Women Lead Arkansas (WLA) is empowering women and girls to engage in politics, policy, and leadership. The non-partisan 501c3 formed after a group of friends got together to complain about how politicians were trying to restrict women’s access to birth control. They felt like they were losing ground on a basic human right. As they write on their website, “The most infuriating aspect of the politics at the time was that there were no women involved in the discussions. Over and over, we saw tables full of men touting their latest attempts to control women’s bodies.”
They realized that until they took their seats at the table, men would continue to control legislation and restrict women’s rights to make decisions about their health and families. After looking for opportunities in Arkansas for women to learn how to run for office – and finding none that focused on women – Women Lead Arkansas was born.
Although birth control and reproductive freedoms began the conversation, that’s not what their work is about. Instead the organization focuses on women leading policy discussions and decisions about everything that impacts their lives. WLA doesn’t support political agendas; it supports women who are called to lead. It was decided early on that the organization should be non-partisan and inclusive on all levels – socioeconomic, race, gender identity, and experience. As summed up on their website, “To WLA, it’s all about the numbers. The more women we see in public office, the more normal it becomes, and the more likely others will continue to follow this lead.”
WLA started with political campaign training and has partnered with the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at Rutgers University to build on their “Ready to Run” branding and resources. CAWP is nationally recognized as the leading source of scholarly research and current data about women’s political participation in the United States. Its mission is to promote greater knowledge and understanding about the role of women in American politics, enhance women’s influence in public life, and expand the diversity of women in politics and government. Also nonpartisan, CAWP is the go-to organization for unbiased research on women in politics.
WLA has continued to grow, and since their first event has expanded their board to broaden their resources to “support all women and woman-aligned people seeking the tools to become stronger leaders.” One board member who answered the call to serve is Amanda Potter Cole. She feels strongly aligned with the mission and says, “Leadership is seeing that something needs to be done and being willing to use one’s talents to help make it happen.”
Amanda’s work with WLA links back to when she spent six years on staff at the Women’s Foundation of Arkansas, and served on the organization’s board for three. There she worked with digital messaging, both on the website and on social media, and used those platforms to streamline their communications materials, and spread the word about what they were doing. That was when she first realized that there wasn’t a directory of women’s organizations anywhere in the state of Arkansas, which she found frustrating and became determined to change. Amanda then became involved with the American Association of University Women – Little Rock Branch – and revisited her idea of a directory but still was not able to bring it fully together.
Fast forward nearly a decade, and Julianne Dunn, WLA Board President, reached out to Amanda wanting to put together a directory for WLA. Amanda welcomed the opportunity and now serves on the WLA Board She is also a member of the organization’s Digital Resource Hub committee, which is allowing her to accomplish her goal of making women’s organizations and resources available to all women in Arkansas in one easily accessible location.
“Our goal is to encourage folks to join us and share their collective knowledge. That is how, together, we can remove barriers,” Amanda said. “Our goal is to say, ‘Here’s these organizations that do grants, training opportunities, here’s research, a list of women business owners.’ We want to take all the bits and pieces and pull them together in one place. The ultimate goal is to help people cut down their research time and give women something exciting to think about and easily access.”
Today, WLA’s Digital Resource Hub is up and running and available to all site visitors, who can choose options to sort by primary purpose, leadership focus, geographical focus, or in its entirety. The Hub also boasts an online tutorial and a portal to submit resources. The Hub allows both Amanda and WLA to achieve their goals and provides a valuable tool to further empower women, and to provide access for all.
To learn more about WLA and access their Digital Resource Hub, or to learn how you can support their efforts, go to www.womenleadarkansas.org.