Pianos, smart people, and Governor Brown

Recently in one of my many conversations with co-founder Marie about The Eleanor Club, I suggested we feature some of the incredible women we know and have met along our individual paths over the years.  I’m pleased to share with you our very first feature on an amazing women I met through a mutual friend several years ago:  Shelli Romero!

Shelli Romero was raised by educator activist parents on the picket line advocating for farmworkers rights as a girl in rural, suburban and urban Oregon communities. She holds a BA in Speech: Rhetoric and Communication from the University of Oregon and achieved a Masters in Public Administration degree from Portland State University. Recently, she received her Oregon Project Management Certification from Willamette University’s Atkinson School of Graduate Studies.

1937111_10153601366693553_6428460362679245152_nShelli’s career includes a strong public administration background including communications and outreach, public policy, strategic planning, program and people management. She has worked for the federal, state, city and county levels of government and for two non-profits. She currently works at the Oregon Department of Transportation as Area Manager- West (Interim) in Region 1.   Four years ago, Shelli launched a side business, Rose City Chica, LLC which provides career coaching, development and exploration to clients. She graduated from the American Leadership Forum and the National Hispana Leadership Institute, a national executive leadership program. She is a graduate of Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government in Public Policy Executive Leadership Institute. Shelli has lived in Portland in the Foster-Powell neighborhood for 20 years.

And that’s not all!  She is very engaged in the community and loves to spend time with family and her friends.  I spotted her at the Diana Ross concert out at Edgefield last month – she is everywhere living an engaged life. Recently, I asked her for some insights around negotiation skills, self-care, and the opportunities of women to use our influence in the

How do you approach negotiation? Can you describe a successful outcome / ‘lesson learned’ experience?

I approach negotiation by listening to what the other party wants and their motivation behind what they want and balance that out with my own wants and needs. There are some items that are not negotiable from both parties which is important to understand. Negotiation is about flexibility where a successful outcome is about both parties compromising and reaching agreement and being able to live with and feel ok about the outcome.

A lesson learned experience:   There are so many times where I can recall negotiating. I think you learn these skills in your family, especially when growing up. One example I can recall was when I was around 10 years old, my parents asked if I was interested in playing the piano and if they bought one, would I agree to take lessons. Our whole family became involved in picking out the piano that we bought and shortly thereafter, I began taking lessons.

My Grandma Maggie, my father’s mother, loved the piano and she had tried pretty unsuccessfully to get one of her 9 children to play the piano and none of them had stuck with it. So as the eldest daughter of the eldest son of my grandmother, I would practice even though it never seemed to be enough to satisfy my father. He would harp on me to practice more – and this became a never-ending cycle. After school, my siblings and the neighborhood kids would be outside playing and I would be stuck practicing piano. The general rule I was expected to follow was to practice piano after school and then take the weekends off.

One Saturday, my father implored me to sit down and practice and said, “I don’t pay $40 a month for you not to practice.” By that time, I had had it. I got so mad, I ran to my room and grabbed $100 in cash I had been saving from babysitting for several families and threw the money up in the air all over the kitchen and dramatically said, “Well now you don’t have to worry about paying for my lessons!” At that point, my father figured out he had pushed me too far. He gave me all the money back and we began to compromise about how much time I would practice piano. From that point on, we never had a problem.

Where do you see that women can help each other more?  Where did you receive the most help from women in your career?

I see that women can help each other more in the workplace. It is not about competing with one another or putting another woman through what you went through to arrive at where you are. It is about hiring, mentoring and supporting other women and providing them with access to opportunities and providing opportunities for them to succeed, shine and advance. It is about hiring smart people around you and who work for you so that you enhance your team and skills with others who may know more or are better at some aspects of the work than you are. I received the most help from women in my career early on. I am lucky to have a handful of women who I consider mentors, friends and colleagues – two of them are former bosses of mine. They provide me with important career advice, serve as my supporters, mentors and friends and they provide me with strategic guidance and encouragement which is so important over one’s career.

What three women have been the most inspirational for you and why?

My mother, Kathy Romero; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor ; and Governor Kate Brown. All are really strong women. My mother shaped me to be who and how I am. One thing I really admire about her is how she balanced family and work. She likely gave up her dream of becoming a teacher until much later in life. Earning a Master’s degree at age 61, she realized her lifelong dream of earning a Master’s degree and teaching in grade school classes working primarily with English Language Learners.

Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor was raised by a single mother. I have seen Justice Sotomayor speak in person and have read her books. She has risen to serve on the highest court but remains humble and knows herself and where she came from. She understands the value of public and community service and giving back to the community. She was raised in poverty, but her mother instilled in her the importance of education and she worked extremely hard to achieve despite many institutional and financial barriers. She is an inspiration.

