Setting the Standard as Women Leaders
Trailblazing women like Shannon Morales and Sharmain Matlock-Turner have left their mark, and it will only continue well into the future.
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Shannon Morales and Sharmain Matlock-Turner are two women in different stages of their respective careers.
Morales is an enthusiast who recently made the switch to tech and entrepreneurship after a handful of years in the corporate world, while Matlock-Turner is a seasoned executive with over three decades of experience in the nonprofit sector.
Despite their vastly different career paths and stages, both women play a critical role as prominent representations of trailblazing women leadership in the region.
It is for that reason the two were selected as the Emerging Leader and Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, respectively, for the 2022 AL DÍA Women of Merit event.
Their respective stories draw a clear picture as to why.
Shannon Morales was born and raised in a one parent, all-women household in northern New Jersey.
As the only child to a single mother, Morales’ mother and grandmother, whom she described as “two strong, independent women,” always made sure to keep her very involved.
Whether it was sports, competitions, or anything else in which a goal could be defined and later achieved, Morales always felt inclined to participate.
“I felt like I learned at a very young age just how to be competitive and how to achieve things,” she said. “I was very accomplishment driven.”
The thrill of achievement and accomplishment followed Morales all throughout her education and into her professional career.
Upon graduating from college and earning her bachelor’s, she entered Corporate America in the finance sector.
“I had the same drive,” Morales confirmed. “I always wanted to overachieve, I wanted to go out there and take on new projects and work cross-functionally across multiple teams. And that was received well amongst my peers.”
However, it wasn’t always as well-received by her supervisors and the higher ups.
Throughout all her years working within a corporate environment, Morales can recall just a single boss who really supported her and championed her success — a woman.
“I remember saying, ‘if we had more support like that, there would be a lot more professionals out there who are fulfilled in their careers, who want to continue working in that setting and who would probably be more productive and work harder,’” she noted.
Upon leaving Corporate America, that mindset soon drove her to launch Tribaja, a community platform, where Morales helps connect talent to free resources and supportive, inclusive leaders within the tech industry.
A Career Switch
The decision to leave the corporate world was followed by a period of self-reflection.
Through it came the realization that personality and work style should match a person’s profession.
As a single mother of three daughters and a creative professional, Morales wanted a profession that would allow her to both have more time to spend with her children and also provide a way to allow her creativity to shine through.
While looking for her next career path, she found an opportunity to be an innovation manager and intrapreneur. This opened the door to future opportunities to find emerging tech companies changing the status quo.
“I really love that space of just constantly moving and constantly thinking of new emerging tech innovations, and then I realized I really could probably do this on my own,” said Morales.
She officially made the decision to become a full-time entrepreneur in early 2020.
Sharmain’s Early Experiences
Sharmain Matlock-Turner was born in Charlottesville, Virginia, before moving to Philadelphia as a child.
While she doesn’t have a ton of memories from her time living in Charlottesville, she can recall the various summer trips to the area to visit her grandparents.
While visiting the rural south, Matlock-Turner saw visible signs of segregation throughout. She and her family would often have to wait in the “Colored Only” section of the bus station, sit in the balcony of the movie theater, and were only allowed to eat at certain diners.
Despite this, she describes her visits to Charlottesville as “a very, very special time for us.”
“It was just a wonderful opportunity to feel like the world was bigger than it felt like in Philadelphia,” said Matlock-Turner.
While there, she and her family often would go to Vinegar Hill, where many of the Black-owned businesses and restaurants in the area were located. The experiences were eye-opening.
Back in Philadelphia, Matlock-Turner’s mother and aunts made sure to always keep her engaged and involved in activities in the community, and also in church.
UAC’s First Woman Leader
Matlock-Turner’s leadership skills were developed early, and laid the foundation for her current role.
In 1999, she was named the President & CEO of the Urban Affairs Coalition, the first woman to be appointed to the organization’s lead executive role in its now more than 50-year history, after being recommended by some of the region’s other leaders.
