The History of the Women + Girls Research Alliance


Early in 2006, four women gathered at the home of Liz Hair.  Their mission: Launching a women's summit to address critical issues for women and families in Mecklenburg County. Names, phone numbers, and e-mails were assembled. Two weeks later at a meeting hosted by the YWCA, a larger ad hoc planning committee formed. The committee quickly reached consensus on addressing these issues: health (full scope, including access to services, substance abuse, mental health, domestic violence), economic (career choices, workplace, earnings, self-sufficiency, child care, poverty), leadership (political, corporate, campaign finance reform), diversity, and women across the lifespan (seniors as well as young women and adolescents).

Less than two months later, more women gathered for the first organizing meeting. They endorsed mission and vision statements. County Commissioner Jennifer Roberts led a discussion about working groups to identify needs in Charlotte Mecklenburg and to develop a strategic action plan. Sharon Portwood and Jeff Michaels of the UNC Charlotte Institute for Social Capital and Urban Institute, respectively, talked about how the university could support data collection and analysis. Participants agreed to start with the topics reported on in South Carolina: employment and earnings, health and well-being, political participation, and social and economic autonomy as well as violence against women.

The next gathering was indeed a milestone. A Steering Committee with Lisa Lewis Dubois as chair was established. Task forces were formed to collect and analyze data in the following areas: Women and Health; Women and the New Poverty; Women and Politics; Women and Work; and Violence Against Women.

As the first step, each task force identified indicators that could be used to assess the current status and track changes. Each task force also defined measures under each indicator, determined if data were available, and identified overlaps with other task forces. Representatives from three cross-cutting teams worked with the task forces to ensure that these themes were fully addressed: diversity, girls, and seniors.

2008 Women's Summit Conference

In March 2008, the findings of the task forces were presented at the Inaugural Women's Summit Conference, a landmark event which attracted more than 600 business and community leaders, grass roots activists, academics and students. Keynote speakers of the 2008 Conference included Pulitzer Prize winning columnist, author, speaker and commentator Ellen Goodman, and Cynthia Marshall, President, AT&T North Carolina.

During the 2008 Conference, interactive sessions shared the results of more than 18 months' research and provided an opportunity for conference participants to contribute to meaningful dialogue about implementing change in our region. Recommendations resulting from the 2008 Conference included the development and implementation of a feasibility study to assess the viability of a Women's Political Leadership Institute; a commitment to support efforts to launch a capital campaign to fund an adequately-sized battered women's shelter in the Charlotte Metro region; and the development and implementation of a program to better understand and address the continuing wage and benefits gap for women.

2008 to Today

Since the 2008 conference, the Women's Summit has continued to lead on understanding how the changing economic landscape has impacted women in our community; developed programs to address emerging issues; and researching current women's public policy.

In 2009, the Women's Summit launched “The Women's Summit Economic Impact Series,” a comprehensive, targeted schedule of symposia, workshops and public forums. The program series addressed the effect of the then-current economic environment on women relating to housing, domestic violence and healthcare, the importance, on a macro-economic level, of parity in pay for women, and the economic impact of women being involved in the political process.

Women's Summit Joins UNC Charlotte

In July 2010, the Women's Summit integrated with UNC Charlotte, an affiliation which provides novel opportunities for funding research and educational activities - opportunities that were unavailable previously. As an integrated unit of UNC Charlotte, the Women's Summit enjoys a broader constituency and a multi-disciplinary approach to our research.  Currently, the Alliance collaborates with the Urban Institute as a Regional Indicators Partner, with faculty and graduate researchers in Political Science, Public Policy Program and Organizational Sciences.