2009 marked an important milestone – a Fifth Anniversary – for the Women and Girls Foundation. From 2004-2009 WGF granted over $500,000 to non-profits in Southwest Pennsylvania to seed systemic change and increase equity for women and girls through public policy initiatives. However, the Foundation’s history reaches into the mid-1990’s. Unlike a family foundation, WGF was not started by a single individual or family, but rather rose up out of a grass roots effort by women, for women, over many years. The Women and Girls Foundation of Southwest Pennsylvania was incorporated in July 2002, and received its 501(c)3 status in November 2002. WGF’s founding board members included: Susan Chersky, Hilda Pang Fu, Marlene Gary Hogan, Bette Hughes, Cathy Raphael, Judy Ruszkowski, and Patricia Ulbrich, President. Founding Chair: Cecile Springer.
In 2004 WGF celebrated the first 100 donors to the foundation. That year the board hired the organization’s first Executive Director, Heather Arnet, and began making grants to the community. Since then, WGF has granted over $600,000 to organizations to seed systemic change for women and girls and those grantmaking funds were 100% supported by individual donations made to WGF by hundreds of donors.
Between 2004 -2006 WGF grantees helped women become elected to the PA State House, ban the shackling of female prisoners during child birth, helped emergency contraception become available over the counter, and helped women of all economic levels protect their rights to affordable housing.
In 2004, WGF’s efforts to pursue legislation at the city, county and state levels for fair representation for women and people of color on Pennsylvania’s appointed boards, authorities, and commissions became a national model for effective philanthropic coalition building and advocacy efforts resulting in new legislation implemented at the city and county levels. Since then women’s representation on government boards in the City of Pittsburgh went from 25% of appointees to over 50%.
In 2005, the Foundation received National and International media attention for its Girls as Grantmakers program and their successful “Girlcott” of Abercrombie & Fitch for selling sexist t-shirts to teenage women. As a result of their efforts the girls appeared on NBC’s Today Show, CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, as well as National Public Radio, and the BBC. Most importantly the “Girlcott” was successful in achieving its gender equity goals. Abercrombie and Fitch agreed to pull the offensive t-shirts from their stores, they issued an apology to the girls for selling the t-shirts in the first place, and they invited WGF’s Girls as Grantmakers to come meet with A&F executives at their corporate headquarters to discuss how the company could demonstrate increased social responsibility and respect for girls in the future.
In 2006 WGF partnered with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to publish a study of the representation of women in the corporate boardrooms and executive suites of the top 50 publicly traded companies in Pittsburgh. At that time of the 50 companies, 26 companies had zero female directors serving on their Boards. WGF then led a “zero no more” community effort to advocate that “while one is not enough, zero is unacceptable.” By 2010, the number of companies with zero women serving on the Board had dropped to 15.
In 2007, WGF helped develop a coalition of women leaders to advocate to the city of Pittsburgh for more informed public policy to decrease domestic violence in our region. This group was instrumental in helping to draft and pass a new policy for the City of Pittsburgh and Bureau of Police mandating improved processes for Domestic Violence Crimes when they involve a Police Officer. In 2010 this internal domestic violence prevention policy was extended to all City of Pittsburgh employees.
In 2008, WGF worked to successfully pass legislation mandating the City of Pittsburgh conduct a gender and race wage gap audit for the city of Pittsburgh. In 2009, Allegheny County also passed similar legislation mandating a race and gender wage equity audit be conducted every five years for the county. Both audits found significant wage gaps and both government units began implementation of systemic improvements to remedy existing gaps.
In 2010 – 2011, WGF focused on articulating the impact of the economic recession on women in Pennsylvania. We commissioned and released a report by the Institute of Women’s Policy Research titled “The Female Face of Poverty” and presented this research through invited testimony to the PA State Legislature and to members of the Labor and Education Committee of the U.S. Congress. WGF used this document to advocate for women in the workforce and women business owners to have equitable opportunity to compete for economic stimulus resources and investments. In 2010, WGF was also invited to bring girls to a luncheon with the President of the United States at the White House in recognition of our work training the next generation of women leaders through our Regional Change Agents and GirlGov programs.