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Building a More Equitable Community

The Columbus Foundation is committed to expanding and deepening its commitment to racial equity and social justice with the goal of helping to build a more just, equitable community for all. One area of importance is in creating pathways and opportunities for diverse leadership throughout all sectors, including in corporate environments. 

According to McKinsey & Company, women—and, in particular, women of color—remain significantly underrepresented in corporate leadership roles. In 2022, only 14 percent of corporate managers were women of color, despite women of color representing 20 percent of the U.S. population. These disparities increase further up the corporate ladder: only 5 percent of the top management positions in corporate America—known as the C-suite—were held by women of color in 2022.

The McKinsey study points to what many researchers call a “broken rung” in the corporate ladder. In other words, when women are promoted at lower rates than men into managerial roles, there are subsequently fewer opportunities for women to be promoted into even higher positions within an organization. For women of color, the broken rung is especially prevalent. 

As Barbara Smoot, President and CEO of Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD), explains, the broken rung not only impedes women of color’s professional development and ascension into leadership positions, but also economic development.

“Inclusive leadership provides better financial and business results. We view inclusive leadership as an economic development issue,” said Smoot. “We’re trying to help companies understand the importance of investing in women of color.” 

WELD, which was founded in Columbus in 2003 and has since grown into a national organization, develops and advances women’s leadership to strengthen the economic prosperity of women. Whether women are at the start of their careers, looking to advance to the C-suite, or are currently in an executive leadership role, WELD offers programs, events, and forums to help women overcome professional barriers and achieve their career aspirations. 

One program specifically developed for women of color is the WELD Pathway to Management Program for Women of Color (WPMP-WOC): Thriving in Corporate America. This in-person program is designed to address disparities in leadership positions for women of color where it initially and persistently occurs—in the first promotion to management. Through training modules, group discussions, and other activities, the WPMP WOC equips women of color with the skills needed to advance to and succeed in the ranks of corporate management.

“ Inclusive leadership provides better financial and business results. We view inclusive leadership as an economic development issue.” 


Earlier this year, The Columbus Foundation awarded a $25,000 grant to WELD to support the WPMP-WOC in central Ohio. This follows previous grants from The Columbus Foundation that supported WELD’s leadership programs, including the inaugural WPMP-WOC cohort.

“The support from The Columbus Foundation is everything. Without this grant, we wouldn’t be able to do the program,” said Smoot.

The Columbus Foundation remains focused on working with community partners to address the systems of racial disparity, expand economic opportunities that help close the racial and gender wealth gaps, and deepen community knowledge about the effects of system inequity. Beginning in 2022, to serve the needs of all in our community, The Columbus Foundation evolved its grantmaking to better reflect the intersecting equity of race with class, gender, and climate change. 

This year, The Columbus Foundation allocated $1 million for racial equity grantmaking, prioritizing nonprofit programs or initiatives that are intentionally and purposely designed to promote the following:

Economic Opportunity: Increase economic mobility for Black, Indigenous, and people of color
(BIPOC) members of Franklin County.

Awareness and Training: Support training and education in areas of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging.

Disparity Reduction: Reduce the disparity between BIPOC members of Franklin County and the larger community.

System Change: Address issues of structural and systemic inequities.

While several grants have been awarded to organizations focused on promoting leadership development among people of color—such as WELD—grants have also been awarded to nonprofits that are addressing racial disparities in healthcare, entrepreneurship, the arts, youth services, and more. Grants are awarded to nonprofits twice annually, with the next application deadline in March 2024. 

“The Columbus Foundation is honored to support nonprofit organizations that are prioritizing racial equity and working to address racial disparities in our community,” said Dan Sharpe, Vice President for Community Research and Grants Management at The Columbus Foundation. “These investments will have ripple effects in our community for generations to come, helping to create a thriving central Ohio where everyone has equitable opportunities to flourish.”

For Smoot, one of the most rewarding aspects of WELD’s programming is seeing graduates succeed in their careers. Smoot shared the story of one graduate of the Pathway to Management Program who had been trying to get promoted into a management position.

“She attended one of our cohorts last year and ended up getting a dream promotion into a job that she really loves,” said Smoot. “That’s exactly what this program is about.”



Barbara Smoot, President and CEO of Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD).


Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD) Pathway to Management Program for Women of Color (WPMP-WOC): Thriving in Corporate America



Racial Equity Grants