“Furthering the Progress of Women in Nonprofits” via FordFund.org – featuring our President and CEO Eva Garza Dewaelsche


 Furthering the Progress of Women in Nonprofits

 They’re attracted to values and mission, so why aren’t more in positions of power?

 Women comprise more than half of the U.S. population but remain underrepresented in leadership positions at nonprofit organizations. To further the progress of women, the Ford Fund supports programs that empower women and girls by providing information about and access to opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have.

 To understand the challenges women face, the Ford Fund interviewed women executives at nine nonprofit organizations about the work they do, the barriers they have faced and the passion behind it all.

 Furthering the Progress of Women in Nonprofits text in white on navy blue background with Women in raspberry. Text to left of eight headshots of women profiled in story package above colour bars of olive green, purple, aqua, goldenrod, orange red, periwinkle, raspberry, purple

Traveling to far-flung places and helping people with their basic needs was Julie Chase-Morefield‘s dream in high school. Her mother grew up impoverished and shared stories of standing in line to get federal food commodities. Now Chase-Morefield is president and CEO of the Lorain-based Second Harvest Food Bank of North Central Ohio.

Diana Natalicio‘s high school set low expectations for students simply because they were from low-income families. Girls were taught home economics or secretarial skills, while boys learned woodworking and machine shop skills. As the first female president of the University of Texas at El Paso, Natalicio provided new opportunities for both low-income and Latino students.

Anita Bradley dropped out of college and struggled with drugs after both her father and uncle died in a boating accident. Bradley endured one crisis after another, including a miscarriage, until she finally sought treatment. Years later, Bradley founded the Northern Ohio Recovery Association in Cleveland.

Patricia Deyton headshot

Patricia Deyton
Senior adviser
Council of Women World Leaders

Yet, driven and successful women like Natalicio, Bradley and Chase-Morefield are habitually demeaned on the job.

While studies show that 45% of nonprofit CEOs are women, the illusion of gender parity dissipates with closer examination, said Patricia Deyton, a senior adviser for the Council of Women World Leaders, an adjunct professor at the Simmons University School of Business and the Harvard Extension School in Boston and former CEO of the American Red Cross of Massachusetts Bay.

“When you look at the nonprofits with power—the ones with voice and the nationwide nonprofits—that’s where you see disparity in leadership,” Deyton said.

Women nonprofit CEOs earn 34% less than their male counterparts, said Deyton, who is also a senior associate at the Center for Gender in Organizations, a research group at Simmons University. And, she said, women hold just 18% of CEO roles at nonprofits with budgets over $50 million.

Such disparities make it difficult for women to lead, Chase-Morefield said.

“Women are collaborators who just want to make things happen without worrying about who gets the credit,” she said. “But that’s not the way the rest of the world is.”

As a result, Chase-Morefield thought she couldn’t have flaws.

“I felt I had to be much more serious and much more prepared than men because I was being judged on a much higher standard,” she said. “My predecessor had been male, and there was a little bit of a ‘good ol’ boys’ thing with the men in the community. It was frustrating. They wouldn’t take me seriously.

“People would even say, ‘You went into nonprofits because you couldn’t make it in the business world.'”

Women’s work? No, women’s values

Nearly 75% of nonprofit employees are women—not because they can’t make it in business but because the sector reflects women’s values to a greater degree, Deyton said.

Indeed, most staff and board members at Humble Design in Pontiac, Mich., are women—though not intentionally. Founder and co-CEO Treger Strasberg said the work resonates with more women.

Treger Strasberg embracing Humble Design clients


Treger Strasberg celebrating with Humble Design clients.


Strasberg understands Chase-Morefield’s frustration.

“I’ve seen directly how being a woman has impacted my business,” she said. “Small meetings tend to be run by women-driven organizations. But when we get to the large organizations seeking large dollars, serious money, it’s a male-centric room.”

Strasberg has been studying homelessness for 11 years and even talked about affordable housing at the White House with Ben Carson, the U.S. secretary of Housing and Urban Development. “But I’ve been to meetings where there were 16 people, and I was the only woman,” she said. “And they turn to my husband, who is not an expert, for answers.”

