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North Hills Monthly

EWC of Greater Pittsburgh Offers Support to Women Business Leaders

Apr 30, 2016 12:05PM ● By Hilary Daninhirsch

According to the 2012 National Women’s Business Council survey, there was a 27 percent increase in women-owned businesses in the previous five years, totaling 9,878,397 businesses. Sounds promising, right? 

Unfortunately, that same study showed that women in business still face barriers—lack of access to capital, for one. Other studies have shown that, despite women comprising half of the country’s population, they are severely underrepresented in board memberships and in executive leadership roles.

The mission of the Executive Women’s Council of Greater Pittsburgh is to help bridge that gap. The trade organization was founded just over 40 years ago by a group of 11 executive women who regularly met for lunch. The women wanted to create a powerful organization that would engage and assist other women business leaders in western Pennsylvania.

 Although things have been improving for women business leaders since the organization’s inception, there is still a ways to go. “Ironically or unfortunately, there have been great strides, but we still hear the same issues and have the same struggles,” said EWC President Gwendolen Pechan, citing struggles in work-life balance and in negotiating salaries.

Discrepancies exist in politics, too. “When you look at politics and politicians in western Pennsylvania, there are some real struggles in the political power arena that really haven’t changed at all in 40 years,” she said, adding that out of 29 state legislators in western Pennsylvania, none are women.

And while Pittsburgh’s population is about 50 percent women, management levels in corporations and on boards do not reflective that.  

Most EWC members are not only business leaders in managerial or executive positions, but have served on boards and are otherwise active in the community. “We really try to provide executive women with support, enrichment, networking and educational opportunities,” said Pechan.

To help facilitate opportunities for women to enhance their economic and political power, the 85-plus members serve on such committees as Programming, Membership, and Marketing and Technology. They also hold about eight to 10 events each year at various locations throughout the city, both for networking and for educational purposes.

For example, in April EWC held a meeting with a panel of their founding members, who discussed what they’d learned over the past four decades, and what strides still needed to be made. They’ve also met with Mayor Bill Peduto as well as other government, community and business leaders. On May 18, the group has scheduled a meeting featuring financial ABCs for women. These events are open to the public, with members receiving a discounted rate.

Another primary focus of the EWC is encouraging women to have more of a presence on government and corporate boards. “The EWC has successfully placed multiple women on City of Pittsburgh and state boards,” said Pechan. “We continue to focus on state, county, local and city boards, but are now more aggressively pursuing advisory and corporate board positions as well.” 

One aspect of the EWC that Pechan finds powerful is that the membership does not represent just one sector or one career field, but consists of a broad selection of leaders in many industries. “One big benefit is you get a cross-section of women who are experiencing similar things but come from diverse backgrounds,” she explained. 

EWC is also aligned with many other women’s organizations in Pittsburgh. Some of these include the Women and Girls Foundation, Coro Pittsburgh, and a partnership with Chatham University’s Center for Women’s Entrepreneurship. Said Pechan, “We like to align with other organizations because while they all have a slightly different focus, we are all pulling in the same direction.”