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Gloria Willingham

Gloria Willingham

Credentials: BSN, MNSc, PhD, Lt. Colonel- US Army Retired

Place of Employment: Retired/ Currently Pro Bono CEO – Afram Global Organization Inc, A 502(c)(3) Nonprofit Charitable Organization

Which Nursing Organizations are you currently a member of: Psi Eta Chapter, Chi Eta Phi Sorority Inc., Sigma Theta Tau(inactive)

Board(s) currently serving on: Goddard College-Board of Trustees; California State University Long Beach Board of Governors; Claremont Graduate University Alumni Board of Trustees; Afram Global Organization Inc. Board of Trustees.


Tell us about your journey to the boardroom. What inspired you to seek a leadership position?

I first became active in Board Leadership many years ago when Dr. Carrie Lenburg recommended me to serve on the newly formed Alumni Trustee Board of the USNY Regents External Degree Programs (Now Excelsior College). I suddenly found myself interacting with other Board members from different disciplines as I was the only RN on that board at the time. I gained a deeper understanding of Board operating procedures and responsibilities. I was eventually elected as President of that Board which now was growing in its responsibilities and accountabilities. It was under my presidency that Access to financial aid for students enrolled in nontraditional degree programs became a reality. Membership on this board led me to being appointed to a major Blue-Ribbon Task Force Studying Competency-based Education and Proficiency Testing and reporting directly to the New York State Board of Regents. This positioned me to gain a deeper understanding of the broad spectrum of legal, oversight, and budget issues that affect an organization’s mission fulfillment. After that experience as a young Nurse I was truly inspired to find opportunities to serve on boards. …And so the journey was launched. I served as a member of Nursing Advisory Boards of Colleges and Universities after moving to California. I was later appointed to other boards including The Board of Directors of The Long Beach AIDS Foundation, Terminal Island Correctional Facility Community Board; Psi Eta Chapter Chi Eta Phi Sorority Inc Board of Directors; Chi Eta Phi Sorority Inc-Southwest Region Board of Directors; etc. With each appointment I gained a deeper understanding of how various boards operate at different stages of development. I continued over the years to build networks of colleagues who were also involved in leadership at the board level. These networks positioned me to not only become a member and leader on major boards but also positioned me to mentor and to recommend other nurses to serve.

What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as a leader?

Attend Board Leadership Development Programs Every time I change roles or positions on a Board, I study that role, speak with other Board members who have held similar roles. Networking with others who have served in Board leadership positions is very important.

What impact have you had serving on a board? Example?

I bring broader insights into board discussions and decisions. I have been able to connect the board to the experiences of the broader community. I have been able to impact on budget and policy decisions; hiring decisions re: college presidents and organizational CEOs. Through my credible service on boards, my fellow board members see nurses as leaders and equals in the Board.

What advice would you give someone going into a board leadership position for the first time?

Learn all you can about the organization including its current challenges and opportunities. Become very knowledgeable about the fiduciary responsibilities/accountabilities of that Board. Be very serious about your commitments as a board member and be prepared to attend and to actively participate in every meeting.

What are a few resources you would recommend to someone looking to gain insight into becoming a better leader and eventually obtaining a board position?

I am African-American and particularly when speaking to and encouraging other African-Americans I suggest that they seek opportunities to serve on committees very strategically. This included serving on local committees at their faith-based organizations, local chapters of their professional organizations, community advisory committees, etc. This provides grooming for other leadership, increases your visibility in diverse groups as a credible leader. I would also recommend that my fellow African Americans particularly seek out a Board Leadership Development program that not only prepares them for a board role but that also positions them to be appointed to a board. Specifically, for those here in Southern California, I recommend the African-American Board Leadership Development Institute given their track record.

Why do you feel it is important for nurses to serve on boards?

Board membership provides nurses with a deeper understanding of various issues that an organization must address in order to remain viable and true to its mission. Board membership also increases the credibility of nurse’s insights in informing major decisions.

What do you think is the most significant barrier to nurses serving on boards?

I would wager that most Nurses whose sole experience has been in fulfilling their “on the job” responsibilities view the world through those lenses. This narrow focus to me is the most significant barrier to seeing beyond that. The Nurse is positioned to be “good at doing the job,” while in many ways being excluded from the experience gained in Board level discussions. This leads to an exclusion of nurse’s voices in arenas outside those dominated by our profession.

- BSN, MNSc, PhD, Lt. Colonel- US Army Retired

Gloria Willingham BSN, MNSc, PhD, Lt. Colonel- US Army Retired February 8, 2018

Boards: Goddard College-Board of Trustees; California State University Long Beach Board of Governors; Claremont Graduate University Alumni Board of Trustees; Afram Global Organization Inc. Board of Trustees
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