Written by Michelle Riordan-Nold, Executive Director of CTData.

As women, we are working, living, mothering, and leading in a world of systems that weren’t created for us or by us, yet we are still required to navigate them. One of our most powerful tools as we face these obstacles is collaboration, seizing every opportunity to both connect with and support each other.

Conferences, especially ones centered on women, cultivate perfect opportunities to join together to discuss, disrupt, and dismantle. In September, I had the honor of attending Women Funded 2019: Leadership for a Changing World, held in San Francisco. Four hundred and sixty-five leaders from 14 countries united to lead the charge for equity, and topics ranged from prison reform to the differences in hiring practices based on gender. Speakers included Alicia Garza, co-creator of #BlackLivesMatter, critically-acclaimed writer, speaker, and activist Kevin Powell, and Mary Robinson, former president of Ireland.

Along with our partner, Jenny Steadman, Director of the Aurora Foundation, we presented our work around developing a women and girls’ data portal and increasing data literacy skills among organizations that serve women and girls. In a room teeming with enthusiastic participants, we conducted a mini-workshop demonstrating how we work with organizations to tell their stories with data. Each group reviewed data that we summarized from the Census, which showed the percent of women by educational attainment in the labor force a year after having a child. We explored data for various states in the country and gave each group a chance to craft their own data using questions we provided to help guide groups through the exercise.

The workshop demonstrated to funders across the nation the power of philanthropy to fill the gaps—there’s a real need to build data capacity within nonprofits. Forty-eight percent of the labor force over the age of 22 is female. Only one in four STEM jobs are held by women, in part due to conformity to social expectations, gender stereotypes, and lack of role models that start at a young age. Further, women are twice as likely to work in the nonprofit sector, and nonprofits are increasingly asked to do data-informed work. But as we see from the population we serve, they are not prepared to do this work because of systemic barriers and need data workshops to build their skills. Since the inauguration of our CTData Academy, we’ve held 60 workshops to over 700 attendees, and we estimate that more than 75% of our attendees are women.

The group’s positive feedback continues to motivate us. This session allowed funders to experience the challenges of working with data and telling a story when the information needed isn’t readily available—a common struggle that nonprofits experience. Not only did we encourage the attendees to look at data from a new perspective, but they inspired us with their own initiatives, like one advocate from New York who is starting a nonprofit to launch a public education campaign to shift the images and language used to portray women and girls in the media.

I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity to work with women from all backgrounds and sectors to facilitate much-needed change. I thank Jenny and our partners at Aurora, as well as everyone whom I met at the conference for advocating on behalf of women and girls as they overcome barriers in the present while also forging pathways to brighter futures.