Mediators Beyond Borders International is a nonprofit organization governed by a Board of Directors, comprised of 17 remarkable individuals. This article is part of the Meet the Board series—putting faces to the decision-makers, guiders, and advisors of MBBI.
“I’ve always been a problem-solver,” says MBBI Board Member Victoria Gray. An activist, advocate, and feminist, Victoria started her career as a flight attendant in an era when “girdle checks,” or restrictions on weight, were mandatory for hostesses. “You had women who, if they had children, had to resign,” Victoria explains, “Because the airlines were absolutely clear that a woman with a child would not be able to focus on passengers in the event of an emergency.” Victoria soon became involved in litigation, enforcing the Civil Rights Act, and working in union activities.
“I spent most of my career trying to make structural changes for the rights of women, trying to elevate the status of women in the working place, and fighting for equal pay for equal work,” she says. “I learned that you can make changes. That was an important lesson for me.”
After 30 years with the airline, Victoria negotiated for pilots and airline employees for an additional 13 years. She tells a story about her work on a major labor dispute, in which three of her organization’s cases went to the Supreme Court. But, at the end of it, she says: “You ultimately had to talk to the people you were fighting with. You didn’t win a lawsuit and the fight was over. You had to step back and find a better way. The better way was clearly finding ways to people’s hearts, to communicate in ways that were more than power struggles.”
When she retired, Victoria asked herself, ‘What’s next?’ “I’d been in an advocate position—rabble-rousing as my dad used to say—and now wanted to try mediating those disputes. I’d worked with mediators, but I had been busy picketing and trying to make structural changes.”
Victoria enrolled in mediation classes, which gave her a whole new perspective on how a person could be influential by listening and exploring perspectives. It was through Pepperdine University that Victoria became connected with MBBI. “I met lots of wonderful, giving people who were doing important work in the community. And I thought, my heart is here — this is what I should be doing.” Victoria now works with a US federal mediation agency, as well as on the Board for MBBI.
Although Victoria’s work has shifted from advocacy to mediation, her heart remains with women’s issues. “MBBI’s International Peace Training Institute supports women around the world who are peace-builders. In the 1960s and 70s, I was in an organization where, although the vast majority of my unit were women, they elected men. And women accepted that as a societal norm. I saw over time that women need to have support for their aspirations. We can empower each other. We can help women know that they are not alone in their attempt to make a difference in the world—to play a role that they’re capable of.”
Victoria sees a role for MBBI’s presence in more countries, to expand its vision for peace in the world. “At the heart of MBBI is the possibility of social unity, of us reaching out and helping one another, and finding positive solutions to the world’s issues and crises,” she says. “I know our passion and enthusiasm will carry the organization forward making meaningful change around the world. And that we continue to aspire to ensure that people have an opportunity to live in peace.”
Victoria’s worldview has been informed by her roles in advocacy, litigation, and now mediation. “I see the role of advocacy, the role of the courts, the role of the passion that makes you fight to get things done—but the force is not the only way to accomplish things,” she says. “I’ve always been a problem solver. And now I’m problem-solving in a different way.”
Article by Emily Zmak, MBBI Writer