“United We” launches Kansas women’s economic task force

The Pittsburg town hall will be on August third at Pitt State.

IOLA, Kan.–If more Kansas women participated in the workforce, one study shows that Kansas could grow its economy by ten to fifteen percent by 2025.

That desire for growth is part of why “United We”, a non-profit aimed at advancing women’s economic and civic leadership is launching a Kansas women’s economic development task force and series of town halls.

The non-profit’s CEO Wendy Doyle says she’s looking to collect data to enact policy change.

“We certainly hope it gets their attention just by hearing firsthand and hearing the personal stories, that really seems to resonate with policymakers versus a quantitative research report. So that will be our goal in our mission, and we’ll get to work quickly to start to educate policymakers that will then help identify a strategic and focused policy agenda.”

Doyle launched something similar last year in Missouri, which has already led to action.

“When we released the town hall report in Missouri, Lieutenant Governor Mike Kehoe of Missouri joined us for that town Hall’s report release. And he became inspired and empowered. And he has really led the effort and put together a statewide child care workgroup to really get the right key stakeholders around the table to start discussing what can we do to reduce barriers, to really start to get families back to work.”

United We has also been able to make an impact through legislation.

“But legislatively, United We did have a couple of victories. One in the occupational licensing space, the session we have sent to the governor, he hasn’t signed it yet, but we sent it to the governor’s desk, reducing barriers in the speech pathology field, as well as physical therapist field. Reducing the licensing requirements and qualifications so we can get people to work quickly. The second thing that we sent to the governor’s desk as well as a fast-track grant program, which is really a scholarship opportunity primarily for women. 80% of the recipients so far that have taken advantage of the program are women. And this is for someone who may have dropped out of the workplace and wants to reenter. It offers apprenticeships, continuing education, you know, in-state college tuition reimbursement It’s a great resource.”

The task force is made up of 33 civic and business leaders, as well as elected officials from across the state, including Lisse Regher, President and CEO of Thrive Allen County. Despite holding such a high title, Regher says some still struggle to see her as a leader.

“I was in a meeting with two of my colleagues and some gentleman who runs another business… he caught one of my colleague’s names and then said, ‘I can’t remember your name’. My colleague then made sure after this gentleman was done talking to say, ‘I want to clarify that the person’s name you couldn’t remember is our President and CEO, and she’s the one that makes decisions on whether or not we go after this funding for you’…there are a lot of people that just don’t want to see us in the room and don’t want to recognize us in the room.”

Regher said she wants to focus on development for women in rural communities like those Thrive Allen County serves.

“We want to make sure that rural voices are always heard. It’s part of our mission. And so we’ve been a part of the United We Task Force for a few months now through these conversations.”

Doyle says she wants to see change come from these town halls, and get rid of barriers in women’s way.

“We certainly hope that employers will take this information to heart and look at what they can do internally, to reduce the barriers for their workforce.”

She said she expects issues such as rising fuel and food costs, as well as the baby formula shortage to be significant talking points.

The Pittsburg town hall will be on August third at Pitt State. You can register here.

Lunch and childcare will be provided.