At the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, based in Pittsburgh, an affinity group called the Women’s Leadership Council (WLC) works to connect and support women in the Pittsburgh region. What started as a five-member group is now 2,000 members strong, the third-largest WLC in the country, in spite of the fact that Pittsburgh is the 63rd largest city.
The organization’s continued growth can be attributed, in part, to the leadership of Lynne Popash, executive director of the WLC – though she chalks it up to the vitality of the Pittsburgh region.
“It speaks a lot for Pittsburgh – certainly, we’re not the third-largest city, but we have this really robust, passionate group of members who really care about what it is we’re doing,” said Lynne. “It shows how women want a seat at the table, how women want to be problem solvers, how they want to support the causes near and dear to their heart.”Lynne Popash
Lynne has worked in the not-for-profit sector for many years. After working at Big Brothers Big Sisters and the American Heart Association, she spent the majority of her career at Visit Pittsburgh. A year and a half into her role at the WLC, Lynne is an expert at creating awareness about the WLC’s goals of convening people in the community to make great things happen.
The WLC exists, as Lynne says, to bring together women who want to make a difference. Members build their own experience – there are no structured meetings, just occasions to network, volunteer, give, and expand opportunities in the Pittsburgh region. Lynne and her team hold events and fundraisers throughout the year to support a number of different causes, including their signature initiative, United for Women, which provides help for women in crisis.
“The WLC is women who care deeply about our community and are passionate about being philanthropic, but also passionate about solving critical needs,” said Lynne.
While the United Way traditionally focuses on workplace giving campaigns, Lynne is working to create a space in the WLC for women who are entrepreneurs or working independently, or who work at a company that doesn’t partner with the United Way. Since beginning her role, she’s proud to have brought information about the WLC to women all over the city.
Lynne also spearheads efforts such as the WLC Together Leading program and the step-up program, both of which are for young women who want to be involved but may not have the means to commit financially. The Together Leading program allows experienced WLC members to sponsor a young woman, who becomes a protégé and learns about WLC offerings and opportunities. The step-up program allows women to gradually increase their financial commitment over the course of three or five years.
“I’m really working to identify those emerging leaders in the community and talk to them about the work of the United Way – so many women in [younger demographics] want to be involved and want to be leaders,” said Lynne. “I think we have an opportunity to be really inclusive and for everybody to participate.”
Lynne is an active part of the conversation surrounding women’s opportunities in the region. As a member of the ATHENA Pittsburgh committee, she’s working with several other women leaders to form the Pittsburgh’s Women Alliance. The group realized that there are many wonderful women’s organizations doing great work in the city, but they often don’t know what the others are doing, and efforts are duplicated. The Alliance will bring women together to talk about how these organizations can have clear conversations and collaborate.
“We really want to be a premier region for women to live, to do business, to connect,” said Lynne. “Talking of personal goals, that’s at the top of the list – how do we make Pittsburgh, for all women, a premier place to be?”
Beyond leading the WLC, Lynne views her role as one to advocate for women just as others did for her. She continues to work to make sure all women know about the opportunities available to them and have the guidance to reach them.
“A long time ago, at the beginning of my career, another woman helped me,” said Lynne. “I’ve always believed you should pay it forward and be open and available to lead the way.”