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Harnessing the Power of Women in Philanthropy

03/08/2016 09:27 am ET | Updated Mar 09, 2016

International Women and Girls' Day provides us with an opportunity to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women--but it also highlights certain gaps in gender parity. And while many organizations will be emphasizing important topics like equitable compensation and access to affordable child care, I'd like to focus on one of the ways women are outpacing their male counterparts: philanthropy.

Women are an undeniable force when it comes to investing in their communities. Consider the following:

According to a study from the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, women are more likely to give to charity than men--and they give more to every charitable subsector with few exceptions--even though they earn less than their male counterparts. Women are also more likely to volunteer than men. Recent Labor Department statistics show 27.8 percent of women volunteer, compared to 21.8 percent of men. We spend more time researching the causes we support and are more interested in following the impact of our gift than men.

So what does it look like in practice? At United Way, we're seeing unprecedented numbers of women investing their time, talent and hard-earned paychecks to build stronger communities. Since 2002, our 70,000 women leaders have raised more than $1 billion dollars to help those in need in more than 160 communities across multiple countries, including the United States, France, Jamaica, Canada and Mexico.

They speak up, unite and take action on issues that hit closest to home by giving, volunteering and using their voice to make change. Whether it's helping with literacy in Lafayette, Louisiana, teaching leadership skills in Philadelphia or supporting out of school time success programs in Winston-Salem, United Ways' women leaders are the drivers behind positive change in their communities. In some cities, they're achieving what many would have thought was impossible.

Eight years ago, a group of dedicated, passionate women in Milwaukee dreamed big about how they could change the odds for low-income girls. Teen pregnancies had been a seemingly insurmountable barrier to success in school, work and life. United Way of Greater Milwaukee's women leaders took on the challenge and brought business leaders, government, educators, law enforcement, the medical field, faith-based groups and others from the community to the table to create a shared solution.

Together, they've created a multi-pronged solution, including a variety of educational programs and a social marketing campaign that helped reduce teen pregnancy rates by 56 percent since 2006, surpassing their goal, and they did it three years ahead of schedule. So what's next for the bold women of Milwaukee? They're taking on an equally challenging cause: infant mortality. Achieving double-digit reductions won't be easy, but these women have shown they can create change that goes far beyond charity, so I wouldn't bet against them.

So yes, we still have a way to go before we achieve equity with our male colleagues, and we should not stop challenging the status quo. But we should also take a moment to celebrate all that we can and have achieved when we connect our passions to causes--and to each other.

This post is part of a blog series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with International Women's Day, celebrated on March 8, 2016. A What's Working series, the posts address solutions tied to the United Nations' theme for International Women's Day this year: "Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality." To view all of the posts in the series, click here.

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