Likewise, Diana Sieger finds she’s not always taken seriously or included in networking opportunities even after being appointed president of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation more than 30 years ago.

“I don’t play golf,” she said, “But I survive.”

Sieger credits the respect she gets in boardrooms to her outspoken nature.

“I would be the only woman sitting around the table, and I wanted so desperately to be taken seriously,” she said. “But I was never shy about advisedly expressing my opinion, and that worked in my favor.

“I remember sitting in a meeting, and the men were denigrating Hillary Clinton in pretty unsavory terms. I said, ‘I want you to go home and say that to your wife, your daughter and your granddaughter and see how they react.’

“From that time forward, I didn’t hear those kinds of comments.”

The takeaway, Sieger said, was not to allow herself to be minimized, to address it then and there and to learn how to sit down with a business leader and hold her own.

“I take the attitude that you may not like me, but you’re going to respect me,” she said.

Female child holding letter B in front of a wall of magnetic letters


Child during learning enrichment at Starfish Family Services.


Nonetheless, Sieger acknowledged that being a white woman in leadership is a truly different experience from being a minority female leader.

“Women say men treat us as if we’re invisible,” she said, “but African American women and Latinx women are truly invisible people.”

Case in point: Helene Gayle, M.D., noticed throughout her career that she could be the only leader in the room and still be discounted by male colleagues.

“Luckily, I came into my roles in the times when being the first woman was not the uphill battle that it was 20 or 30 years ago.

“Still, I have had male counterparts that were my direct reports, and reports of my direct reports, who got more attention in meetings than I did,” said Gayle, president and CEO of The Chicago Community Trust, former president and CEO of CARE and a physician who worked with the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on HIV/AIDS and other health issues.

As a minority leader, NORA’s Anita Bradley finds she must do more than her male counterparts to get the outcomes for the people she’s serving.

“I have brought in more than 20 million federal dollars,” Bradley said, “but it’s not easy.”

It’s what you know—and who, too

The ability to acquire essential funding, Bradley said, comes down having access to a larger social network. That’s something that men and white people in general tend to have because they are invited to serve on more boards of directors.

“Clearly, being on boards provides connections, knowledge and experience,” Deyton said.

Likewise, Cassie Nielsen, president of Talent for VMG Partners, recently told Yahoo! Finance it “makes economic sense” for women to serve on boards as they make 70-80% of consumer purchasing decisions.

“Yet, because women are underrepresented on boards of directors, those boards lack a diversity of decision-makers, which allows unconscious bias to play out,” Deyton said.

Sieger of the Grand Rapids Foundation said boards of trustees also help build a good network of female leaders and other support and are easier to get on than boards of directors.

It took a while to get her foot in the door, but Eva Garza Dewaelsche, president and CEO of SER Metro-Detroit Jobs for Progress Inc., said sitting on several boards has allowed her to penetrate a normally all-male group of leaders. Dewaelsche sits on the advisory board of Comerica Bank, is a member of the New Detroit board of directors and is a Detroit police commissioner.

Unfortunately, she said, she has received more help from men than women.

“I would like to be able to say that women have opened doors to opportunity for me, Dewaelsche said. “But that hasn’t been the case for most of my life because they are not in leadership roles or were not when I started 25 years ago.

“Women have to place themselves in situations where they can have that opportunity—where they can be leaders. I take advantage of every opportunity that comes my way to learn how to be a leader.”

Whatever the reasons for the inequality, women’s work should not be diminished, Deyton said. “Women at work in this country’s more than 900,000 charitable organizations are making huge contributions to the fabric of our society.”


SER Metro-Detroit’s CEO and President was highlighted in a related feature (link here)

From Roots in ’60s and ’70s Grow 3 Advocates for Social Change

Women don’t just chase after their dreams or the footsteps of their heroes. Oftentimes, they are influenced subtly and overtly by the inequality they experience and social justice initiatives they witness.

