Texas Women’s Fdn Event Spotlights Outstanding Gender Lens Leaders

The Texas Women’s Foundation (TWF) held its Leadership Forum and Awards Celebration on April 29th, honoring the trailblazing women making a difference for both Texas and the world. From 10 AM to 12 PM, thousands joined in on the virtual celebration, discussions, and moments of gratitude. The event served to highlight how, particularly since COVID, women’s leadership offers particular value and potential.

texas women's foundation
Leaders honored by the Texas Women’s Foundation at their Leadership and Awards Celebration. (Photo credit: Texas Women’s Foundation and Plano Magazine)

The celebration honored five Maura Women Helping Women Award recipients and two Young Leader Award recipients. The Maura award enters its 42nd year with over 200 past honorees who have and are implementing drastic advancement opportunities for women and girls. The Young Leader Award highlights women leaders under 40 who, through their own accomplishments, are shaping the roads of progress for women everywhere.

The event was co-chaired by Jana Etheridge, Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff and Customer Office at Capital One, and Hattie Hill, President and CEO of T.D. Jakes Foundation.

The Maura Women Helping Women Award

Trisha Cunningham, President and CEO of the North Texas Food Bank, and her team aim to eliminate hunger across Texas. Their valiant efforts supplied 97 million meals over the past year.

Jin-Ya Huang, founder of Break Bread, Break Borders, utilizes cultural and social community bonds to economically empower refugee women.

Rani Puranik, co-owner and CFO of Worldwide Oilfield Machine, revolutionizes financial frameworks and communication across the globe, while simultaneously sharing her business insights with future young leaders in a school in India.

Judy Treviño, Executive Director of CCVI Ministries, Inc., uses her position at the international non-profit to mentor and guide women, along with teaching at the Latino Leadership Institute.

Cheryl Polote Williamson, CEO and Founder of Williamson Media Group, LLC. and Cheryl Polote Williamson, LLC., is an accomplished author, filmmaker, and coach who has helped 435 people succeed as entrepreneurs.

Young Leader Award Winners

Diana Mao, President of Nomi Network, aims to end human trafficking through awareness, support of survivors, and creating opportunities for those women most at risk.

Kim Roxie, Founder and CEO of LAMIK Beauty, empowers multicultural women through her innovative, clean line of beauty products designed specifically for them.

Full biographies of all these inspiring women can be found on the TWF website.

The Vital Role of Corporate Gender Lens Giving

It’s not often corporations get as involved in gender-based philanthropy as they were during this TWF celebration. Reports from 2017 on charitable giving for women and girls highlighted this problem, albeit somewhat late to the party as the data was released in December 2020. In total, only 1.6% of all giving in 2017 went to women and girls.

In contrast to the wider gaps in giving, female leaders of several big corporate industries spoke at the event, sharing their stories, and making it evident why they support TWF. “We know how valuable diversity and gender equity are,” explained Jennifer Biry, CFO for Warner Media. This celebration was a clear sign of what one can only hope becomes consistent philanthropic efforts by corporations to give more to women and girls’ organizations like TWF. 

Amongst the other corporations backing TWF and their honorees were the presenting sponsor AT&T, who provided support for the keynote speaker, the Catherine M. Coughlin Endowment for Women’s Leadership at TWF. TWF’s new Gender Matters podcast series is sponsored by Kimberly-Clark Corporation.

The Reasons Behind TWF’s Bold Progress

The Texas Women’s Foundation is a prime example of how women’s foundation do philanthropy with particular impact. True, altruistic philanthropy needs to integrate all its first-hand knowledge into a current context. In this case, that context is COVID. ‘Doing’ it right is really all that matters and TWF has a 35-year track record of initiating contextualized, positive change in Texas and around the world.

By raising and distributing $2 million annually, TWF is able to add significantly to battles for racial and gender equity, and not just in the obvious sense. Their holistic approach recognizes the necessary standing of women and girls in all aspects of society and how shifting the gender balance can both lead to progress and female advancement.

Since the onset of the pandemic, new data is revealing just how disproportionately COVID has affected women and girls. Women have left the U.S. workforce in shocking numbers — 2.5 million to be exact. Yes, all genders have been affected, especially when it comes to employment, but the extent and the socio-cultural reasons as to why women are leaving are drastically different.

Almost 50% of childcare centers closed in the past year, along with the obvious school closures, sling-shotting women right back to their more domestic roles of 50 years past. A. Shonn Brown, Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Kimberly-Clark, explained how “it is even more imperative that we move more women into leadership in order to drive the cultural shifts that will enable women to return to the workforce.” The driving force behind the awards celebration was obviously to spotlight those women making great strides for gender equity, but it was also a call to action specific to today.

Roslyn Dawson Thompson, President and CEO of TWF, shared her own urgency around the current context, emphasizing that 50 years of female progress cannot be erased and ignored. It needs to be tackled and woven into how women and girls’ philanthropy moves forward in all respects.

When Women Lead, Less Burnout

Dispersed throughout the celebration was an insightful and inspiring conversation between Marachel Knight, Senior Vice President of Engineering and Operations for AT&T, and Keynote Speaker Adriana Gascoigne, Founder and CEO of Girls in Tech. Girls in Tech spans 32 countries and provides empowerment and training for girls wanting to enter the tech field.

Gascoigne is a beacon for all women entering the male-dominated and controlled field of STEM, diving right into how “everyone in an organization is accountable to create a more diverse workforce for women.” Both women shared their personal journeys through the glass ceilings and the after-effects of sometimes having to walk on that broken glass.

Although their discussion covered many topics, including both personal and professional perspectives, the main theme was the need to get all levels and individuals in society involved in gender equity and the undeniable resiliency of women. Gascoigne shared some recent research from her company, Girls in Tech, explaining the relationship between women’s experiences in the workplace and the gender of their bosses. When the top executive at a company is male, 85% of women self-reported burnout, in contrast to the 15% experiencing burnout when their company is run by a woman.

The takeaway from those drastic stats is the need for support. Support doesn’t just mean maternity leave and the option for in-house counseling. Support means more adaptable work environments for both genders, a work culture that doesn’t promote unreasonable and unhealthy commitments, and a recognition of the deeply engrained socio-cultural expectations put on women specifically in times of wider crisis.

Getting Systems in Place for Texas Women and Girls

After the awards celebration, those who joined were given the opportunity to enter break-out rooms for individual Leadership Forums. These forums were moderated by a sponsor advocate and featured each of the award recipients exploring their field of expertise and personal experiences. True to TWF fashion, all were encouraged to interact, ask questions, and learn more about women and girls’ philanthropy.

TWF also announced their newest venture, the Gender Matters Podcast. This podcast features each of the 2021 award winners and is co-moderated by Thompson and Kimberly-Clark representatives. The podcast is available to event ticket holders now and will be available for all on the TWF website on May 7th.

The perfect way to sum up the Texas Women’s Foundation 2021 Leadership Forum and Awards Celebration is to hand it back to Thompson again. “We’ve got to act now, we must act together, and we must ensure that the systems we need to thrive are in place for our Texas women and girls.”

Change starts small and TWF is a role model for how conversations, recognition, advocacy, and proper funding can lead to massive strides towards racial and gender equity.


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Author: Abigail DelVecchio

Abigail DelVecchio, MSc, is a freelance copywriter and writer focusing on women's mental health and the sociocultural contexts that affect their well-being.

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