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Wendy Doyle, head of the Women’s Foundation, is rooted in hope and humility

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — At the helm of the Women’s Foundation, Wendy Doyle has found her voice, one which amplifies Missouri’s women. 

Doyle has led the Women’s Foundation as its president and CEO for six years. She’s somewhat of a juxtaposed character: She’s small in stature but fearlessly advocates for women’s involvement and recognition; she has a storied career, focused on tangible results, but is quick to stress humility is one of her guiding principles in life. 

“I really want women to use their voice to talk about what’s important and not hold back,” Doyle told The Missouri Times from the foundation’s office in the Crossroads neighborhood of Kansas City. “There’s a role for everyone, no matter what side of the aisle you’re on, to step up and be a part no matter where you are. That’s what we want to see — more civic engagement, attention to the issues, informing, educating, questioning — so we can have a role at the policymaking table.” 

Wendy Doyle, president and CEO of the Women’s Foundation

The Women’s Foundation began in 1991 and services Missouri as well as Kansas. Its mission is focused on addressing economic issues women face, as well as promoting self-sufficiency. In particular, the foundation — comprised of only six staff members — has homed in on paid family leave, pay equity, and promoting women entrepreneurs in Missouri, according to Doyle. 

With paid family leave, the Women’s Foundation has already seen success. Five of the six statewide executive branch officials in Missouri as well as the state House adopted paid parental leave policies for employees in 2017. 

“Having paid time off and knowing you can keep your job and not having to go back to work after giving birth to a child after four days is really important,” Doyle said. “We’d love to move forward paid family leave legislatively.” 

Republican Rep. Hannah Kelly introduced paid family leave legislation in 2018 — but ultimately withdrew it shortly thereafter. This year, Rep. Chris Dinkins, also a Republican, pushed a House resolution urging the U.S. Congress to adopt a paid family leave law, but it stalled in a committee. 

“We know how complex it is, that for a small business [paid family leave] is really challenging,” Doyle said. “Everyone understands it in theory; we just need what makes sense for Missouri. And we will continue to be working on that.” 

The Women’s Foundation is also promoting its “Appointments Project,” an effort aimed at empowering more women to serve on boards and commissions, thus increasing representation in communities. 

Doyle has a long career in the nonprofit sector — and has no plans to leave the Women’s Foundation anytime soon. Raised in Johnson County, Doyle attended Rockhurst University in Kansas City before joining a public relations marketing firm. 

But when a mentor recruited her to a nonprofit, Doyle was hooked on a job that allows her to give back to a community while still operating like a business. She’s since worked for the National Kidney Foundation and Catholic Charities of Northeast Kansas. 

Wendy Doyle, head of the Women’s Foundation, stresses humility as a guiding principle for her life (THE MISSOURI TIMES/KAITLYN SCHALLHORN).

It’s probably no surprise that Doyle — an advocate and role model for women — comes from a venerable succession of women herself. Her grandmother started her own accounting firm in Johnson County in the 1940s, which her mother eventually took over. 

“My mom was the rock who I’d always turn to for inspiration. She was working when most of my friends’ mothers weren’t working,” Doyle recalled. “She was very career-focused, and I think that really empowered me. Just having that line of strong women gives me inspiration when I’m having a tough day, to think about not only them, but all the women who cleared the path who makes it easier for us today.” 

History is important to Doyle. Another priority for the Women’s Foundation is to preserve the legacy of Missouri’s women, through recognizing changemakers with busts in the state Capitol to renaming state parks — a victory the foundation has had.

Earlier this year, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources renamed the Van Meter State Park the Annie and Abel Van Meter State Park to recognize the late woman’s involvement. Annie Van Meter donated part of her family’s land to the state of Missouri after he husband passed away since he had “always tried to preserve the woods and wildlife around her.” 

Before the renaming, no state parks in Missouri were named after a woman, an anomaly discovered by a colleague at the foundation, Doyle said. 

“It’s important for young women to be able to see who they can be and something to look up to,” she said. “When you’re going to a state park in the summer, and you’re hiking, and you see a woman’s name, it gives you hope.” 

And Doyle, with a proclivity for exercise and angel hair pasta, exudes both hope and humility. Her goal, she said, is to foster courage and self-confidence among women — especially young women — and promote civic involvement. 

“We need to build that pipeline for more women to run for office. We need to build that bench,” Doyle said. 

And if anyone can pick up a hammer and construct more opportunities for Missouri’s women, it will be Doyle.