Abigail Williams: small town to Wall Street to revolutionizing Dallas education

2018’s Five Fierce Females of Preston Hollow

As director of Charitable Services at Goldman, Sachs & Co., Abigail Williams was responsible for the firm’s annual giving of $25 million worldwide. A graduate of SMU, she currently serves as executive director of United to Learn, a group of 24 public elementary schools, private institutions and volunteers that address inequities. Williams and her husband, Todd, helped found the Uplift Williams Preparatory School, a K-12 public charter school operated by Uplift Education that educates 1,200 primarily low-income children in northwest Dallas. The two co-chair Teach for America. Williams has two sons in middle school at St. Mark’s and three step-sons. The family lives in Bluffview on Seneca.

Accomplishment she’s most proud of: I get a lot of joy seeing the community embrace this new model of education. When we saw that our third-grade reading scores were growing ahead of state, county or district levels, it made me think, “Wow, not only is this model working, but people are believing in it and willing to be a part of it.”

On growing up: I grew up in Seguin. My mom was a single mom who worked multiple jobs at a time. I had a German last name, but I was part of a large Mexican family. I was often labeled as the other Mexican. Some of the things that make a Mexican family, culture and heritage so strong were the best of the things that my mom, her six sisters and my grandmother brought to bear. My mother believed in us, wanted us to be proud of who we are and push ourselves even if it meant being uncomfortable. Without her pushing me to go to college outside of that small town, it wouldn’t have been possible.

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Advice she’d give her younger self: I wish I would feel more confident in my own abilities, and that I had been willing to take more chances. Today, I feel more comfortable learning from a failure versus feeling like a single failure could define me. When I was applying at Goldman, one of the critiques was, “I think she can do the work. I’m just not sure how much fun she’s going to be as part of the team.” I was always focused on just trying to do the best I could. 

I was always focused on just trying to do the best I could.

On gender discrimination: I was in investment banking. I worked on Wall Street. Whether it was being excluded from the conversation after the business dinner or not being invited to the golf outing, it was too accepted within the industry. I’m encouraged today by the voices coming together. What we once felt was reasonable to put up with is no longer acceptable. It’s refreshing knowing that we are slowly changing the mindset of the youngest generation.

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On work-life balance: One of the goals of United to Learn is to say we can have a job, have a significant impact and not have to sacrifice mind, body and soul. For many of us volunteers who are in our mid-40s and mid-50s, we all worked in corporate America in jobs that required 24/7. We are committed to proving that we can be efficient and not rob our families of time and presence in the evenings and on the weekends.

How she conquers stress: I run. It’s a joke around the house that no one benefits more from my running than my husband and my children. I love running outside through the neighborhood as far as I can, listening to Christian rock music.

Her favorite app: Headspace. I can recommend it to anyone young or old. There are meditation packets on how to handle disruption, how to manage stress. how to get better sleep. They are 10- to 15-minute programs, which are easy to do.

Her best gift: When we were engaged, Todd — I’m going to cry — established the first four-year college scholarship that we would give together, and it was in honor of my brother who passed away when I was in college. Billy was 18 and full of life. But he was the only male in our home and so he was as much the big protector as he was the baby of the family. Billy unfortunately fell victim to statistics growing up in a tough community without a father present. The gift honored Billy and gave my sister, my mother and me something that we could do together.


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