Matlock-Turner had also served on a number of committees, including as chair of the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corporation, and made a name for herself as Chief of Staff for the late Senator Roxanne Jones, the first Black woman to serve in the Pennsylvania State Senate.
Each March — Women’s History Month and also the month she officially took on the role — Matlock-Turner thinks about women like Sen. Jones; former executive director and President of the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the late Ahmeenah Young; former Philadelphia City Councilmember Marian Tasco; and others.
“We sometimes forget how we get to places and I try to make sure that I never do,” said Matlock-Turner. “So I really want to thank them for not only believing in me, but ultimately supporting me once I got there.”
The UAC now works with 80 partners across the region, more than four times as much as when she first came aboard.
Two Paths, One Mission
Like all of us, Morales and Matlock-Turner have had to navigate the challenges of the pandemic. However, both have found the silver lining in those challenges.
In the latter’s view, the pandemic presented an opportunity for the government to put more dollars into nonprofits and philanthropy, making them a bigger priority.
“This allowed us to be able to keep our doors open, and to keep working,” said Matlock-Turner. “And we were able to continue providing really great services.”
Remaining committed to the its four missions — strengthening nonprofits, building wealth in urban communities, developing youth and young adults, and
creating strategic partnerships — the UAC pivoted very well and ensured that youth, diverse businesses, nonprofits and organizations across the region continued receiving much needed support and resources.
For Morales, her foray into full-time entrepreneurship was quickly followed by the pandemic. At the time, she was running Stealthify, a new app that promoted social distancing.
Just as she was set to launch Tribaja, the pandemic hit and hiring stopped. Months later, the murder of George Floyd occured and many businesses looked to implement more inclusive practices.
From there, she had a decision to make — stick with Stealthify and look to create features that would be useful post-pandemic, or fully commit to the talent marketplace that was emerging after the pandemic caused many to shift and pivot.
“I decided to focus on the community building aspect of the business,” said Morales.
Since then, she has created opportunities for countless diverse individuals, and in turn, growing the tech community in the process.
An Emerging Leader
Due to Morales’ commitment to opening doors for Black, Latinx and other diverse talent to enter the tech space, the region will only continue to see its tech community grow.
Despite only becoming a full-time entrepreneur two years ago, Morales is already being recognized for her impactful work.
This is what led her to being named the Emerging Leader. Appreciative and humbled by the honor, when she thinks about what the distinction means to her, it comes down to the definition of a leader.
“I’ve taken a lot of risks to get here,” she said. “But I believe, because of that, I’m able to create pathways for others for them not to have to take as many risks as I did.”
For Morales, it’s about giving back to her community, as well as professionals who may have faced similar challenges and obstacles throughout their journeys.
Whether they are single parents, career changers, or those who may feel alone in the process, Morales feels a responsibility to help create opportunities and ensure others “not feel like they have to give up everything just to get something that others are already entitled to,” she said.
A Lifetime of Achievement
Over her 23 years leading the UAC, Matlock-Turner has seen her share of ups and downs throughout the region.
Aside from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, she noted the 2008 Recession as among the biggest challenges she and her organization has endured throughout her tenure.
However, in the face of both challenges, she and the organization she has led continues to thrive.
It is simply a continuation of the valuable leadership Matlock-Turner has consistently displayed throughout her career. It’s why she was selected to be honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award.
“I’m seriously blown away knowing that this was a group of people who chose me,” she said. “I am pleased, I am humbled and thankful. It’s wonderful, it’s absolutely wonderful."
Despite her current role, being an executive leader for as long as she has, and having received as many honors and awards as she has over the years, Matlock-Turner remains as focused, driven and determined as she’s always been.
“Every day, I get up and say, ‘you’re really just getting started,’” she said. “Always starting, always moving.”
“I love this award… And I think about how special it is. But in the end, I’m still going to get up the next day and say, ‘What can I do to make the world a better place? Because I’m just getting started.’”