Earlier this semester, the Women + Girls Research Alliance convened “Taking Space without Apology: A Women and Girls Leadership Café.”
This effort brought together the collective voices representing UNC Charlotte faculty; staff; community leaders; and middle, high school and college students from across the Charlotte metro area to engage with local organizations committed to building equitable and safe spaces for women and girls.
Michelle Meggs, W+GRA executive director, noted the conversations at this year’s Leadership Café underscored the critical importance of mental health and well-being alongside economic mobility as pivotal factors shaping participants’ experiences at school, home and work.
“Initial analysis of the Café discussions indicated that peer support and mentorship continue to be important needs for women and girls across Charlotte and that events like the Café provide a common platform for women and girls from diverse backgrounds to gather, be heard and learn from each other,” said Meggs.
Susana Cisneros, senior lecturer of Spanish and affiliate faculty of Latin American Studies at UNC Charlotte, added, “The Café gave an opportunity for adults to listen to the voices of the next generation of women and bolstered young girls’ confidence to speak up and speak their truths in a judgment-free and safe space. Indeed, the Leadership Café served as a brave space for candid conversations about the economic struggles and mental health concerns that are on the minds of women and girls in the Charlotte metro area.”
W+GRA, an affiliate of urbanCORE, has partnered with the Urban Institute to support the Alliance’s research efforts to highlight compelling findings that underscore the profound impact of focusing on women and girls’ perspectives and identifying factors that are crucial to their success.
Key takeaways from this year’s Leadership Café were:
- The rising cost of living and wage stagnation have made essentials like housing, childcare, food and transportation increasingly out of reach for a significant portion of the population
- Workplace and health care discrimination, a deficit of social capital and structural barriers were identified as significant obstacles preventing women from attaining and sustaining living wage jobs. Women of color experience additional barriers, such as isolation in the workplace, that emphasize the urgent need for nuanced, intersectional conversations.
- The recognition that greater emphasis is needed on the safety of girls in educational settings and that schools are pivotal environments shaping their development
Guiding future W+GA research
“Research provides a pathway to shape and reshape the narrative of women and girls,” explained Cisneros.
W+GRA, in partnership with the Urban Institute, is working on a roadmap for future research endeavors that supports the University’s strategic mission. These recommendations guided the 2023-24 Seed Grant Funding recently awarded to:
- Prioritize research that explores the barriers and facilitators to economic mobility among women and girls in Charlotte lays the groundwork for targeted interventions
- Emphasize the crucial link between mental health and overall empowerment, research in this realm should delve into the intersectionality of mental health challenges and concerns about school safety.
- Commit to a racial equity lens throughout the research process from study design to data analysis and interpretation of findings. This ensures a nuanced understanding of and response to the unique challenges faced by women and girls of color.
About the Women + Girls Research Alliance
W+GRA is a pioneering research organization at UNC Charlotte committed to advancing the status of women and girls across five critical domains: employment and earnings, civic and political engagement, economic security, health and well-being and the crucial mission of ending domestic violence. Its multifaceted approach aligns with Charlotte’s Shaping What’s Next Strategic Plan 2021-31 to position the University as a top-tier research entity and supports the University’s mission to mobilize engaged research that delves into the economic, social and physical well-being of the community.
Through collaborative efforts, W+GRA co-produces research among UNC Charlotte faculty, community residents and practitioners, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of the challenges and opportunities. Additionally, the alliance actively supports local grassroots and established nonprofit organizations dedicated to women and girls. By providing resources and expertise, W+GRA empowers these organizations to expand their knowledge and organizational capacity, fostering sustainable positive change within the Charlotte metropolitan area.
W+GRA convenes gatherings and conversations that bring together experts and scholars from all levels, which lead to meaningful insights and strategies, ultimately driving improved outcomes for women and girls. Since its inception in 2006, W+GRA has been at the forefront working with organizations that are committed to elevating the voices of women and girls across Charlotte.
Rhonda Caldwell, president of the Women’s Inter-Cultural Exchange, and Natalie Brown, senior director for corporate citizenship at Ally Financial in Charlotte, are key partners in supporting W+GRA and the Leadership Café’s role in serving as a “catalyst for personal and collective growth and providing resources to overcome barriers to positive changes.”
Susana Cisneros, senior lecturer of Spanish and affiliate faculty of Latin American Studies at UNC Charlotte, facilitates a discussion at the Leadership Cafe, a space and platform for women and girls to speak their truths and share their thoughts.
Photo, top, Attendees at the 2023 Leadership Café discuss their idea of safe spaces and what helps them be their best.