For nearly 20 years Gail Latimore has served as the executive director of Codman Square Neighborhood Development, one of Boston’s largest community development organizations. During her time at Codman Square the organization has grown significantly, expanding its service base to meet the changing needs of the community.
During this Women's History Month, we spoke with her about her motivation and career obstacles she’s encountered along the way.
How has community development and affordable housing work changed during your professional career?
We’re moving back to our community organizing roots where we started, after focusing on learning the “technical” bricks and mortar [real estate development] side for the last few decades.
The field is increasingly concerned now with mobilizing around key issues. Many of our inner city (as well as rural and suburban) neighborhoods are changing dramatically. Demographic shifts are creating new and increased concerns about the well-being and fate of low- and moderate-income residents. Issues such as gentrification, displacement and the income divide are now front and center. There’s an increased focus on supporting males of color in inner city neighborhoods, as well as environmental sustainability.
As a field we’re thinking more holistically, not just about real estate development, which is good. But this is also putting pressure on our limited resources. It’s an exciting time to be in the field, thinking about creative approaches to complex issues and problems.
What’s your advice for women in this field?
Trust your judgement, but be open to other perspectives. Be cognizant of the “fear of failure” syndrome; embrace the aspects that will propel, motivate and, if possible, inspire you to new heights, while also keeping you humble.
Has this advice been important to your success? Why or why not?
Like anything else in life, time and experience directly relate to success. Many of us in the field come from backgrounds similar to those of the people we serve. Understanding the experiences of others is important to doing the work. Being open to alternative ideas and approaches is also important.
What has been your biggest career obstacle and how did you overcome it?
Having confidence in my approach. Experience and time has helped me with this, although it’s still a work in progress.
How has technology affected the way we do community development and affordable housing work?
It has provided great tools to facilitate our work in resident engagement and other areas. It is a double-edged sword, however. Having too many forms of communication can make things a bit hectic!
If you had the chance to have dinner with or ask advice of anyone throughout history, who would it be and why?
Probably Nelson Mandela, to learn how he navigated the struggle and the strategy he deployed.
What’s your favorite book?
I’m not sure if I have a favorite book, but right now I’m reading “Resilient Leadership.” It speaks to how our backgrounds influence our approach and how to “see” and “think” about the impact of that and use that knowledge to navigate in more effective ways.