United Way Celebrates Women’s Leadership and Philanthropy

October 11, 2017

From left: WLB Co-Chairs Deborah Lawrence of Bank of America and Karen White of Sun Life Financial, Denyse Hairston, United Way Marian L. Heard Scholar, WLB Honoree Ellen King, WLB co-chair Theresa Brokelman of Deloitte, and Ellie Harrison of John Hancock.

BOSTON — United Way’s Women’s Leadership Breakfast brought together over 700 women to celebrate the collective power of women and raise funds for important causes in the community.  The cornerstone event of United Way’s Women United group, the first Women’s Leadership Breakfast was held in 1996 with 300 attendees.  Since then, the breakfast has raised over $30 million for United Way’s grant-making and work in the community.

Event co-chairs were Deborah Lawrence, Bank of America; Theresa Brockelman, Deloitte; Ellie Harrison, John Hancock; and Karen White, Sun Life Financial.  Sponsors included Bank of America, Presenting Sponsor, Deloitte, Founding Sponsor; John Hancock and Sun Life Financial, Philanthropic Sponsors.  Additional sponsors include State Street, Brown Brothers Harriman, Cabot Corporation and Eaton Vance.

“The power of community is more important than ever – here in Greater Boston and across the world,” said Deborah Lawrence, Women’s Leadership Breakfast co-chair and Senior Vice President for Global Commercial Banking and Bank of America Merrill Lynch.  “When we collaborate and work together toward a shared mission, there’s no limit to what we can achieve.”

“The importance of the power of community, is that bringing together different skills and perspectives enables us to drive measurable change locally, and inspires our actions as leaders,” said Theresa Brockelman, Women’s Leadership Breakfast co-chair and Partner, Audit and Financial Services at Deloitte.

The event honored Ellen King with the annual Women Who Live United Award. Over the past decade, Ellen has played a pivotal role in growing the Women United group— both in the Greater Boston area and across the country. Retired Vice President and Associate General Counsel at Sun Life Financial, Ellen served as Co-Chair of the Women United Executive Committee and as a Co-Chair of the Women’s Leadership Breakfast, helping to raise funds and the level of engagement among almost 2,000 Women United members.

This year’s event featured Susan Peters, Senior Vice President, Human Resources of GE. Peters is responsible for GE’s global workforce of 300,000 employees located in more than 175 countries around the world.  Immediately following the breakfast program, attendees participated in breakout sessions. Hosted by leaders in the community, these sessions provided attendees with the opportunity to learn about challenges in the community, and be part of the solution.  Jane Steinmetz, EY Boston Office Managing Principal, led “Positioning Women to Thrive in Leadership Roles,” a session discussed challenges that impact women, in the workforce and at home, and shared proven strategies to thrive in a leadership role.

“For more than two decades, our Women United volunteers have passionately, selflessly and tirelessly moved philanthropy forward in our community,” said Michael K. Durkin, United Way President.  “Today, our volunteers continue to lead and inspire others to come together to promote lasting change.  They are truly contributing to a brighter future filled with opportunities to help those in need.”

With Deloitte as the founding and sole sponsor, the first Women’s Leadership Breakfast in 1996 brought together 300 women and raised $117,000 for three community-based programs focused on building skills and self-esteem in girls.  It was an emerging issue at the time – research in the late 1990s showed that girls’ self-esteem began to decline as early as age 11, and only 29% of girls reported having a high sense of self-esteem at age 18.  By 2012, the Women’s Leadership Breakfast had raised more than 14 million for programs that addressed the unique needs of girls, reaching more than 275,000 girls in the region.

In recent years, the philanthropic focus of the Women’s Leadership Council has broadened to reflect the diverse passions of its members and challenges facing the community – including early literacy, summer learning, and college and career readiness. For example, in recent years the Women’s Leadership Council has also:

  • Held seven Community Baby Showers, connecting over 725 low-income pregnant women and new parents to educational resources;
  • Collected and distributed more than 1,700 books to early education programs in Boston;
  • Raised funds to expand United Way’s Summer Learning Collaborative, aimed at reducing summer learning loss and increasing literacy, to serve over 3,000 children;
  • Funded internship and summer work experiences for 20 local youth.