Emily M. Dickens is a licensed attorney and human resources management professional. She works for a cause, or several causes, in higher education, public policy, local government, business and community affairs.
At the beginning her career, like many service alumni, Emily was seeking an opportunity to make a difference. Below she tells her story about finding service accidently, and the meaningful ways it prepared her for a career in helping others find their passion.
Her mantra, “A better workplace makes a better world,” is rooted in her commitment to service, and one of the many reasons we want to lift up her voice in honor of Women’s History Month. Emily is building her own legacy and putting the next generation of women leaders up on her shoulders to find their successes. She is a testament to Women Providing Healing, Providing Hope, the theme designated by the National Women's History Alliance for this year’s celebration.
Five Questions with Emily
Tell us about your AmeriCorps Service.
I was an AmeriCorps [member] in the VISTA program in my gap year between undergrad and graduate school assigned to Durham County Habitat for Humanity in Durham, N.C. I was a youth services coordinator responsible for engaging collegiate chapters and church youth groups.
Is there a particular moment in Women’s History that stands out and inspires you?
I was a history major. So for me, learning about the evolution of our influence on the world over time and interacting with amazing women my entire life like my mother, other female relatives, my teachers, employers and colleagues created a continuum of inspiration.
Why did you decide to join AmeriCorps?
The decision was actually made for me. I saw the posting in our career services office and didn't realize until later that the position was funded by an AmeriCorps grant. What appealed to me was working with Habitat for Humanity. Housing insecurity is an issue my family faced while I was in my first year of college. Had they been able to purchase the home we grew up in sooner, they would not have found themselves priced out of the housing market.
Why would you recommend AmeriCorps to someone who’s interested in pursuing public service or nonprofit work, like yourself?
The opportunity to be exposed to people with different experiences while being a source of help for them stays with you. When you understand the importance of helping others and do it every day for a year it becomes a habit. No matter what you do next, you find a way to help others because it’s something you’re used to doing. This makes you a better leader and community member.
What are some of the successes and challenges you’ve faced when fighting for positive social change as an AmeriCorps member and throughout your career?
Funny enough, my challenge at the beginning of my AmeriCorps year was finding housing. I was just out of school with no rental history, no credit and my parents couldn't cosign for me. Luckily, I found a place, but it required a large security deposit because of my credit score and lack of rental history. I imagine there are many people who want to advocate for social justice who need help, as well.
What I learned from that period that I'd call a success is: you can't make change alone. What I loved about Habitat for Humanity is that every house was the result of efforts by many stakeholders. Local government often provided land, zoning adjustments or tax breaks; local businesses and churches provided funding and labor; the perspective owners provided sweat equity and local financial institutions provided no-interest loans. The organization continues to thrive because of its inclusivity. And that's the lesson, especially for leaders. You can't do it well, alone.
Emily M. Dickens is Chief of Staff, Head of Government Affairs and Corporate Secretary for the Society for Human Resource Management. She serves on the executive board of the North America Human Resource Management Association and is Secretary-General of the World Federation of People Management Associations.
She is an attorney with significant and progressive experience in government, higher education and the nonprofit sector. She has served as a member of the leadership team at the University of North Carolina system, the Association of Governing Boards of Colleges and Universities and the Thurgood Marshall College Fund. She earned her bachelor’s, master’s and law degrees from North Carolina Central University.
Emily is actively engaged in board service and is Chairman of the International HBCU Task Force for Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated, among many other organizations.