“Empowered women empower women.” To some, this might just be a powerful quote, but for Rhonda Morris, it’s a way of life. An Oakland native, Rhonda is the Vice President and Chief Human Resources Officer at Chevron, the longest serving Techbridge Girls Board Member, and a loyal Oakland A’s fan. Rhonda’s years of service and leadership on our Board have blazed a path for Techbridge Girls to serve one million girls by 2030. Through Rhonda’s ongoing support, Techbridge Girls also received our first $1 million gift — an unrestricted grant from long-time partner Chevron in support of our efforts to provide girls with access to STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education. From securing substantial financial support, to recruiting additional board members, to hiring a Techbridge Girls alum at Chevron, Rhonda has created an enduring and deep-rooted impact. We had the honor of interviewing Rhonda this month to learn more about her journey and perspective on the importance of role models and women who lead fearlessly.
“We underestimate the power of role models,” Rhonda said. In her own life, she found inspiration in her high school algebra teacher. Although Rhonda was a bright, talented student, she initially struggled in algebra because she was unfamiliar with many of the concepts. Rhonda ultimately had the courage to ask her teacher for help, and her teacher stayed after school to review the materials together. “Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but of strength and confidence,” Rhonda said. “Girls who are interested in STEM should try out different things that are challenging, and if they don’t work, be resilient.”
Resilience is a trait exemplified by Rhonda. Growing up, she was one of the only girls in her neighborhood. And throughout her career, she has often been the sole woman in a room. “Being the only woman in a room is a challenge,” Rhonda shared, but she envisions a future where girls never have to experience that feeling. For Rhonda, that’s why it’s so important to ensure that girls have role models: empowered women can empower other women by mitigating the experience of being an “only,” and encouraging girls to pursue an education or career in STEM. “As we say at Chevron,” Rhonda told us, “if you can’t see it, you can’t be it.”
Rhonda recalled Chevron hosting a science and baseball event with activities designed to show students how science is a key aspect of baseball. Some of the baseball players in attendance had STEM degrees, so while talking with a 10-year-old girl at the event, Rhonda pointed out one of the players and said, “He’s an engineer.” The young girl looked up at Rhonda and asked, “What’s an engineer?” Rhonda has worked tirelessly to change that narrative and ensure that all girls understand the careers and opportunities available to them through the power of STEM. That’s why she is so passionate about Techbridge Girls’ mission. As a strong advocate for our work, Rhonda has helped to invest $4 million from Chevron in our programming over the past 10 years.
The impact of Rhonda’s efforts is also evident in the trajectory of young women like Aileen Iniguez, who participated in Techbridge Girls’ after-school STEM programming in Oakland, CA during middle school and stayed connected with her Techbridge Girls role model throughout high school and college. Growing up in a high-poverty community, Aileen was not aware of STEM careers or the opportunities available through STEM education. But after joining Techbridge Girls and meeting female role models who worked at Chevron, Aileen was inspired to pursue STEM, and ultimately graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in Applied Mathematics. At the same time, one of Rhonda’s goals had been to hire a Techbridge Girls alumna, and in 2017, she did just that: as mentioned in the video below, she hired Aileen as an IT Business Analyst at Chevron.
In Rhonda’s own work at Chevron, she is leading fearlessly and empowering other women by spearheading an organizational shift to a feedback-rich culture. “A fearless leader creates an environment where people tell you the truth and speak truth to power,” Rhonda said. Though it can sometimes require tough conversations, providing feedback enables our communities to develop. By encouraging specific, detailed, and constructive feedback, we can help those around us to grow and be more connected and inspired. Similarly, role models are also a critical source of inspiration, as articulated in Chevron’s “Thank Your Role Model” initiative. As part of this campaign, women of Chevron expressed their appreciation for the role models who inspired them to persist in STEM, from astronaut Mae Jemison to computer scientist Grace Hopper. It is now our pleasure to thank our own role model, Rhonda, for being a fearless leader and advocate. On behalf of the entire Techbridge Girls community, we extend our deepest gratitude to Rhonda for inspiring our girls and countless women around the world.