Image of Lauren Casteel, Women's Foundation of Colorado

5 Minutes with Lauren Y. Casteel, President & CEO, The Women’s Foundation of Colorado

We can’t think of a better way to close out Women’s History Month than to highlight a woman who is the beating heart of the Colorado community, and a voice for all women across the state. 

Lauren Y. Casteel, President & CEO of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, is an esteemed member of the Denver business and philanthropic communities known nationally for her leadership in and dedication to inclusivity and diversity in philanthropy. 

Lauren was the first person in Colorado to lead three separate foundations – including The Women’s Foundation of Colorado, Temple Hoyne Buell Foundation, and The Hunt Alternatives Fund. She also spent 16 years as vice president of philanthropic partnerships and donor services at The Denver Foundation.

Throughout her career, she has earned numerous accolades, including: Anti-Defamation League Mountain States Region’s Civil Rights Award; AAUW’s Trailblazer Award; the Girl Scout’s Woman of Distinction Award; and the Mountain Region Black Economic Summit’s Legacy Award, among others. Additionally, she has been inducted into the Colorado Women’s Hall of Fame and, in 2021, earned an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from the University of Colorado Denver.

We sat down for 5 Minutes with Lauren Casteel to learn more about how she fuels her days, how she fails forward and her most astute career advice. 

Sidenote: TARRA is honored to welcome The Women’s Foundation of Colorado team as an Enterprise Member of our community and we hope you will join us in participating in their programming and events throughout the year.

Upcoming events include Advocating4Impact on April 6, 2023 and a webinar to learn about the Women’s Impact Investing Giving Circle, March 22, 2023.

What scares you the most?  

My fear of heights applies to going down escalators much to the frustration of those behind me. But what scares me the most are the retrenchment of rights and the erosion of our democracy. I include voting and access to abortion care.

What is your most persistent internal dialogue and why?  

As one who lived in the Jim Crow South in the 1950s, my persistent internal dialogue is about the persistence of inequities and hate in our country. There are devastating impacts on everyone who identifies as a woman, children, and all forms of families, especially families of color.  My internal conversation is one that counters my fear, which is a constant reinforcement of belief in our ability as humans to come together as communities for mutual support. Somedays that’s not an easy dialogue.

Why should people care about your company and what you’re doing? 

The Women’s Foundation of Colorado is the only Community Foundation in Colorado focused on gender, racial and economic equity.  We use policy advocacy, narrative change, impact investing, and a flexible cash strategy with grantee partners across our state. Because we are committed to everyone’s thriving regardless of background or identity, we catalyze donors and communities to advance and accelerate our goal. Together we’re changing lives and systems.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever said/done in a professional setting, a scene that plays out over and over again in your head even if it happened years ago?  

Close to 40 years ago, I received the Outstanding Alumni Award from the University of Colorado Denver. When I gave my short acceptance remarks, instead of “organism” I said “orgasm.” The audience gasped and giggled. John Buechner, the late President of CU, literally almost fell off the stage.

Describe an instance when you ‘failed forward’ 

You just heard about me literally failing forward. But, I’ve also been very public about the fact that as a result of a series of significant traumas in my adolescence, I stopped attending my college classes and subsequently failed them all. In 1974, I didn’t even know the word trauma. I ran away to Colorado to try to find a new path. Thanks to others who saw more in me than I saw in myself, I did not become a young woman whose potential was lost. I carry empathy for others and gratitude forward every day. I continue to share this story frequently so that others can see that success doesn’t look one way and detours don’t define us. Here I am, nearly 50 years later, having received an Honorary Doctorate in Humane Letters from what became my alma mater, University of Colorado Denver.

How do you cope with stress? 

In recent years I’ve been treating stress management like a job! I rotate a trauma informed yoga class, acupuncture, massage, and a private dance lesson (I have zero rhythm. True fact.) Then I have my Calm app. Some days… it’s just remembering to breathe.

What’s your career advice? 

Take the risk to walk through doors or climb through windows of the fortress.