Q&A: Embracing Equity & Celebrating Women

“Imagine a gender equal world. A world free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination.” (International Women’s Day

Wednesday, March 8, 2023, is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate women’s achievements and raise awareness of gender discrimination to promote a more equitable future. At United Way of Southeast Louisiana, we know the challenges that inequity presents in all its forms to so many in our community. We work every day to achieve a vision of equitable communities where everyone is healthy, educated, and financially stable. 


That’s why this International Women’s Day, we are taking the worldwide challenge to #EmbraceEquity. We asked members of our team to share how they #EmbraceEquity and the women they look up to. Enjoy their responses below!  


Carol GstohlCarol Gstohl, Chief Human Resource Officer 

Q: Who is your woman role model? 

A: I look up to my daughter who has grown into a very caring, empathetic soul. She does not hesitate to use her voice on behalf of others.  


Q: What actions do you take to #EmbraceEquity as it relates to gender? 

A: I think it is important to recognize and support an individual’s personal gender expression. I’m proud that I work for an organization that would not hesitate to consider gender fluid candidates and that I have the authority to make and encourage these decisions.


Charmaine CaccioppiCharmaine Caccioppi, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer 

Q: Who is your woman role model? 

A: My woman role model and my hero is the remarkable Lindy Boggs, former Congresswoman and Ambassador to the Vatican! Lindy Boggs served Louisiana in the U.S. House of Representatives with grace, determination, and impeccable ethics. 


Q: What actions do you take to #EmbraceEquity as it relates to gender? 

A: I have advocated my entire adult life to champion policies which have a profound impact on the lives of all women. I refuse to accept that Louisiana will remain at the top of all the bad lists when it comes to women’s health and safety! 

Here at UWSELA our leaders have compassion, ingenuity, and grit. By heeding the call to work together to find real solutions to the most pressing issues facing our state, we can have a profound impact on the status of all women. 

Michael WilliamsonMichael Williamson, President and CEO 

Q: Who is your woman role model? 

A: Seems cliché, but IT IS my mom! She worked in the manufacturing industry as an accountant and dealt with many of the systems and challenges we are working to change. But, even on wages much lower than her male counterparts, she saved and even put me through college after she divorced my dad. She is a true southern lady but feisty and extremely business savvy. No one messes with Dinah! And to boot, she is now a breast cancer survivor. She taught me the importance and value of hard work, and I am blessed to have learned so much from her. 


Q: What actions do you take to #EmbraceEquity as it relates to gender? 

A: Internally at UWSELA, I have worked diligently to ensure that our woman employees are equitably compensated for their roles and responsibilities. Additionally, I approved the elimination of salary history requirements when hiring and any policy that supported pay secrecy enabling employees to have open conversations about their wages with fellow employees. 

Externally, and as UWSELA’s CEO, I have actively advocated for pay equity and other public policy measures that would empower women in Louisiana and make it a safer, more prosperous state for women. 

Michelle Clark PayneMichelle Clarke Payne, Chief Strategy Officer 

Q: Who is your woman role model? 

A:  So many women who came before me - my grandmothers, mother, and sister, all of the Women United members I get to work with daily, and so many more. These women continue to create their own paths, never give up, and always lift up others along the way. 


Q: What actions do you take to #EmbraceEquity as it relates to gender? 

A: To embrace equity, I strive to lift other women up, celebrate their achievements, be a mentor, listen, advocate, and ultimately be an example and teach my own kiddos how to accept and celebrate differences.


Sonja NewmanSonja Newman, Director of Resource Development 

Q: Who is your woman role model? 

A: My woman role model is my grandmother: Elroy Lapeze Marion. 1908-2000. As I got older, I realized what a trailblazer she was. As a child, I just knew how cool she was in the way she treated me, my sisters, and my cousins. Elroy was a beloved school teacher in St. Tammany Parish. She lost her dominant arm in a car wreck as a teenager. That never stopped her from aspiring to getting her education and becoming a teacher, taking art lessons, driving, etc. While teaching and raising her two children, she drove most evenings to LSU to get her master’s degree. 

It was unheard of at the time for a woman to make such a sacrifice. She was committed to bettering herself and those she could make an impact with. Even today, when people learn that Ms. Marion is my grandmother, they always have a story to tell, usually about how tough she was, or about how she encouraged them to do better. Her memory inspires me every day to do what I can to help my community and raise a strong daughter who will hopefully do the same. 

Celebrate Women and #EmbraceEquity Every Day 

We are proud to serve a community full of inspiring, hard-working women. Hearing the impact they’ve had on the members of our own staff reminds us of the reasons we continue the fight toward equity. Happy International Women's Day from UWSELA.