between organizations impact outcomes. During her tenure, she has worked to help the organization rethink its processes and values so that they better center people—and, more specifically, racial equity—in all facets of work and to promote sector-wide paradigm shifts to narrow power gaps between funders and grantees. 
As part of our ongoing CEO:CEO interview series, PEAK Grantmaking President and CEO Satonya Fair sat down with O’Neal-Dunham to discuss how her career journey shaped her people-first approach to leadership and the growing capacity for operations-level professionals to champion change. Here are some highlights from their conversation.

Fair: You’ve done just about everything in this space. What particular skill set prepared you for leadership, not just in this role, but in general?

O’Neal-Dunham: I don’t know it’s as much a skill set as it is the leadership that I experienced throughout my career. I spent six years in a development role in a fairly complex health and human services organization focused on foster care. That role taught me to see how different parts of the organization need to work together in order to create success. I also learned to see where processes would break down and then figure out what was needed to make things work.

I have had the incredible fortune of working almost exclusively for very dynamic and thoughtful female leaders, many of whom were women of color. When I worked in investment banking and was the head of the Macquarie Group Foundation, that was a very male, very capitalist environment. And it was late enough in my career that I had a moment where I was able to absorb how very different it was from being in primarily female-led environments.

It wasn’t only developing skill sets that prepared me for leadership, it was developing a way of thinking, of approaching problems, of approaching work-life balance, of how we thought about the people and the places we were in, that I can only describe as distinctly female. And there was a way that each one of those women was such a deep role model for owning the power and responsibility of a leadership role.

Fair: That is so interesting because in the philanthropy world, the dominant voice is not always a female voice.

O’Neal-Dunham: The head of the Macquarie Group Foundation was a woman. She reported, of course, to an all-male board. And as it happens, especially in business, she had learned to play the game the way the boys wanted her to play it. So, that was probably the first time that I felt a distinctly different way of operating in philanthropy.

Philanthropy is overwhelmingly white and we have certain ways and norms that shape how we do this work. Large foundations are still primarily run by white male CEOs, but that demographic is changing, at least in New York. I am seeing more and more women and women of color, in particular, heading foundations. And I see more folks in the middle of those organizations identifying the sphere of influence that they have, speaking out more and more loudly about the change that needs to happen. They are building power at the center. The whole shape and voice of philanthropy is beginning to change. I hear a clear voice that is working to shift the sector—and it’s not coming from the top.

Read the full article about equity in philanthropy by  Satonya Fair and Kathryn O’Neal-Dunham at PEAK Grantmaking.