Guided by the lessons of the women before her, Cheryl Francis carries on a tradition of mentorship. As co-chair and co-founder of the Corporate Leadership Center (CLC) in Chicago, she’s in a unique position to do that. 

Through two robust programs at the CLC, Cheryl and her team prepare, shape and empower the next generation of civil and corporate leaders, including more than 600 women across the region. 

Earlier this month, she shared her expertise with more than 50 female leaders at a fireside chat hosted by Women United, United Way’s affinity group for women in philanthropy. Together, the group discussed the gender divide that exists within the workplace and ways to thrive despite it. 

“Leadership competencies need to be exercised a bit differently by women in order to get to the same outcome as their male counterparts. Leadership is a universal concept, but there’s a gender lens that you have to look at it through,” Cheryl said. “And if you do, you’ll be much more successful at thinking about what strategies and tactics you’re going to use as a woman leader to advance your own cause and the cause of your organization.”

In addition to sharing her expertise with Women United, Cheryl invests in United Way of Metro Chicago in many other ways. Cheryl is a member of United Way’s governing board and a long-time donor.

Most recently, the Francis Family dedicated a $500,000 gift to United Way’s Neighborhood Network Initiative. Through this investment, Cheryl hopes to pay forward the generosity she and Zed received from others when they first made Chicago their home. 

Specifically, their gift will help facilitate work in the Austin Neighborhood Network, where we’ve united residents, nonprofit organizations, businesses, community leaders and others to tackle issues that residents face.

“United Way is a trusted institution that can do things that other nonprofits can’t necessarily do,” Cheryl said. “It has the ability to convene really important partners around critical issues and can leverage the impact of every dollar to the benefit of the communities that we’re trying to help.” 

“The direction United Way is going is to focus more on specific communities — which my husband and I believe in very, very strongly,” she added. “It takes a focused, strategic effort to change communities so that people will thrive in them.” 

Sean Garrett, our President and CEO, applauds the Francis’ for deepening their commitment to United Way and investing in our approach to community-building. 

“We are incredibly grateful for committed partners like Cheryl Francis who have a passion for our work to build stronger neighborhoods,” Sean said. 

“It takes all of us, working together, to help our neighborhoods reach their full potential,” he added. “The Francis family’s investment will help expand the reach of programs and services designed to meet the needs of entire families and create a thriving community for Austin residents.” 

Interested in using your time and talent to invest in the community? Sign up for one of our affinity groups or become a donor, like Cheryl!