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Banking on KC – Wendy Doyle of United WE

 

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Wendy Doyle of United WE: Advancing Women’s Economic and Civic Leadership

 

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome to Banking on KC. I'm your host Kelly Scanlon.

Kelly Scanlon:

Now during the month of March, which is Women's History Month, we're going to be talking with several women who have left their mark on Kansas City's history. Some of them have shaped our past and others are shaping our present and our future. With us on this episode is Wendy Doyle, the President and CEO of United WE.

Kelly Scanlon:

Wendy fearlessly advocates for women's economic and civic advancement by amplifying women's voices. She's at the forefront of all economic policies that impact women and their families. She regularly educates and informs decision-makers and community leaders about policy solutions. She does that at the local, county and state levels and now national level as well. She'll be talking a little bit more about those efforts. And then she translates all that information that she collects into action, and she uses it to get in front of influential people like the state legislatures. She publishes op-eds in state newspapers, and she serves as a presenter and a champion for systematic policy change. And so we're really happy to have her here to talk about some of her work.

Kelly Scanlon:

Welcome, Wendy.

Wendy Doyle:

Kelly, it's great to be with you.

Kelly Scanlon:

I want to thank you for all the work that you do on behalf of women. And like I said, not just in Kansas City, not just at the state level, but increasingly throughout the United States as the footprint of United WE expand. So with that, why don't you give us a general overview of United WE, how it got started, and now how it's changed since you got involved about nine years ago.

Wendy Doyle:

Thank you, Kelly. Well, I think the first thing to just clarify for the listener is United WE stands for United Women's Empowerment. As you mentioned, we are celebrating 31 years of this history of this organization, and there has been an evolution. For the listener, we formerly were the Women's Foundation and we're headquartered here in Kansas City, Missouri, but that evolution and our name changed happened a couple of years ago, and it really was a result of spending lots of time on strategic planning. But I think first and foremost, to really celebrate as you identify just the real history of a group of really thoughtful women leaders here in Kansas City who had the vision to really put their dollars to use by coming together, pooling their funds and granting funds back out into the community, really impacting women and girls organizations, and that really was kind of the springboard to where we are today. We absolutely preserve that history, that profound vision that these women leaders had.

Wendy Doyle:

When I joined the organization nine years ago, we really saw that relevancy of that model still being true, but could be tweaked just a bit. As you identified in the intro that we really have evolved into being an evidence-based research-driven organization, so our conversation is truly around data and facts. And then where we see we can get some systemic change is in the policy front. We're an organization that's focused on economic development for women and their families, and we really approach that work in a nonpartisan manner.

Wendy Doyle:

That's kind of a quick snapshot of our history and where we are today with some of our policy work.

Kelly Scanlon:

As part of that evolution, you have issued a series of economic impact reports over the last few years. You started with the Status of Women in Missouri, and I think you're on your third report, and you've just recently released one for Kansas, and I believe you're going to expand to Oklahoma. What trends do these reports reveal?

Wendy Doyle:

Absolutely. That's a great question. We've really focused all of the status reports with the same indicators. We're really benchmarking data. We can do the comparison by state. But as you highlighted a real key point is benchmarking those same key indicators over a period of time to really understand, are we making progress in the state with our work or not, and where we're falling be kind.

Wendy Doyle:

Just as an example, some of the key indicators that we're tracking definitely are around the employment and earnings indicator, looking at childcare and healthcare, civic engagement of women, and definitely looking at aging and economic security and looking at the poverty level of women. Those are some of the trend lines that we track. I will say a key point that we really are interested in is looking at pay equity between women and men, and looking at that comparative data between our multiple states. So between Missouri and Kansas, it's really hovering about a penny difference. In Kansas, it's 78 cents to the dollar that men make for the same work, and in Missouri, it's 77 cents to the dollar that men make for the same work.

Kelly Scanlon:

Yeah, very close.

Wendy Doyle:

We are looking at that trend line. We're also benchmarking it to the national average too, which is about 83 cents to the dollar. So Missouri and Kansas clearly lagging behind what's happening at the national level. I think a key point for the listener is that is an average. So by state, we're really looking at all counties. The widest pay gap is in more rural parts of both states. It's about 51 cents to the dollar that men make for the same work. A wide gap, but again, in rural communities, much wider than what you see in metropolitan areas.

Wendy Doyle:

That's just an example of some of the trend lines that we're looking at in the reports.

Kelly Scanlon:

You've also held a series of town halls in Missouri. Tell us about that initiative, that work, what you're hearing from them, because these are the actual women that you're talking to in these town halls, how does that line up with what you are finding out in the Status of Women Reports?

Wendy Doyle:

The first step that we did after we completed the Status of Women in Missouri Research Report, which is a quantitative report, we wanted to get out and collect stories and really test that quantitative data to ensure it was accurate and just really understand what was happening, especially as we're moving into post-pandemic recovery. We put together, the first time in the history of Missouri, a Missouri Women's Economic Development Task Force. It was comprised of women leaders by geography, by industry, and really those leaders provided some leadership to hosting nine town hall sessions that we had around the state. Most of those were in person. A few, just as a result of the pandemic, we had to pivot and host them virtually. We hosted two of those with Spanish-speaking round tables. We had interpreters join us. Again, the objective was really to get out and hear from metropolitan and rural parts of the state, but hear from women in those communities. We'll be taking that same practice, Kelly, to Kansas too.

Wendy Doyle:

We just released in the last few weeks, the Status of Women in Kansas. We're right now, putting together the framework for the Kansas Women's Economic Development Task Force. And then later this summer, we'll be hosting town halls around the State of Kansas and in all parts of the state, making sure that we're really comprehensive in geography. And then as a result, we'll release a town halls report of here's what we heard from women. We did that in December in Missouri.

Kelly Scanlon:

Were there any surprises or did what you were hearing from the women themselves line up with the reports that you had issued earlier?

Wendy Doyle:

I would say we tested for sure what we heard is lining up with the report, but it was the severity of what we heard. We knew that childcare was a significant barrier, just what we were seeing as the national trend line of women dropping out of the workforce during the pandemic, but that really became true. We heard that loud and clear. I thought that may be more prevalent in metropolitan parts of the state, but in rural, it is even more severe than what we anticipated. That was a key point that came out of the discussion. So childcare, is a significant barrier that all parts of the state are experiencing.

Kelly Scanlon:

What are some of the others that you heard?

Wendy Doyle:

The second one that was really interesting is we asked the question during the pandemic, "Did you have disruption in your broadband access?" And the majority said yes. But what was very interesting is that in some of the rural parts of the state, the infrastructure for getting internet access to homes is not even in place. Really taking a step back in time. We heard from someone in the Southwest part of the state that to get infrastructure to her home, it would be an out-of-pocket expense of about $26,000 just to be able to get the infrastructure and then to be able to offer internet access. So a big-time barrier that we weren't anticipating.

Wendy Doyle:

I think the third that we really were interested in is during the pandemic, "Did you take advantage of telehealth opportunities to communicate and stay in touch with your physician?" Still a lot of uncertainty about how that would work and not as many women taking advantage of that that we thought.

Kelly Scanlon:

When you talk about the wage gap, the wage disparity, when you talk about the childcare challenges, the broadband challenges, the access to health services, what are the implications overall of those things on women? Where are the opportunities, talking about the history and the progress over time, where do you see areas where we can make future progress?

Wendy Doyle:

I definitely would say that the pandemic has really highlighted the childcare challenge. What we have learned through this process is that it was already a stressed industry, but now more than ever. Women were significantly impacted because if you think about who is actually providing the childcare service, it is primarily women. These were women-owned businesses. They were primarily a women-driven workforce. What we experienced in Missouri is about 30% of the childcare facilities closed. So what we have created here in Missouri, and we're identifying this to be true in Kansas too, is that the supply doesn't meet the demand. This is really the most significant barrier to get families, primarily women back to work. If there's one thing that we can spotlight, that if we can make some change with that particular industry, you will see a workforce get back to work.

Wendy Doyle:

What we are driving as an organization on is a metric by the McKinsey Global Institute. If we can get women fully participating in the workforce, we have the potential to grow our Missouri economy by as much as 15%. That's our objective. We want to get women back to work. We want not only for households to benefit, but also overall our state's economy. What we identified in the Status of Women in Kansas Report is about 31% of a woman's earnings go to childcare costs. So you think about a third of a salary goes to childcare costs, and then to think about how a single mom would have to put together the rest of the household budget expenses together after a third comes off the top for childcare, it's really putting women and families in a position to have to choose between work and family.

Wendy Doyle:

So Kelly, the long-term impact on women as a result of all of these issues that we have identified is really the financial impact to women in the long term. There's a couple of things. One, we know that women statistically outlive men. The concern is when women drop out of the workforce for a pandemic or to start a family, as an example, they take time off from work and there starts to be some gaps; gap in pay, gap in contributions to retirement funds or 401 (k)s or 403 (b)s. What we're seeing is that we have an issue of poverty with women over the age of 65.

Wendy Doyle:

What's really important is that we start to address some of these systemic issues earlier so that we can pave the way that women will live a life that is well-financed. That is the long-term objective of what we are striving for.

Kelly Scanlon:

Another very important project that you began, it's been a few years ago now, is the Appointments project. Tell us about that.

Wendy Doyle:

Appointments Project is an evidence-based research-driven solution. We commissioned a research study really looking at what are the barriers holding women back to engage civically? Our definition of civic is really serving and supporting our government. There are boards and commissions' opportunities at the city, county and state level. We really identified that to really start to get women comfortable with policy-making opportunities that would be a great place to start.

Wendy Doyle:

We piloted the Appointments Project here in Kansas City, with then former Mayor, Sly James, and really learned how to work with an elected official and then how to educate women about how to serve in this capacity. But some of the key findings of that research really showed that women undervalue their experience and qualifications. When you compare that with men, men are much more confident and raise their hand, willing to jump in and do a project or volunteer, where women want to have all of the qualifications in line. The Appointments Project really was a solution to be that reassurance, that building competence for women and walking them through the process of how to apply and then how to serve to be a good board or a commissioner at the city, county and state level.

Kelly Scanlon:

How are you providing that training? Is that coming directly from United WE? Are you partnering with other organizations to provide ... because that is so important. It's one thing to get on boards, but then to be able to be a good board member where you can actually have the impact that's required, that's a whole nother level. How are you accomplishing that?

Wendy Doyle:

That is a self-directed United WE initiative. That's a service that we offer complimentary to women to educate them about this opportunity and how to be well prepared and serve with great leadership. And then we also, Kelly, work with the elected officials. There is an additional research piece that we did just demonstrating that by having diversity and good representation around the decision-making table at these boards and commissions opportunities, the best decisions are made for our community. So transparency and it's just a good government practice. We have been really working and educating elected officials about this opportunity as well. It's kind of a two-prong approach; working with women and then working with elected officials.

Kelly Scanlon:

This has been very successful. I remember when you first introduced it, you had a goal of a hundred appointments within a certain timeframe and you flew right past that well ahead of your anticipated deadline for that goal. Where does it stand now?

Wendy Doyle:

The Appointments Project now has just expanded significantly. It's expanded outside of our Midwest borders. We are now in several states across the country in mostly cities ranging from Austin, Texas to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to Sacramento, California. Really the objective here is just to continue to share this best practice with other communities across the country. We are over 170 appointees now building a significant applicant pool of women who are interested in serving. I think we're most proud of that we've really focused on diversity. We are getting closer to about 40% of our appointees that are representing diverse communities.

Kelly Scanlon:

You've been involved in this particular initiative for a short time. Are there any stories that you can share of the impact that this has already had?

Wendy Doyle:

Absolutely. I think we've heard from several women kind of a consistent theme that this is really not only to develop personal and professional leadership opportunities and skills, but women have gone on to kind of elevate from a city board and commission opportunity to getting Senate confirmed and serving at a state level. It's also been a springboard too from a professional development opportunity. We've had a couple of women just express interest in working through serving on a corporate board. So there is that kind of building the pipeline is what we like to see.

Wendy Doyle:

I think one of the most telling is serving at that level, built the confidence and women have gone on to run for elected office serving on school boards or at a county commissioner level. Again, that is success for us. That's exactly what we're hoping to accomplish with the initiative.

Kelly Scanlon:

Tell us about some of the legislation that you've been involved with. I said at the beginning that you regularly testify to legislators, that you write op-eds. You're very influential in that regard. How have those activities resulted in legislation that benefits women?

Wendy Doyle:

One of the areas that we really have focused on because there weren't a lot of organizations working in the space is professional licensing or at the policy-making level it's referenced as occupational licensing. We've really been a leader in both Missouri and Kansas. Again, all evidence-based research-driven conversations. But what we really are wanting to do is reduce the red tape so that again, women can get to work quickly.

Wendy Doyle:

An example of that would be really leading the effort to reduce barriers for hair-braiders. Believe it or not in that cosmetology industry, that it was requiring hair-braider to go through cosmetology school with an expense of about an average $13,000 in the state of Missouri, but yet nothing in a curriculum that taught you how to be a hair-braider. It took a couple of years of working through the legislative process, but we sent that to the governor's desk. He signed it into law. So now to be a hair-braider, you take a safety online course and then submit an application and $25, and you are a licensed hair-braider in the State of Missouri.

Wendy Doyle:

The second is reciprocity. What that means is that if you're licensed in another state, you want to come and practice your profession in Missouri, you can do that right away. That went through a legislative process. Governor Parson signed that. We were the second state in the country that really put reciprocity across the board. Arizona was first, and then we took what Arizona did, kind of improved it, and then Governor Parson signed that in 2020.

Kelly Scanlon:

You've had some wins, you've had some successes at the state level. We had talked earlier about some of your findings that you've released through a series of reports on the Status of Women in Missouri and Status of Women in Kansas, and then in these town halls that you've had. With what you have found there, what sorts of actions do you have planned to address those?

Wendy Doyle:

The next step for us in Missouri is with a town hall report released, Lieutenant Governor Kehoe, really leaned in and grabbed a hold of this report and has been a big champion of it. The childcare challenge was the number one issue for Missouri. He has put together under his leadership, a childcare work group of getting the right players around the table to start to have the discussions and think through what could a strategy look like to meet that supply and demand side.

Wendy Doyle:

Secondly, the broadband access, we know that Governor Parson with the American Rescue Plan Act funds that are coming into Missouri, he is addressing that issue and putting 400 million toward the broadband infrastructure challenge. So that piece is happening.

Wendy Doyle:

The third thing that we really heard just around being able to care for children, but also aging family members is looking at paid family and medical leave. The Missouri Foundation for Health has invested in a really significant research study that will be coming out later this summer, that we are really going to lift up and look at and see ways that we can be a part of, again, keeping the conversation going and coming up with unique solutions.

Wendy Doyle:

Those are some of the highlights of some next steps as a result of the town halls report.

Kelly Scanlon:

If you had to choose a word or a phrase to sum up where women in the United States are today, how would you describe it? And where do you see the opportunity?

Wendy Doyle:

The word I would choose is backward. I choose that word because as a result of the pandemic, we fell way backward with contributions that we are making to the economy. We know that the United States Department of Labor reported during that height of the pandemic that women dropped out of the workforce at a rate of what it looked like in the year 1987. So we fell way backward when we were making some significant progress. We've made ground, moved forward and made up some of that work by getting women back to work, but we still have a long way to go.

Wendy Doyle:

What I am is encouraged, would be my second word that I would choose. Just based on spending time with women during the town halls, what I was encouraged is the discussion that we were having. Women for the first time are really getting in these discussions that men have been having for a long time around economic issues. We heard from women as an outcome of the town halls, this is really the first time that I've had a good conversation about these issues. We want that to happen on a more regular basis as an outcome of the town halls.

Wendy Doyle:

I think, I chose the word backward, but I'm also encouraged.

Kelly Scanlon:

You talked about your long term vision for women and the financial security you hope that all women can achieve. What's your long term vision for United WE, the organization?

Wendy Doyle:

The long term vision for United WE is that we continue this path. We are staying very focused, but we want to continue to share the best practices of our work far and wide. So again, that scalability, I think is a big piece of our vision moving forward, just continuing to expand, continuing to create awareness like I've identified of the key issues, but just sharing it with more states.

Kelly Scanlon:

How can people get involved with United WE?

Wendy Doyle:

One is, for women listening, join us in the Appointments Project effort. We need you. We want your perspective serving in that capacity. Learn more about it and join us for one of our complimentary overview sessions.

Wendy Doyle:

Secondly, we have an opportunity for United WE ambassadors. So if you have an interest in, a passion for this work women and men, join us and learn more about that.

Wendy Doyle:

Third is we definitely want our research to be shared far and wide. It's a great conversation piece around the kitchen table or at a cocktail event. Definitely utilize our research, which all of those opportunities are accessible to learn more on our website, which is united-we.org.

Kelly Scanlon:

united-we.org, all of the different ways that you can engage are out there, and then also all of your research reports and findings are out there as well, right?

Wendy Doyle:

Absolutely. All of them are accessible on our website, so please join and take a look.

Kelly Scanlon:

Wendy, thank you so much for being with us on this episode of Banking on KC. Thank you for all that you are doing to shape the history of women. We don't know. We look back a hundred years from now and we don't know what the work you're doing now, the implications that it will have and how it will have changed women's lives for the better, but it will. So thank you very much.

Wendy Doyle:

Kelly, it's been my honor to be with you today. Thank you.

Suzy Hall:

This is Suzy Hall, President of Country Club Trust Company.

Suzy Hall:

Thank you to Wendy Doyle for being our guest on this episode of Banking on KC.

Suzy Hall:

United WE's efforts to increase the gender diversity of civic boards and commissions through the Appointments Project is just one way United WE advocates to ensure women's voices are heard. United WE also holds multiple town halls for women, provides opportunities to speak before state legislatures and hosts other activities to raise public awareness of the economic, workforce and caregiving challenges women face. These challenges not only impact women individually, but also are barriers to economic growth for our entire community. United WE's evidence-based work has been steadily transforming information into successful solutions.

Suzy Hall:

As we reflect on the contributions women have made in Kansas City and throughout the country during Women's History Month, Country Club Bank salutes United WE and others in our community who work to empower women and expand their opportunities.

Suzy Hall:

Thanks for tuning in this week. We're banking on you, Kansas City. Country Club Bank, member FDIC.

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