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Hidden Gems: Meet Wendy Doyle of United Women’s Empowerment

Today we’d like to introduce you to Wendy Doyle. 

Hi Wendy, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
After growing up in Warrensburg, Missouri, I earned a B.A. from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, Missouri. I always thought my career path would be in communications. I’m an English literature major so after graduating, I went to work for a public relations firm. I loved the work, but I was challenged by the billable hours and always being pressed in that direction. I had a mentor who left the firm to go work for a nonprofit, the National Kidney Foundation. We had a really great relationship and she recruited me. She explained it was similar work, and that it might align more with my moral compass — and she was right. The nonprofit sector was really the perfect alignment for me personally and morally. So, my nonprofit career began as a national major gifts officer with the National Kidney Foundation. I later served as the Executive Vice President of Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. Now, I have been serving as the President & CEO at United WE (United Women’s Empowerment) for eight years and I’m at the forefront of all economic policies that impact women and their families. Empowering women to achieve their full potential is my life passion. My mother and grandmother owned their own businesses and their legacy inspires me in bettering our world and impacting generations to come. From establishing and leading programs that affect large groups of women and girls to mentoring young women one on one, I am an advocate, dedicated mentor, avid listener, and champion for all women. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
It hasn’t always been a smooth road. The biggest obstacle I encountered is using my voice. If I could go back to my 25-year-old self, I would tell myself to ‘Speak up.’ I would try to instill more confidence in myself. I see women that are so skilled, with this great experience, and have no confidence in themselves; they hold back. And I was one of those people. I see this, too, with young women coming out of school. In the past, we have polled them, asking who they would seek support from for pay negotiation and benefits for their first job. And 95 percent of the young women said they would call their father. This really speaks to women needing to get better at using their voice. 

Another challenge is consistently focusing our efforts on what can make the most lasting impact on women – systems change takes time, but I know this is where United WE can make the biggest difference. There are not a lot of organizations doing this work. Because working for change is hard. While this can be challenging, what it really does is motivate me. After the last two years, in particular, as women have suffered disproportionately from the effects of the pandemic, I appreciate the importance of United WE’s mission in a whole new way. 

Appreciate you sharing that. What should we know about United Women’s Empowerment?
United Women’s Empowerment, or United WE, is a non-partisan, nonprofit organization whose mission is to advance all women’s economic and civic leadership. Since 1991, United WE has overcome systemic barriers to women’s economic development and civic leadership by investing in research, advocacy, and policy solutions. We have conducted 20 meaningful research studies, advocated for issues resulting in 39 policy actions, and supported more than 170 civic appointments. Our work positively impacts hundreds of thousands of women and families by commissioning transformative research, scaling our fast-growing Appointments Project®, advocating for reforms that honor the legacies of women, and contributing to policy solutions that advance equal pay, paid family leave, affordable childcare, and occupational licensing; and aid in fighting against sexual harassment. 

United WE’s evidence-based research led to the innovative solution of the Appointments Project® that gets more women at the policy decision-making table. The Appointments Project is the only program in the nation that helps facilitate women to get appointed to civic boards and commissions at the city, county, and state level. In Kansas City specifically, we have been able to move the needle from 32% of our board and commissions made up of women to 43%, moving us closer to civic board and commission leaders representing the population makeup of the city. 

Our work has been rooted in research for 30 years – from the first survey of women by our founders led by Dr. Linda Hood Talbott, to now 20 research studies later focused on the economic and civic advancement of women. The findings from our research have led to so many solutions and been the key to educating others about barriers for women. One of my favorite successes from 2020 was when Missouri passed House Bill 2046, which expands the state’s current licensure reciprocity rules to apply to occupations including nursing, dentistry, medicine, pharmacy, and cosmetology, among others. This legislation makes it easier for professionals licensed in other states to become licensed (and thus, able to work) in Missouri. This means more women can enter and re-enter into professional jobs in Missouri – flexibility which was particularly crucial at a time when families were challenged personally and professionally in a way we have never experienced. 

We remain dedicated to research that helps us identify barriers for women and continually gather feedback from women. This year, we are partnering with a group of elected officials and community and business leaders across the state of Missouri to convene the first-ever statewide Women’s Economic Development Task Force. We’ve conducted nine town halls from July-October that took place across the state of Missouri to identify strategies and recommendations to improve the economic well-being of women and families.

So maybe we end on discussing what matters most to you and why?
Throughout my career, I saw “handouts vs. hands up” when it came to solving problems. We’re solving a problem with the work that we do at United WE and that has been the biggest motivator for me. While we’re solving real-world problems, we are also blazing a trail for future generations. We are establishing best practices and at the end of the day, we are getting results, impacting change and hundreds of thousands of lives. 

The World Economic Forum suggests it will be another 150 years before we reach gender equity in the U.S. Gender equity is not just an issue for women to be concerned about- it affects our entire economy. In fact, the McKinsey Global Institute found that Kansas and Missouri’s economies stand to grow by as much as 15 percent by 2025 if women’s participation in the labor force is boosted. Gender equity is an economic development issue that demands the attention of ALL of us as we navigate a “new normal” amid the pandemic and the recovery. 

My hope for the future is that not only will we see women holding leadership positions in all states, but we will have a national paid family leave policy that acknowledges working parents, and also see a woman holding the top government position: President of the United States. 

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Justina Kellner
Matthew McNeal

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