Mercy For Animals Senior VP Talks Being a Woman in Leadership

Mercy For Animals Senior VP Talks Being a Woman in Leadership

  • Hannah Bugga
  • Hannah Bugga

In honor of Women’s History Month, we will spotlight some amazing women activists, entrepreneurs, and others working to build a better world for animals! We decided to begin with our very own senior vice president of operations, Mamta Jain Valderrama.

Before joining Mercy For Animals, Mamta spent 10 years in healthcare operations and has led multimillion-dollar income reports. She took a break from corporate America to write a book about human trafficking that became an Amazon bestseller. Born and raised in the Jain culture, she grew up with the principle of ahimsa, and her values of nonviolence align perfectly with Mercy For Animals’ mission. Originally from Los Angeles, Mamta now lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with her husband and daughter.

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Here’s what Mamta had to say about the animal protection movement and being a woman in leadership!

Why is honoring and reflecting on women’s accomplishments important?

It’s important to acknowledge and honor accomplishments of all people, including underrepresented populations. The gender and racial reckonings that we have experienced in the past few years have been great for creating spaces for people of all genders, Indigenous people, and people of the global majority. I am particularly excited to see more stories about the women behind “great” men—the mothers, partners, siblings, and friends of historically recognized leaders and changemakers.

Why do you think it’s important to have women in the animal protection field?

I think it’s wonderful that the animal protection field is inclusive of all genders. Diversity of experience and identity is fundamental to strong teams and ideas. It’s just the right thing to do. Also, look at how much animal rights groups have achieved with women leading the charge. This list is a bit dated, but it is a nice summary of accomplishments since the 19th century. Historically, although this is starting to change as genders and gender roles evolve, women have led food-purchasing decisions for their households. As long as that remains true, it makes sense for animal rights groups to target some outreach to women. Of course, animal protection extends beyond food choices, but that is the area ripe for the most impact.

What first drew you to the animal protection movement?

I wanted to spend my time on a cause that aligned with my values. As a practicing Jain, I was raised on the principle of ahimsa (nonviolence toward all beings). Nonviolence toward animals is particularly emphasized in Jainism and has been a core value throughout my life. When I decided to switch careers out of healthcare and into animal rights, I was seeking fulfillment in my day-to-day work. I think it’s safe to assume that most people want to contribute to the greater good and do meaningful work. It was no different for me. I researched several animal protection organizations. Mercy For Animals stood out to me because of its size: a midsize organization with impressive growth plans. It was a place with room to make an impact. I was also eager to join an organization led by a woman.

What was your dream job as a child? Did you always envision yourself in a leadership role?

Yes, I always envisioned myself as a leader at a company. For two decades, I thought that I wanted to be a senior executive at a healthcare organization—a hospital or a large outpatient provider. The nonprofit sector wasn’t something I considered until two or three years ago. I don’t have a good explanation for why, other than I didn’t have many friends or family who worked at nonprofits, aside from volunteering. That changed in mid-2020. I craved a deeper connection to my work. More accurately, I wanted more alignment and fulfillment in how I spent my time. Like many of us, I struggled with the isolation introduced by the COVID-19 pandemic. The isolation I experienced became a catalyst to surround myself with like-minded co-workers with a common passion and common goal.

Which women have had an impact on your life? Can you share some of your role models with us?

My mom has been my biggest role model. She is incredibly resilient, which I admire and continuously strive toward. Some of my other role models are Maneka Gandhi, one of the foremost animal rights activists in India; Indra Nooyi for her leadership principles; and Brene Brown and her research on vulnerability. I also look up to Vice President Kamala Harris. I accepted the offer at Mercy For Animals shortly after the 2020 presidential election. When I told my family that I would be the next SVP of operations, my six-year-old daughter said, “Mommy, it seems like all the vice presidents are Indian girls.” I still tear up thinking about that. That is the lens through which my daughter views the world, and it gives me hope for all women.

What advice do you have for other women hoping to become leaders in the animal protection movement?

First, I’d like to say: We need you! Thanks for your interest, and keep going! Second, through your work experience, determine your leadership style. A Google search will show thousands of articles about types of leadership. Those can be helpful, but my advice is to define your style in your own terms. For example, as a leader, I am strong at execution. My team and I create a plan, and we see it through. My skill set pairs well with leaders who are visionaries, the big-picture thinkers who may need help turning big ideas into actionable projects.

That brings me to another suggestion. Surround yourself with people who complement you, who challenge you, and who let you take risks and learn from them. Those are all signs that an organization is willing to invest in your growth. Find a mentor. Mentors can have formal or informal relationships with mentees. Pick people who you respect, and observe their styles. How do they communicate in oral and written communication, how do they prioritize projects, what is their team culture like, and how do they make decisions?

Finally, and most importantly, don’t make yourself smaller, and respect the value you bring to any organization. The data show that women are more likely to not speak up in meetings, are more likely to apologize while articulating a point, and are more willing to be interrupted. On the second day of my previous job, one of my new colleagues complained to my new boss that I came off as too assertive. My new boss, a white man, said I needed to be “softer.” If I didn’t have family responsibilities, I would have quit right then. I started my next job search the following day. I stayed for a few more months, and shortly after I left, four of that company’s star performers (all women) left too.

Anyone working in animal rights who wants more advice is welcome to email me: [email protected].

Are you looking to begin your animal protection journey? Visit our Action Center to get started!