Erin Seeley, CEO of the Metro Vancouver YWCA: Listening is Leading

Originally published on qathet Living

You might remember Erin from her first job behind the concession counter at the Recreation Complex, serving chicken nuggets to hockey fans. Or, from her time in the Academy of Music choirs, or on the volleyball and baseball teams, or from Girl Guides. To Erin, Powell River was her nest and launch pad; she was born at the old hospital in 1976, and graduated from Max Cameron in 1994 – the last year she lived here full-time before leaving to study at the University of Victoria, travel in Latin America, and later attend Simon Fraser University.

Now, Erin is at the helm of one of BC’s largest social services agencies: The YWCA of Metro Vancouver. Under her leadership, the agency provides housing for women and families, childcare, job skills, legal supports, mentorship, support for those who have experienced abuse, support for single moms, and much more.

“I lead from behind,” Erin said. “My skills are convening people, giving them skills and furthering the team and objective. I am pretty dedicated to the science of that. How do you connect, coach and mentor people and create an organizational structure where everyone can do their best?”

“We have three internal committees in our organization, all led by those with lived experience: a racial equity group, a gender diversity group and a truth and reconciliation group. It takes a big weight off my shoulders as CEO to avoid top-down decision making. I know that working this way helps advance social justice and creates systems of change.”

It’s not easy. Changing a large organization towards inclusive leadership can be gruelling, Erin reports. But for effectiveness and justice, it’s worth it.

 “This work is never smooth! It’s always messy. It takes a board that listens. You have to be willing to take risks, and to fail. Make sure your panels are really diverse. That can lead to differing opinions. The solution is to always default to values like respect and integrity, because sometimes discussions can get impassioned.”

“I always felt lucky growing up in a small community where my parents had good jobs [her father, the late Bob Seeley, co-owned and later worked at the GM dealership, and her step-mom, Kathy Northrup, managed Grace House.] I always knew we were fortunate. As I grew older, I learned how systems work against many people.”

From the tough love she received from Mrs. Halliday at Grief Point school, who made her challenge herself academically, to the generosity of the community scholarships that helped her chart her course, she credits this place for nurturing her, opening her eyes, and pushing her to be her best.

top photo credit: Erin Seeley says her Powell River roots helped her to take on an executive role and “lead from behind.” – Photo courtesy qathet Living

Sign-up for Cortes Currents email-out:

To receive an emailed catalogue of articles on Cortes Currents, send a (blank) email to subscribe to your desired frequency: