Leveraging Philanthropy to Help Cultivate a Pipeline of Women Leaders of Color

This was originally published as an opinion piece in Maryland Matters on November 23, 2021

By Candace Dodson-Reed and Buffy Beaudoin-Schwartz


There is ample data that makes the case for the value of diversity in corporate, education, private and public sector leadership. A quick internet search reveals that companies and organizations that embrace and value diversity in leadership outperform their peers. And the relationships that are formed and nurtured may even — someday — keep pace with the financial returns.

The data about representation in leadership positions, however, is discouraging.
In the U.S., underrepresented ethnic groups make up 40% of the population but only 12.5% of board directors. Black directors make up just 4% and Black women make up just 1.5% of the 20,000 plus directors. And according to a 2021, Fortune magazine article on women CEOs, in 2021, the number of women running businesses on the Fortune 500 hit an all-time record: 41. However, of the 41, only six are women of color and two identify as Black women.

And, if you look at the leadership of public institutions, nonprofit organizations and commissions, you’ll find that without an intentional focus, the issue is the same. Though we do not yet have this specific data in Maryland, and a bill put forth by Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne Jones may begin to address this issue, we can make a reasonable assumption that the data in our state is similar.

Enter, philanthropy.
Introduced by Speaker Jones during the last legislative session, House Bill 1210 is intended to encourage organizations to address issues related to board and leadership diversity. Inspired by HB1210, the Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County has invested in helping to create a pipeline of women of color leaders through a new funding partnership with The 3rd and The Highland Project — this partnership is to implement a leadership development program for women of color in Howard County.

The Women’s Giving Circle is providing a $20,000 multi-year grant to The 3rd as an investment in the growth of the organization broadly, and specifically to help support increased representation for women of color in leadership positions in the county. This leadership development program will be introduced as part of the services offered at The 3rd and will provide information, training, resources and connections for increased representation on local committees, task forces, boards of directors and other leadership bodies in Howard County.

The 3rd is a nonprofit organization that is building a space that fosters dreams, creates community and provides mentorship, which enables women of color to turn their ideas into economic power and freedom. As a co-created community of entrepreneurs, The 3rd has been developed with the belief that women of color need a space to build, execute and thrive, and also need access to skill building, collaboration and accountability.

As part of this multi-year grant, the Women’s Giving Circle is also providing a $10,000 grant to The Highland Project, a national effort that is cultivating a coalition of Black women who are leading communities, institutions and systems in the creation of multi-generational wealth and change where they live and serve.

The Highland Project will provide strategic guidance and coaching to The 3rd during the developmental stage of this personalized leadership development program. This partnership will support the growth of The 3rd overall, and this new leadership development program in particular will be modeled on a version of the Highland Project, with the goal to help cultivate a pipeline of women of color in all sectors in Howard County.

The Women’s Giving Circle is building a community of philanthropists and creating a permanent legacy to address the needs of women and girls in Howard County.
In 2022, we will celebrate 20 years of impact, including giving over $1 million in grants to our nonprofit partners and building a $1.3 million endowment from over 1,600 donors to ensure there is funding for women and girls in perpetuity.

We bring women together to learn about issues impacting women and girls in our community, and pool our dollars to fund programs that address those issues so we can have a greater impact together than we might otherwise have alone.

The intent of this grant is woven into our mission, vision, goals, statement of unity, diversity, equity and inclusion focus, and our efforts to raise awareness of gender disparities, and we are proud to collectively invest in leadership opportunities for women of color in our community.

This is the power of a giving circle.
Giving circles bring many more — and more widely representative — everyday donors to the table to help create more equitable communities including women, people of color, LGBTQIA+ people, different giving capacities, youth, people in rural communities, religious minorities and more.

And the impact is growing.
There are currently over 2,000 giving circles in the U.S. that engage over 150,000 people, who have collectively given over $1.29B to communities across the country. Many are focused on democratizing and diversifying philanthropy, and those who participate often do so alongside other passionate, empowered, diverse individuals who are intentionally and collaboratively giving to create the world they want to see.

This is our focus.

We are proud to partner nationally with The Highland Project and invest locally in The 3rd to support their focus on gender and race equity, and specifically on leadership opportunities for women of color.

Dodson-Reed is a mom, community advocate and higher education professional. She is involved in a variety of professional, political and personal efforts that are often intertwined. She is a member of the Women’s Giving Circle Advisory Board and co-chair of their Grants Committee. She can be reached at [email protected].

Beaudoin-Schwartz is a mom of four and philanthropic leader whose professional career, volunteer efforts and activism have been focused on women’s issues, human rights and social change through philanthropy. She is an original founder, past advisory board chair and now the first executive director of the Women’s Giving Circle of Howard County. She can be reached at [email protected].

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