10 Mar Interview with Rachna Krishnan, New CEO/Executive Director of The Women’s Center
By Elizabeth Albrycht, Director of Marketing and Communications, Criterion Systems
From her university years through a successful business career, Rachna Krishnan has been deeply involved in organizations devoted to mental health for women, men, and families. As a junior at the University of Pennsylvania, Rachna began volunteering for a Philadelphia grassroots organization called Women Organized Against Rape. She was trained to answer a hotline, and then volunteered at one of two designated “Code R” hospitals in the city – those that would complete rape kits. She provided moral support, clothing, information, and minor supplies to women seeking help after a sexual assault. This was the beginning of many years of volunteering and board service for nonprofits related to sexual assault and suicide prevention.
Rachna pursued a successful career in business, working at Andersen Consulting, getting her MBA at The Wharton School, and working at several companies in management consulting and change management positions. Most recently, she was a growth officer at Innova Health System, where she was responsible for strategy and new service line development and business development. She was planning to join the board of The Women’s Center (TWC), when she learned the organization was searching for a new leader as their current CEO, Shirley Clark, was retiring. The timing and fit were perfect, and Rachna became the new CEO/Executive Director of the organization.
Criterion has been a patron sponsor of the organization since 2017 and involved with the organization since 2009. With the Annual Leadership Conference coming up on March 14, we invited Rachna to share some of her lessons learned about leadership and her goals for The Women’s Center.
Elizabeth: What are the most important lessons you have learned about leadership?
Rachna: When I started at Inova in 2001, I joined an internal consulting group. I had been a management consultant for years, providing external advice to companies, but it is different when you are in an internal role. My boss gave me some great guidance. She said, “You have to trust that people are doing the best that they can given the resources they have.” This is something I really took to heart and practice today. I always trust that people are doing the best they can, and therefore give them respect and credit while having the humility to understand that people are trying. They may not always be perfect, but they deserve that respect. This is particularly important when coming in as a new leader. I think sometimes people are judgmental vs. trusting.
Related to trust is my second lesson: show people appreciation. I think people work hard; they want to do a good job. Acknowledging this, showing appreciation is important. When I was in consulting, I didn’t have that mindset. I felt that you didn’t need to say thank you for people just doing the job. I’ve since learned that showing appreciation helps people feel valued, that they are making a contribution. This is particularly important in the nonprofit and health care arenas where people don’t get paid as well and work long hours!
Elizabeth: What are the most important first steps when you become a leader of a new organization?
Rachna: I think it is important to listen to people about what they like and what they don’t like (if they’ll share). I like to listen to stories about why people joined TWC: How they got connected to the organization and why they’ve stayed. When I ask people these questions, it helps to open dialogue and helps me to understand them. It is what Steve Covey said, “First seek to understand, then to be understood.” I really seek to understand.
Elizabeth: What are you most excited about as the leader of TWC?
Rachna: There is such a need for mental health services in our community. I’m sure you’ve seen the many articles and studies showing that mental health issues are on the rise, especially anxiety and depression for young adults and teenagers. We need to realize that mental health is an important component of overall health. For example, if you are isolated, you are not in a good place and can’t follow through on your doctor’s advice and get better.
One of the huge gaps today is the lack of organizations that have reduced or sliding scale fees and that accept insurance. In fact, if there were two things I’d like people to know about TWC, the first is that we accept insurance! The second is that we treat men, families, and children as well as women.
Accepting insurance is a huge community service. I am very excited about expanding our impact and making these services available to more people.
Our sponsors are a big part of that. The partnership between TWC and Criterion has been fantastic. From volunteering to your philanthropic commitment, Criterion’s support has enabled us to provide more services.
Elizabeth: Thank you so much for sharing your insights on leadership and goals for the TWC. We look forward to seeing you at the Leadership Conference.