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Dee DixonStephanie CountsIn late 2004, WIE Co-Founders, Stephanie Counts and Dee Dixon, saw a need within the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community for Women of Color to get together to discuss unique opportunities and the challenges they face.

There are 32.7 million women of color in the United States representing $723 billion in purchasing power according to Diversity Inc. magazine and furthermore, they projected that this market will grow to 36.8 million by 2008 with over $1 trillion in buying power.  According to the U.S. Department of Labor, women of color own 1.4 million companies generating almost $147 billion in sales.  These firms grew at six times the growth rate of all U.S. firms and faster than the U.S. economy.  All told, women of color own 21 percent of U.S. privately held, women-owned firms.  Yet despite these achievements, only 1.6 percent of Fortune 500 corporate officers are women of color.

With these facts in hand and believing that corporations and policy makers around this country needed a “wake up” call, Stephanie and Dee decided to convene 100 influential African American, Asian, American Indian and Hispanic women from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community at a meeting entitled, “What Women of Color Want”, in March 2005.  At this event, these women discussed the issues they face in business and their personal lives and how they could help each other.  They took a 149-question electronic and anecdotal survey geared toward determining the needs of women of color.  The results were analyzed by a nationally renowned market research firm.When Counts and Dixon saw the results of the survey they realized that there were tremendous opportunities to build and bridge social capital among all women.  In June 2005, they founded a non-profit company, Women’s Inter-Cultural Exchange (WIE), whose mission is

… to build and bridge social capital among women of diverse cultures, foster cross-cultural awareness and develop the infrastructure for community dialogue, engagement and programming.

In July 2005 they reconvened the women from the March meeting and expanded the invitation to include Caucasian women for their Inaugural Town Meeting to present the results from the survey and announce the formation of WIE.  These women were extremely excited about WIE as a formal platform to build social capital and others have joined their ranks since July as WIE now has a membership list of over 1,400 women.