Women comprise more than half of the U.S. population but remain underrepresented in leadership positions at nonprofit organizations. To further the progress of women, the Ford Fund supports programs that empower women and girls by providing information about and access to opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have.

To understand the challenges women face, the Ford Fund interviewed women executives at nine nonprofit organizations about the work they do, the barriers they have faced and the passion behind it all.

Helene Gayle, M.D headshot

Helene Gayle, M.D.
President and CEO
The Chicago Community Trust, Chicago

Dr. Helene Gayle, president and CEO The Chicago Community Trust

Dr. Helene Gayle’s parents and the African American community in which she was raised instilled in her the belief that “we are put on this Earth to make it a little better during the time we are part of it.”

That sentiment, coupled with observing and taking parting in the changes that occurred during in her formative years of the civil rights, women’s and African independence movements of the 1960s and ’70s, influenced Gayle’s desire to be something much bigger than herself.

“Becoming a CEO was never my aim,” said Gayle. “I wanted to make a difference. I went into medicine because I wanted a tangible skill to give back to humankind.”

Gayle was trained in pediatrics but began looking at how she could use her skills to make a broader social change in communities.

“I went from individual care to public health and then ended up focusing on global poverty,” she said. In her 20 years working for the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gayle spent a lot of time in the field, here and around the world.

“No matter how poor, no matter how disenfranchised, if you are able to tap into people’s personal resources, there’s so much that can be done,” she said.

As president and CEO of CARE, which provided microloans so women could start businesses and send their children to school, Gayle learned how small amounts of support could allow people to realize their full potential.

“What is not equal,” she said, “is the opportunity to realize that full potential. We try to remove those barriers.”

Over its 105-year history, The Chicago Community Trust has been using its $3.3 billion in assets to affect positive community change in the Chicago area. The organization launched focused effort on closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap in the region.

“We are looking at ways in which we can help people build assets—through better access to stable employment, homeownership and entrepreneurship—and decrease debt so they can create wealth for themselves, their families and their communities,” Gayle said.

More recently, the Chicago Community Trust partnered with United Way of Metro Chicago on a COVID-19 response fund that raised more than $33 million. Moreover, Gayle is co-chairing a committee that is developing framework to assist U.S. and global health policymakers in planning the equitable allocation of COVID-19 vaccines.

She sees being a woman, particularly an African American woman, as a benefit to the work she does. “It means I am more sensitive to what it means to be ‘other,'” she said, “and that sensitivity is important to the work I do.”



Diana Sieger headshot

Diana Sieger, President, Grand Rapids Community Foundation, Grand Rapids, Mich.

Diana Sieger, president Grand Rapids Community Foundation

Like Helene Gayle, Diana Sieger’s developmental years were during the 1960s and ’70s. Besides the Civil Rights and women’s movements, Sieger remembers the Detroit Rebellion* of 1967.

“They made me acutely aware, as a white kid living in the suburbs of Detroit, that the world was a lot larger than where I was,” said Sieger, 68, who has been president of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation for the past 30 years. “I had this notion of righting the wrongs of the world. And like I saw on television, I wanted to do it while working shoulder to shoulder with other people.”

The foundation is known for providing grants to area nonprofits. However, since the disparities are bigger than people imagine, she said the organization has taken on additional responsibilities.

Grand Rapids Community Foundation childrenSome of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation children.

The Community Foundation is also involved in difficult social issues, such as homelessness as it relates to families and children of color, Sieger said. It also collaborated with businesses and other nonprofit leaders to help develop programs that prevent child abuse and neglect.

In addition, she said: “We created things like an LGBT fund in an area known for being religiously conservative. And a key focus for us is equitable educational attainment, being able to level the playing field, which means working with the school system to provide supports for students and teachers.”


Eva Garza Dewaelsche headshot

Eva Garza Dewaelsche
President and CEO
SER Metro-Detroit Jobs for Progress Inc., Detroit

Eva Garza Dewaelsche, president and CEO Service, Employment, and Redevelopment Metro-Detroit Jobs for Progress Inc.

