WELD works for genderbalance in business leadership and the board room.

“As we look around our cities and communities and the economy, women in top leadership is really an economic advantage,” says Barb Smoot. “When you have more women in top leadership, companies are more profitable, they make better decisions, they give back more philanthropically to their communities, and that helps everyone.”

Smoot is the president and CEO of Women for Economic and Leadership Development, a locally based national group that's focused on helping women move into top leadership roles and helping everyone else understand why they should be there.

One way to do that is to talk about the numbers.

“You will find that women are more giving in terms of their dollars. When they earn a dollar, 90 cents of that dollar goes back into families and communities, versus 30 to 40 cents for men,” Smoot says. “So it just makes good economic sense to focus on women and women-owned business as a key driver in economic growth.”

WELD was formed in 2003, a time when its founders didn't see a lot of women in leadership positions. And if they did see women at the head of the table, it was the same few.

“It was almost as if there were only three or four talented women in all of central Ohio,” Smoot says.

That's what made it imperative to start an organization focused solely on supporting women's leadership. And in its 14 years, WELD has grown not only in size—there are chapters in Columbus, Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Tulsa—but in its diversity of backgrounds and careers. You will find women who have just landed their first jobs to women who are sitting on corporate boards. That level of diversity helps build mentoring relationships.

“We look like a slice of the community,” Smoot says. “When you have more diversity in all different types, it really helps for a stronger organization.”

WELD also provides hands-on leadership development skills through programs for women at every stage of their careers. Its Emerging Professionals Series meets once a month and is for women who are starting out in their careers. The event location changes each month, enabling young women to visit different companies and expand their connections.

In Columbus, the Leadership Series meets five to six times a year. These women are mid-career and seeking opportunitites at the executive level or officer ranks. Through WELD, they have the opportunity to speak with others in those desired positions.

The Executive Women Series meets four times a year by invitation only. WELD also provides corporate board training and placement.

“Women come to our programs and events to learn and build their leadership muscle,” Smoot says. “Women who are at the top of their career and are known in their industry reach back into the community and are actively involved.”

Like with any big organization—the Columbus chapter alone has 600 to 700 members—there are annual events that members look forward to.

Every year, WELD identifies 12 women for its Women WELDing the Way calendar. Nominees are women at the top of their careers and are known in their industries.

WELD also hosts an annual Keyholder in March and its annual WELD National Leadership Conference in June. All of these events provide opportunities to volunteer in highly visible roles; members Maggie Ellison and Stephanie Maupin, who both work at Event Marketing Strategies, co-chaired June's National Leadership Conference for more than 800 attendees. They both say WELD has contributed to their growing confidence and continued motivation in their careers.

“A lot of what I'm passionate about is for women to be their best selves and to be empowered,” says Maupin, who joined WELD in 2015. “It's a place where you can be who you are, as you are.”

WELD also provides abundant networking opportunities.

“There's serious movers and shakers involved.” Ellison says. “There's no gap between talking to a CEO at a Fortune 500 company and to a manager at a small business.”

While WELD has helped women understand and negotiate pay equity and land positions on corporate boards, there is still work to be done.

According to the Pew Research Center, women on average earn 83 cents for every dollar earned by men. Women earn about 60 percent of all college degrees awarded in the United States, according to the US Department of Education, but Catalyst, a business think tank that addresses issues of gender in the workplace, says women hold less than 6 percent of CEO positions at S&P 500 companies and just about 20 percent of corporate board seats.

It's one reason why Smoot wants to see WELD continue to grow and have a greater impact.

“I look forward to the day when there is no need for WELD, because everything we do here will be in the fabric of the communities everywhere.”

Erin McCalla is a freelance writer.