A need for diversity and inclusion: Learnings from our WLC member survey

By Dr. Kathy Humphrey and Maris Dauer, Women’s Leadership Council Co-Chairs


United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) is one of a kind. This dedicated and unique patchwork of dynamic women has created quite an impact in its 22-year history. However, to continue our work and growth, we know that the WLC must be inclusive for all and as diverse as our region in terms of race, ability and stage in work and life. Data about our community and our membership helps inform United Way’s work.

We know, for example, from our ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) data—the metric that United Ways in 26 states use to track how working people are faring—that a family of four needs to earn at least $6,202 in Allegheny County, significantly more than the poverty level of $2,500 a month to afford housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and basic technology. ALICE reveals that women and girls – particularly single mothers and BIPOC women – are among the most vulnerable in our region. This is further demonstrated by the sobering fact that 75% of last year’s PA 211 Southwest helpline contacts came from women.

We realized we wanted to understand the diversity of our membership and have input from varying viewpoints to make sure United Way and donor groups like WLC are delivering what affected communities need most.

With leadership from WLC Executive Committee members Steffanie Jasper and Regina Scott, a WLC DEI committee was established. Steffanie and Regina, who serve as DEI Committee co-chairs, have been instrumental in guiding us to focus on becoming more relevant and welcoming across all dimensions of diversity, including race, ability, age and gender. Recommendations from Steffanie, Regina and the DEI committee have included hosting WLC events in diverse communities, highlighting the stories of women of all ages, races, gender identities and abilities in our marketing and storytelling, and being more intentional in our efforts to welcome women from all backgrounds to join and remain engaged.

That’s why we created a survey late last year to learn more about WLC members, their life experiences and their connection to United Way.

We were thrilled to see a 9% response rate (significantly above the average response rate of 2%) from WLC members across our five-county region. However, we also recognized that we have a great deal of work to do to achieve diversity in age, ability and race in our membership. Here are just a few of our key takeaways:

  • 55% of respondents are aged 50 and older.
  • 12% of respondents identify as non-white.
  • 2% identify as a person with a disability.
  • 61% of respondents learned about WLC through their workplace, 22% from a colleague or friend.
  • 46% of respondents are motivated to contribute because they care about United Way’s mission and feel good about helping our community.
  • 96% of respondents believe their support is making a significant or moderate impact on our community.

Those results give us plenty to consider. For example, are most of our members 50 and older because senior leaders have the resources to contribute at a higher level? Or does WLC need to do more to engage Next Generation and mid-career women? We suspect the answer is both. In the months ahead, we’ll be focusing on how to increase diversity and inclusion so that our WLC membership truly reflects the region we’re serving.

For starters, United Way will soon share an analysis of how many funded agencies are working to benefit women and girls. This information will help United Way show how WLC contributions directly improve the lives of women and girls.

We’ll continue to hold events, where members can connect and build friendships and networks. When we do, we’re looking at where our events are held (down to the neighborhood and ownership), who is featured and what they present. If we want everyone to feel welcome, it starts with us. When we do this well, our members understand who is in need and why, and how our contributions are improving lives.

The survey also revealed that we have much more work to do to explain the value of United Way’s Impact Fund. When United Way works to help people meet basic needs, move toward financial stability and build for success in school and life, that impacts everyone. Families. Individuals. Seniors. Veterans. People with disabilities. Men, women, children and non-binary community members may fall into one or many of those categories and, through the Impact Fund, United Way has the freedom to provide unrestricted funding to outstanding agencies that serve these groups.

That support is possible if we, members of that community, continue stepping up to help.United Way WLC Celebrate to Elevate group photo

WLC has always been a force for good and, for that to continue, we need representation from our region’s various cultures and perspectives. Because the truth is that WLC is for everyone. It’s for the young woman looking to grow her network. It’s for the mid-career mom who needs something for herself. It’s for the senior professional who is ready to mentor others. It’s for any woman in our community who wants to give back and be a part of something bigger than herself. This survey gives us a pathway we can follow to welcome everyone to join with us in making an impact.

We want to continue shaping the story of WLC and we cannot do it without you. Will you join us?

Learn more about United Way’s Women’s Leadership Council at www.uwswpa.org/womens-leadership-council-wlc.