Lisa Dabney, executive director of the Center for Women

Lisa Dabney says her career has been centered around doing “things that feed my soul” or “something about things that make me insane.” In her new position as executive director of the Center for Women, which she’s held since October, Lisa is addressing both fronts.

Among the things that make her insane are the findings in a 2015 report on the status of women in South Carolina commissioned by the center:

  • Only 19 percent of the people who ran for statewide offices were women
  • Only 29 of women who need public health care receive it
  • Women in the service sector earned a median weekly salary that was about 78 percent of their male counterparts  
  • About 20 percent of working-age women in South Carolina have incomes below the poverty line

“The study still to this day says it all,” says Lisa, who previously was the director of philanthropy for Planned Parenthood South Atlantic.

The work that feeds Lisa’s soul is the center’s efforts to address those issues and empower women. Lisa’s mission and the mission of the Center for Women is to give women access to the resources they need to be self-determining and to remove barriers to their success.

The center offers a monthly Connect the Dots lunch-and-learn series, a ready-for-work course, which meets twice a week for three weeks, and a quarterly Founder’s Lab workshop for women interested in starting a business.

“One of the things the center excels at is helping women develop soft and hard skills,” she says.

“Our work is about personal and professional development. We work with women when they need us the most.”

Lisa notes that recent events including the presidential election and the #MeToo Movement, with women coming forward to share their experiences with sexual harassment, have reignited conversations about women’s equality.

“Most women felt there were some real obvious disparities,” Lisa says. “We all felt like, ‘Wait a minute, something isn’t right.’”

“There’s a very real sense that we need to stand up and speak out and take care of ourselves to get stuff done.”

The Center for Women introduced Pathway to Politics last year to inspire women to get involved. The one-day, multipartisan conference offered women information they need to run for office and to get engaged in political advocacy. Lisa says women are underrepresented in government, and the only way to change some issues, such as pay inequality, is to get more women in positions to change laws and policies.

The center’s youth empowerment program, SheStrong, teaches high school students how to become community leaders and changemakers.

“These kids today have access to so much information, and they are using that information to organize and speak out,” Lisa says. “They are reclaiming and redefining what it means to be a woman in today’s society.”

Lisa references Meghan Markle, who wrote letters when she was 11 years old that apparently prompted Procter & Gamble to change a sexist line in a commercial for dishwashing liquid from “Women all over America are fighting greasy pots and pans” to “People all over America.”

“I know at least 20 Meghan Markles right here in Charleston,” Lisa says. “They are going to change the world.”