Another edition of Maria Pinto Spotlight Series: In Her Own Words is here. Each month, we feature the dynamic, stylish, and powerful women who inspire us daily.
Meet this month’s spotlight: Swathi Staley, Chief Community Investment Officer and General Counsel for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago. Let’s dive in on her life, her style, and her work ethic.
Best piece of advice you've ever received?
What wisdom would you tell your younger self?
I am very lucky to be part of the inaugural Obama Leaders USA cohort for 2023-24. The Obama Leaders USA Program supports and connects 100 emerging leaders and values-driven changemakers from every corner of the country through a values-based leadership framework inspired by the ideals and legacy of President and Mrs. Obama.
As the program started, I kept thinking of President Obama’s quote of “We are who we’ve been waiting for. We are the change we seek.” It has been this lightbulb realization that I shouldn’t be waiting for permission anymore and that it’s up to us to be the change we’re expecting to see. It’s pushed me into high gear professionally and personally about owning my own ability to effectuate change positively.
Work & Lifestyle
What industry do you work in and what is your role?I serve as the Chief Community Investment Officer and General Counsel for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago where I have the privilege of leading our legal and risk functions, real estate portfolio, and our community development programs.
What was your path to getting where you are today?
I started my career in very traditional legal roles and this evolved into an in-house legal position at a quickly growing corporate for-profit. It allowed me to see how legal and business intersect and that the skills I had been developing as a lawyer were more about how to critically think rather than practicing law. I love bringing this framework to the table to creatively build new ideas to advance the work the Y is doing. We have an amazing opportunity to connect people to their purpose, potential, and each other. The ability to use my skills to partner with other organizations and collectively contribute to solutions to challenges like this has been the most rewarding thing in my career.
What are some challenges you've faced in your job or in your life, and how have you tackled them?
One of the hurdles I had to overcome was what authentic leadership looked like to me. As a lawyer, a lot of the powerful, influential, or prominent people in the field did not look like me or have the same lived experiences I had. But because this is all I saw in the legal field, I felt like the leadership traits they exhibited were what leadership was all about - and so when I stepped into leadership roles, I emulated that same behavior though some of those characteristics made me feel not-so-great as I was coming up through the profession. What I realized was that I wasn’t showing up authentically as myself as a leader. Leaders I’ve admired showed up in their kind, generous, and joyful selves.
What do you love and/or appreciate about being a woman?
Women are the most powerful force for change in this country and I truly believe that. It brings me so much joy to support the development of women on my team and those across the YMCA movement - the resilience we show in the face of adversity is wild.
What are you watching, reading, and/or listening to right now?
I just finished reading “We Are Not Like Them” by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza with my book club and it sparked such great discussion about race relations and the harm that can be caused when we aren’t willing to see issues from different perspectives. My husband and I have also binge-watched The Bear on FX – it’s a show that feels like an honest love letter to Chicago in its imagery.
If you could live anywhere (and money is no object), where would you choose?
Chicago, Chicago, Chicago. Nowhere but here because Chicago is the center of the universe and the best city in the whole wide world.
How would you describe your personal style?
Preppy, classic, structured.
How are you dressing right now?
For convenience and to transition to wherever my day takes me - I may be at a Y community hub, a luncheon, and a happy hour before making it to a community meeting. I’ve been seeking out pieces that can transition with ease to whatever the day brings.
How are you transitioning back to dressing for work? What is important to you when it comes to buying clothing? (e.g., comfort, quality, ease of care, etc.)
I just want pieces that aren’t fussy. I am so glad to be dressing back up in my day to day, but the pandemic made me realize how much I wanted to look pulled together while being able to navigate my day with ease. Even though my heels aren’t as high and my makeup routine isn’t as complicated, my Maria Pinto pieces are such staples in feeling great from morning to night that I feel like I have it all together (when in reality - aren’t we ALL just figuring it out?).
Who are some of your style or fashion icons?
Michelle Obama is of course a style icon - her ability to look so effortless and authentic is unmatched. I also love Amal Clooney and Kerry Washington - both of them have the ability to take something super classic and add their own personal twist.
What are your favorite Maria Pinto pieces? Why?
I have a neon yellow Gemma dress that I’m absolutely obsessed with. It’s so funny because before I met Maria I think I was really afraid of color. I first visited the boutique with my awesome boss and friend Dorri. Her advice was to let go and let Maria do what she does. Maria just walked over and handed me the Zoe Mini Tunic in Grass, this gorgeous true green, and gave me a knowing wink and nod. Despite Dorri’s advice, I was like “There is literally no way this will work.” Well, of course Maria knew best and I rocked the hell out of that Zoe. She’s still one of my absolute favorites and sentimental since it was my first Maria piece.