From YMCA director of youth programming to special education teacher in her native New Mexico to assistant superintendent for a large school district in Massachusetts, Dr. Lauren Sanchez Gilbert knows what keeps youth leaders, educators and school administrators up at night because she’s walked in their shoes.
She took this firsthand experience and joined BellXcel in 2011, where she served in executive leadership roles, including vice president of community impact and chief strategy officer, before being appointed CEO in 2017.
Her blend of deep practitioner knowledge and fierce commitment to provide everything professionals need to run youth programming made her uniquely qualified to lead the company’s major transition from a direct provider of out-of-school programs to a software-as-a-service innovator.
Dr. Sanchez Gilbert and her team are passionately committed to the end-to-end youth programming experience for directors, staff, parents and kids. This mentality is why Arly, BellXcel’s SaaS solution, goes beyond a typical digital platform in the youth sector – it brings together all the resources, tools, teaching, and curriculum proven to be essential to creating experiences that make a difference.
As a female, Hispanic leader, being taken seriously was a challenge, particularly as the organization shifted into the technology space and discontinued its direct service line of business, which was 65% of its revenue. “Female leaders must do more work than male counterparts to overcome misconceptions and be taken seriously when demonstrating innovative ideas, especially those ideas that signal disruption changes in a sector,” she said.
When the risk of business as usual was greater than shifting the business to achieve the desired impact, Dr. Sanchez Gilbert’s superpower came to light. She has an innate ability to balance responsible transparency while fostering meaningful change.
“Perseverance and unwavering commitment to your vision are vital to avoid getting sidetracked by the doubt one faces in both their vision and ability to achieve it,” Dr. Sanchez Gilbert added.
Early in her career, however, confidence in her personal leadership style wasn’t always easy to implement. Given her success in building diverse teams that produce great work, she is now steadfast in her own brand of leadership.
Her leadership style is focused on fostering a strong culture of equity and inclusion supported by innovation and mutual respect. For example, she still meets with every new employee to discuss the importance of culture and belonging. This isn’t always easy for a CEO with a team of 50 employees and growing.
Dr. Sanchez Gilbert’s storied career has afforded her the ability to learn many lessons. First, she shares that founders should get comfortable with the fact that they will not get everything right; in fact, they may get a lot wrong. “But the real value and benefit is in learning and recognizing where you made a mistake – and owning it,” she said.
Taking the time to celebrate successes, provide positive feedback and promote work/life balance are also important to her. As a single mom, Dr. Sanchez Gilbert knows she needs to be centered on leading the organization, as well as prioritize time with her daughter, which includes being present for her very active sports life.
Dr. Sanchez Gilbert’s best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is to lean into who you are. “Confidence in yourself is essential, along with recognizing that you can’t do it alone,” she said.
“Leverage your strengths and be honest about your weaknesses. Surround yourself with people who are more talented and experienced in those areas and develop a strategy to manage those differences. Above all, don’t lean away from who you are; lean in.”