Rachna Krishnan on Leading The Women’s Center Through Pandemic Challenges

Rachna Krishnan, The Women's Center

Rachna Krishnan, The Women’s Center

The Women’s Center CEO and Executive Director Rachna Krishnan feels the work she is doing now is some of the most important of her career.

“In my 25 years of professional experience, I have never encountered anything like the COVID-19 pandemic,” she said. “This year has been challenging, and my career highlight is leading the organization through amazing transformation change.” 

Krishnan is in her first year leading the center, which serves women and families in and around Vienna, Virginia, by providing mental health services, career coaching and support to victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The organization has seen an uptick in need from before the pandemic until now. Mental health sessions have increased by 23%, domestic violence sessions by 45% — and services are provided regardless of a client’s ability to pay.

A goal of this year’s Fall Benefit, scheduled for Oct. 17 from 7-8 p.m., is to raise funds to cover that increased need. The annual event will be held entirely online and will feature music from several bands, an award honoring Leidos CEO Roger Krone, an auction and special guest appearances. Krishnan hopes the benefit will increase awareness of the needs around mental health issues.

The pandemic has left a devastating impact on the community, and the rising uncertainty and fear are leading to an alarming increase in depression and anxiety, especially among essential workers, caregivers and children, according Mental Health America numbers Krishnan referenced.

“If left unaddressed, experts are predicting the increase we are seeing in mental illness to continue for the foreseeable future,” she said. “We see an increase in disparities among minority groups, and social unrest is negatively impacting mental health stability.”

Krishnan came to her position in January 2020, succeeding former CEO Shirley Clark. For more than 25 years, Krishnan worked in business development, operations management and strategy, including several years working for Inova Health System. She studied at The University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business, where she received multiple academic honors.

Today, she still draws from the lessons she learned from a former boss, then a respected hospital CEO. That individual helped her grow in learning to engage teams, make people feel valued and to focus on the important things, she said.

“He trusted us to know our jobs, and I trust my team to do their jobs,” she said. “I see a big part of my role as setting direction and removing barriers. If I support the team, the team can accomplish great things.”

Rachna Krishnan, The Women's Center

Rachna Krishnan, The Women’s Center

Krishnan said she’s held an interest in The Women’s Center for a long time.

“Where I live, The Women’s Center has a wonderful reputation for outstanding care and services,” Krishnan said, “and I have known about the center for many years. I was in the process of joining the board when I was approached by the previous CEO about how the center was in the process of looking for a new CEO.”

Krishnan said when the pandemic hit, the center had to quickly pivot from providing in-person counseling and advocacy services to doing so remotely. Under her leadership, group sessions, individual sessions, workshop, mediation and other services became delivered remotely. At the same time, the number of requests for reduced fee counseling services and domestic violence support began rising — and so did expenses.

“We need to continue to focus on our fundraising to make sure we can continue to fund our reduced fee services, especially since our major fundraisers were cancelled or reformatted to be online, which have not raised as much as the in-person events,” Krishnan said.

Krishnan said her time at the center has so far been a bit of a “trial by fire” as her work began only weeks before the pandemic hit. But it is rewarding work, and it’s work that has been a passion of hers for sometime now. When she was 20, she volunteered with Women Organized Against Rape, answering the hotline and providing support and information to rape survivors at the Code R hospital. She later joined the WOAR board and co-chaired the fundraising committee.

“I have a passion for volunteering in my community and making a difference,” she said. “I volunteered at CrisisLink, where I answered the suicide hotline, at my children’s school and their sport teams. As such, I have had lots of experience with adolescents and youth, and understand their challenges.”

For more information on the Fall Benefit, click here.

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