A Brief History

The Executive Women's Council of Greater Pittsburgh was founded in 1974 as women in the region began to use their education and experience to pursue professional opportunities once reserved only for men. The late Mary Beth Peters, a member of the administration at Chatham College, and college provost Dr. Doreen Boyce arranged the first in a series of planning meetings in Dr. Boyces office. Among others involved in these initial planning sessions were Dr. Mary Cole, senior psychologist with Psychological Services of Pittsburgh; Joan Biordi, research chemist with the U.S. Bureau of Mines; Gretchen Donaldson, Esq., Pittsburgh attorney; Betty Gardner Bailey of the Benedum Foundation, and about a dozen other prominent Pittsburgh professional women.

Early documents reveal that the council was created to promote the professional development of women managers, administrators and professionals; to increase the numbers of women managers, administrators and professionals in the Pittsburgh area; to increase the significant decision and policy-making positions held by women; to develop our power as women and to use it effectively.

161 Charter Members

The first directory of the Executive Womens Council in 1975 listed 161 charter members. From its inception, EWC deliberately avoided a traditional structure, recognizing that its primary objectives networking and mutual support would be stifled in an organizational bureaucracy. A three-member Coordinating Committee shared responsibility for early leadership.

Other early decisions included what the organization was NOT designed to be:

  • Another highly structure ladies group;
  • Politically partisan;
  • A forum for speaking out on every controversial issues that happened to concern women

While the spirit of these early decisions has been preserved, nonpartisan political information programs, including pre-election candidates forums and meetings with elected officials, have become a core component of EWC activity in more recent years.

Membership not for private gain

Soon, EWC recognized that although many women within the city were beginning to wield considerable power, this power was dispersed and unrecognized. The Coordinating Committee also became concerned that many of the most influential women in the city were no longer active, fearing that goals were being diluted and excessive demands were being made for help, advice and contacts from younger, less experienced members. Thus, the organization tightened membership criteria, requiring applicants to have 5 years of managerial experience, involvement in organizational decision-making, community service leadership, and other executive responsibilities. It was also clarified that EWC was a networking organization designed to help members achieve professional goals but that it was not to be used solely for private business gain.

In 1981, EWC filed for incorporation as a non-profit organization, and its first logo was developed in 1984. After a 1983 issue of Savvy Magazine identified Pittsburgh as one of the worst US cities for women managers, membership increased over the following year to 263.

Women on Boards

In 1984, EWC began a major push to place women on influential boards. It began to achieve greater success in influencing placement on governmental and not-for-profit boards, although women continued to lag behind in the for-profit sector.

The Women on Boards initiative made a significant advance in 2006 when EWC applied for and received a grant from the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development with help from the Honorable Jane Orie, a Pennsylvania state senator and an EWC member. This grant, together with another from the Women and Girls Foundation of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and a third from the Pittsburgh Celebration of Lights fund, has enabled EWC to create and publicize an interactive database listing professional women in the region who are qualified through experience and specific competencies to serve on for-profit and high-level not-for-profit boards and to promote equity of representation on governmental boards, commissions and authorities. The database was designed to serve as the cornerstone of a major EWC Women on Boards strategic initiative. The other significant components include EWC-sponsored educational programs designed to prepare professional women for board service and leadership positions as well as membership activity targeting women who are qualified for high-level professional positions.

Other Transitions, Collaborations

In more recent years, EWC began to engage in strategic collaborations. In 2004, it merged with WIRED Women Initiating Regional Economic Development. It continues to work closely with the Women and Girls Foundation and other womens organizations to achieve greater equity in pay, professional opportunities, and board membership. EWC has helped underwrite studies on the disparities between men and women related to employment and political office and it has endeavored to foster the greatest possible diversity among its own membership. Additionally, EWC partnered with the Working Hearts Program of the Jewish Healthcare Foundation to provide women and girls with vital information about their cardiovascular health.

Network Building Continues

Although many initiatives relate to significant political and socio-economic issues, each year EWC continues to sponsor regular networking events designed to share insights, information and employment opportunities as well as to give members and their guests the chance to interact in an relaxed atmosphere.

Most recently, EWC received a Community Connections grant from the Sprout Fund in commemoration of the 250th anniversary of the founding of Pittsburgh. In a major initiative to build a network of collaborators, EWC has been using the grant to sponsor Womens Voices, Womens Votes, a series of collaborative planning meetings among 20 supporting organizations to plan future goals and actions to advance the influence of professional and managerial women in the greater Pittsburgh Region.