The Vietnam War introduced a young Eva Garza Dewaelsche to the world of nonprofits. She and her parents were actively involved in the American G.I. Forum, which was chartered in 1948 to support Hispanic veterans and advocate for civil rights. Eventually, that organization became part of SER.

Dewaelsche started her career in a high school co-op program as a bank market analyst but began craving ways to directly affect the lives of others. She took a job at SER while in college but didn’t realize then that she would recruit herself out of her job—or one day return to run the place.

One day, while working as an employment specialist at SER and helping the city of Detroit recruit police officers, she found herself intrigued by police work.

Eva Dewaelsche tours Youth Learning Center

Eva Garza Dewaelsche, far left, tours SER: Service, Employment, and Redevelopment Metro-Detroit Jobs for Progress Youth Learning Center.


“I guess I recruited myself,” she said. “It sounded exciting and meant working one on one with people in the city, doing such honorable work as protecting people and having an impact on communities and neighborhoods.”

Two years later, in 1979, the economy went south, and thousands of police officers lost their jobs. Dewaelsche went back to SER.

“Although I loved being a police officer, working to help the community through SER is providing the ultimate kind of help,” said Dewaelsche, who became SER president 20 years ago and CEO in 2007. “You’re giving people hope. It is a critical gift I can give so people can support their families.”

Over its nearly 50 years, SER has grown from a small agency serving hundreds of people with a $300,000 budget to serving thousands of people in Illinois, Texas and Michigan with a $43 million budget. In Southwest Detroit, the nonprofit also provides computer training, classes in English as a second language, job training and placement and other services at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center.



Diana Natalicio headshot

Diana Natalicio
President Emerita
University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, Texas

Diana Natalicio, president emerita University of Texas at El Paso

While many women her age were getting married, Diana Natalicio put the secretarial skills she learned in high school to use and earned money toward her bachelor’s degree.

When, in the 1960s, the government expanded educational offerings, Natalicio applied for the Fulbright Program and subsequently studied in Brazil.

“I got to know a lot of Brazilian young people and just thought this border region [in El Paso] could be so different if we could empower the Latino population, which is 80% of this community,” she said.

After leaving Brazil, Natalicio earned her master’s degree and worked her way up through academia until she became president of UTEP.

Getting there wasn’t easy, Natalicio said, because the other candidates were all men.

“My attitude at that time was that if you don’t apply, you certainly won’t be selected,” she said.

Natalicio’s attitude, joy and passion for teaching won her the position. Her next challenge was changing the thinking ingrained in many residents surrounding the UTEP campus.

Diana Natalicio awarding diploma to graduate

“There was and continues to be skepticism by the Anglo business community, which underestimates the talent of the Latino people and their ability to learn,” said Natalicio, 80. “They saw UTEP as an asset in the community, but they never had in mind that we would recruit more Latino students. They just wanted the college to be better by building more housing so we could recruit more students from elsewhere. I said, ‘No.'”

Natalicio’s name and her drive for equity for the Latinos in her community often give people the impression she is Latina. She is not.

“I believe talent is everywhere,” said Natalicio, who retired in 2019. “Each institution has the responsibility of serving the people in the region. We proved low-income students and Latino students do extremely well.”

On August 14, USA Today named Natalicio one of its Texas Women of the Century. She was honored along with astronaut Peggy Whitson, gymnast Simone Biles, Barbara Bush and Texas’s first black senator Barbara Jordan. The recognition noted Natalicio’s accomplishments at UTEP, a 2016, Time magazine honors naming her as one of its 100 Most Influential People, and her receipt of the Order of the Aztec Eagle, the highest honor the Mexican government bestows on noncitizens.

Natalicio did a “masterful job of shaping her school to the surrounding community, not the other way around,” Julián Castro, a former U.S. secretary of housing and urban development, told Time.


*The Uprising of 1967 is also known as the Detroit Rebellion of 1967 and the 12th Street Riot. Source: Detroit Historical Society