The Strong Legacy of Giving Back: St. Louis Women Leaders Coming Together To Lift Up Each Other


Originally published in the St. Louis Business Journal

By: Margaret McDonald, senior principal, HOK, and Susan Stith, vice president of diversity, equity, inclusion, civic affairs, and executive director of the Cigna Foundation
2021 United Way Women’s Leadership Society Co-Chairs

Throughout our careers, we recognize and celebrate that we have both, at some point, needed the support of others. We know that those fellow professionals, mentors and friends who went before us paved a path to a strong future.
Today, we seek to follow in their footsteps by doing what we can to positively impact others. This is why we are honored to serve as co-chairs of our local United Way’s Women Leadership Society as we celebrate its 25th anniversary.
This group of women is committed to making the St. Louis region a better place, as well as connecting through philanthropy to empower one another in our personal and professional lives. The Society pushes us to expect bigger and better things of ourselves and one another. It encourages us to learn, grow and spark positive change in our community.
With more than 3,000 members, the Society was the first of its kind in the nation and now serves as a model for other United Way affiliates. Since its inception, the group has raised more than $115 million to help strengthen our entire community for generations to come.
This work also ensures that United Way continues to help where it’s needed most. More than 57 percent of the people United Way serves are women and girls, and more than 70 percent of United Way-supported agencies are female-led. Through the Society, we are not only changing the lives of local women, but also lifting up the female leaders working to create change in our region.
The need for this type of unity and energy is more important now than ever before, as many across our region continue to contend with ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. Working women, and women of color, have borne the brunt of many of these challenges.
Even in typical times, more than 11 percent of all women in the St. Louis Metropolitan Statistical Area live in poverty without the income needed to meet their basic needs, according to the US Census. COVID-19 is having a devastating impact, only amplifying these challenges for many.
The need is still great, and there is still much to do. It will take us coming together to help people recover from the disproportionate, life-changing impacts brought on by this crisis.
As the Women’s Leadership Society reaches our momentous milestone, we’re celebrating the power of women coming together to make a difference in the lives of women, girls and of our entire region.
Because we ourselves have been lifted up and supported by others, we see and embrace our duty to help our neighbors achieve a brighter tomorrow. United in this purpose, the members of the Women’s Leadership Society have proven that, when we come together, we can accomplish so much for the good of all.