Powerful Womxn Who Are Changing The World: Amanda Pohl

An Interview with Natalie Ruiz

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Image Provided by Amanda Pohl

As part of my series about “Powerful Womxn Who Are Changing The World”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Amanda Pohl, who is currently the Programs Director with ReflectUS and is passionate about empowering and elevating all women. She is wickedly smart, made a run for Virginia State Senate, has worked as an advocate for women and marginalized groups throughout her career, and is a mother to two daughters.

I am thrilled to highlight Amanda and the work she and ReflectUS are doing to change the world.

Amanda Pohl is the Programs Director with ReflectUS, a national coalition of nine of the leading women’s representation organizations. She has more than a decade of experience in program development, project management, and nonprofit leadership.

Amanda has worked within the fields of women’s rights, communications for grassroots organizing, fair housing, and electoral politics. She was appointed to the Virginia Fair Housing Board in 2020 by Governor Ralph Northam because of her commitment to the work. She previously worked for the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, has served as an adjunct instructor in the School of Social Work at Virginia Commonwealth University, and worked for Virginia Organizing, among other organizations. Amanda also served as a hospital chaplain for more than 10 years.

In 2019, she ran for Virginia State Senate and was the first woman from her party to appear on the ballot in her district. She won her primary with more than 78% of the vote. While she did not win the general election, she overperformed in every metric and won the most votes of any non-federal candidate of her party in the history of her district.

Amanda earned a B.A. from Virginia Tech, an M.S. in Patient Counseling from Virginia Commonwealth University, an M.Div. from Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond, and an MSW from Virginia Commonwealth University. She was the first in her family to complete a four-year college degree. She is married with two children and remains active in her church, community, and politics.

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Image Provided by Amanda Pohl

Thank you so much for taking the time to catch up with me! I’ve been so inspired by you. Can you tell me more about you and the work you do?

I’m really excited to talk to an inspiring woman who is uplifting other women! Honestly, that’s what my work is focused on right now at ReflectUS. I’m the National Programs Director for ReflectUS, the national coalition of nine of the leading women’s representation organizations, all working together to accelerate the timeline for gender parity in political leadership in the United States. If we continue at our current rate of electing and appointing women, experts have calculated it will take about 100 years for women to hold the share of government leadership positions proportionate to our population size.

In my particular role at ReflectUS, I’m working to build a state network of community organizations who are working with working-class women who face financial barriers to access political leadership roles and we’re figuring out both the micro and macro ways of addressing that in states that are specific to the needs of their communities.

What do you love about it?

I absolutely love that I get to focus on women’s empowerment from a community perspective. I was “professionally raised” by community organizers and that ethos has always stuck with me!

How did you get into this?

It has been a winding journey, but I think what ultimately led me to ReflectUS was running for office myself. In 2019, I ran for Virginia State Senate. I won the primary and lost the general and it was such an incredible learning experience. I have a lot of privilege — while I have young kids, I have a spouse and family who were incredibly supportive and helpful. I had a job that was flexible while I was running. I made a decent enough salary to save some money and be able to take a short unpaid leave of absence from work to finish out the campaign giving it my all. Even though we had some debt from the campaign, and it set me back a couple of years from my financial goals, it wasn’t enough that I worried it would ruin me financially. This is not the case for a lot of women who want to run for office. So many really amazing women cannot even consider running for office because of their circumstances, and we have to change that.

What do you think makes you amazing at what you do?

This is a really hard question to answer! To be honest, I think I just work really hard and think outside of the box. I’ve been told by every boss I’ve ever had that I “think differently” than other people. For a long time, I thought something was wrong with me, but now I think my unique thinking has helped me create and innovate and see a way forward when others see a roadblock.

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Image Provided by Amanda Pohl

What is the most challenging part of your work?

ReflectUS is a startup organization and even though we are a coalition of nine of these amazing organizations, we are building a movement. Movement building takes time. A lot of people want immediate results — even I want immediate results — and it is sometimes a challenge for me to remember that we are in this for the long haul.

What problems keep you up at night?

There is so much injustice and pain in the world. I have two daughters and I worry about the legacy we are leaving them and their peers, but I also know they have a lot of privilege. It keeps me up at night thinking about the pain that some people have to endure. It breaks my heart.

When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a lawyer. I was really good at arguing.

What was your first job? What did you learn from it?

My first job was at McDonald’s. I learned so much patience from that job! Someone actually threw a hamburger at me once because it had mustard on it and she asked for no mustard. I’ll never forget that I was a 16 year old kid being screamed at by an adult, and I was expected to be the professional. I also learned how to build relationships and negotiate. We had to navigate our own schedule changes and in order to do that, we really had to build some networking skills.

If you could talk to your younger self, what would you say?

You are going to have an amazing life. Live every minute, appreciate every lesson, love even the hard times.

What’s something that people may not know about you but should?

I am an avid strategic planner. I love every part of it.

Who is one of your heroes and why?

Shirley Chisholm. She was bold and unapologetic in who she was. She recognized that no one was going to create space for her and she was going to make her own. I love her grit and determination and I love her ferocity.

What is one of your superpowers?

My ability to do all the things, which I think is a superpower of all moms.

What is your best professional advice for someone wanting to level-up and follow their dreams?

When I decided to run for office, I remember filling out an application to be vetted by my local committee. I was so worried they would tell me I was absolutely not qualified. Turns out, I was very much qualified and they were excited I was running. As women, we doubt ourselves. We doubt our abilities and experience. We self-gaslight. My best professional advice to people wanting to level-up and follow their dreams is don’t self-gaslight…own your accomplishments.

What is one of your favorite quotes, and what does it mean to you?

One of my all-time favorite quotes is from Audre Lord. She said, “I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different than my own.” It means we have to stand up for all of us and understand that oppression is harmful to every person.

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Image Provided by Amanda Pohl

When you aren’t working, what do you enjoy doing?

If we weren’t in COVID times, I would be on the beach. I have enjoyed taking walks with my kids. We’ve been exploring local parks and trails here and there. I know no one likes to admit this, but I really enjoy random tv shows to unwind. I just finished watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

I believe there is power in sharing our big dreams and audacious goals. What is on the vision board in your mind?

ReflectUS in every state, removing barriers for working-class women to run for office, all women benefiting from that work, and building a truly representative government at all levels.

Just for fun:

  • What non-essential item are you taking with you to a desert island? Chocolate
  • Go to or favorite TV show or movie: The Princess Bride
  • Favorite book: The Poisonwood Bible
  • Favorite color: all shades of purple
  • Favorite plant: cilantro
  • Biggest fear: inadequacy
  • Karaoke song? Killing Me Softly, The Fugees
  • Pet peeve? All the isms
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Image Provided by Amanda Pohl

What makes someone a great leader?

Transparency, accountability, listening, compassion, and courage

How can we support you / your organization / your goals?

You can support ReflectUS by checking out our events! We have excellent monthly offerings and amazing experts who join us. Sign up for our newsletter, follow us on all the socials. If you are a community organization in a state that works with women, contact me, and let’s talk about how we might work together!

Connect / Follow / Support:

https://reflect.us

@reflect_US on everything (Facebook, LinkedIN, Twitter, Instagram)

Folks can also follow Amanda Pohl personally at @pohlforvirginia on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

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