I met Governor Kate Brown in 1994. She was a State Representative. I have followed her career over the course of our knowing each other and have been very impressed with how down to earth she is, and yet it is clear she works hard and is brilliant. She also has a very special way with people. She is trustworthy and approachable. She has worked over the years to help other people, especially women and people of color. Governor Brown is also courageous. She has given herself to our State and has a long history and track record of public service. She is a Governor of the people.

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What is your favorite self-care activity?

I have several: Hiking/Walking in nature; Massage/Foot Reflexology, spending time with family and friends and travel, kayaking and cooking (my creative outlet). I also thoroughly enjoy reading and movies including documentaries and foreign flicks!

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Tell us about your strongest leadership skill?

I am a gifted strategic communicator. I am resourceful and master networker with a vast network of family, friends and colleagues across the United States who I call on for help or connect with others to make the world go around! I never forget a face.

What kind of activities do you pursue as a volunteer in your community and why?

 I have served on many boards, but as I have advanced in my career, it has been difficult to continue my board service. My volunteer activities include providing strategic career advice to others, providing political campaign and/or policy insight to people who are running for or serving in elected office and engaging in supporting organizations and causes whose missions includes social/community justice. I also mentor several younger Latinas. I was raised on the picket line in Oregon advocating for farmworkers rights as a girl and learned early on about the importance of being involved in the community. This was a value instilled in me by my parents and by labor leader Cesar Chavez. I have been on several boards in the past and my volunteerism is important because I want to give back and make a difference. In my family upbringing. volunteerism was always important. I remember going with my father to Centro Cultural in Cornelius to register voters as a girl.


Can you describe one of your favorite collaborations and why it was so great?

I would have to say that my favorite collaboration was a project I worked on at ODOT. ODOT and Friends of Trees teamed up on a Metro Capitol Grant program called Nature in Neighborhoods. The grant was around $410,000 and was a 3-year grant to add trees and shrubs to the 16.5 mile long   I-205 Shared Use Path from Marine Drive to Gladstone. We had to overcome some hurdles to get the grant. But the results were incredible. After 4 years, we added over 4,000 trees and shrubs to the I-205 Share Use Path which runs parallel to the MAX Green line and traverses several diverse and lower/mixed income neighborhoods including Montavilla, Lents, Foster/Powell and more. This partnership also extended to include Verde, a non-profit that provides paid on the job training for mainly Latinos who work in the green industry and Portland Opportunities Industrialization Council (POIC), which provides low income, racially diverse first generation students with a chance at acquiring leadership and paid on the job training experience. This collaboration involved a lot of organizations and a lot of people from elected officials to grassroots organizations and private industry sponsors that helped us green a tree deficient part of the City. We also had to raise a 3:1 match in funds and in-kind donations and leveraged private sector planting sponsorships and volunteer-hours put in by groups including the Girl Scouts, Neighborhood Associations, I Have a Dream Foundation, Friends of the Children, and more. Watching people plant trees while networking and building community across different racial and income backgrounds was nothing short of magical. The POIC youth also got to be trained as Friends of Trees crew leaders and build confidence and leadership capacity.   In the end, this project won about 8 awards at the local and national levels and was extremely rewarding.

What is your favorite inspirational quote and why?

I have 3 favorite quotes:

“Don’t Tell Me No, Tell Me How” – I came up with this quote working mainly in the public sector where you have to get creative to get things accomplished. It does me little good if the answer is no if you don’t provide me with alternatives for how to get it accomplished another way. Left to my own devices, I will figure out how to get it done myself or with the help of others.

“Si Se Puede” (Yes we can) – This quote comes from the farmworker labor movement and was used later as part of President Obama’s campaign slogan. It is a guiding quote of struggle, perseverance and hope and is a guiding message in my family, my community. It appeared on a banner my parents had made for me when I graduated from Portland State University with my Masters Degree in Public Administration.

“To be Successful is to be helpful, caring and constructive, to make everything and everyone you touch a little bit better. The best thing you have to give is yourself.” – Everyone has value, everyone has special gifts and those gifts were meant to be shared to do good everywhere you go and with everyone you meet. You are never fully aware of the difference and the impression you make on others. We all have an obligation to do good unto others as others have done unto us.

The Eleanor Club is founded on service, inclusion, and influence. Our purpose is to speak frankly and directly about how women can better influence the events and circumstances that matter to them, their families, and communities.

We started the group as a place for women to connect and speak frankly about influence and inclusion, and its importance. Our intention is to create a network that motivates women – both individually and collectively – to challenge the status quo.

Our next gathering is taking place in Martha’s (Revolution Hall – located on the ground floor) on Monday, 8/15 (6 pm to 8 pm). Thanks to Revolution Hall for serving as our host for this fun event. While supplies last, there will be a whiskey tasting. This is a no host, 21+ event.


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