The Women Behind Leading Nonprofits: 4 Questions with Allison Hughes

The Women Behind Leading Nonprofits: 4 Questions with Allison Hughes

This interview series, conducted by MBA@UNC, features seven women leading nonprofits across a variety of fields. Despite spearheading organizations that are doing tremendous good, these female entrepreneurs are not traditionally recognized for the incredibly hard work they do every day.

The nonprofit sector is female-dominated. A 2012 “Current State of Women in Leadership” report from the Women’s College of the University of Denver found that women make up 75 percent of the nonprofit workforce in contrast to the business world where women account for 49 percent of the workforce. However, men still hold 79 percent of the CEO positions for nonprofits with $25 million in assets or more. And although the gender gap among nonprofit CEOs is narrowing, less than one in five charities with budgets of $50 million or more are run by women. These statistics may seem discouraging, but they have not prevented all women from rising in the nonprofit ranks nor inhibited them from starting their own nonprofits.

In the third installment of this series, we interviewed Allison Hughes, the Co-Founder and VP of Operations for Emerio Group and alumna of MBA@UNC. Prior to landing a job at Emerio Group, Hughes launched her first business: Heels on the Ground. Heels on the Ground is a nonprofit with a mission to improve the quality of life for caregivers of wounded soldiers.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur?

My first business, Heels on the Ground, was inspired by the struggles I faced as a caregiver after my husband Breg was critically wounded in Afghanistan. During his two-year recovery at Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, I saw firsthand how depression and anxiety were among the leading problems facing post-9/11 caregivers and spouses of service members. During my time in the MBA@UNC program, I chose to develop Heels on the Ground with my co-founder, Kate Malavenda, to enrich and improve the quality of life for female caregivers and spouses by providing local support networks, workshops and holistic retreats.  

What drives you to do what you do every day?

It is important for me to work in a role where I can impact change and feel relevant in what I do every day. Entrepreneurship brings me the intellectual stimulation and idea exchange that I find valuable in a career. Additionally, I am able to have a wonderful work and life balance with my family.  

In your opinion, do you think there is a lack of female representation in nonprofit leadership roles?

I have met with several women in the executive director role for nonprofits, and not only have found that there is a great representation in the nonprofit sector, but that these women are incredibly successful in their role for the nonprofit sector.

How can we encourage more women to go after leadership roles?

Recently, I had the opportunity to be a panelist for a Military Caregiver/Employer Flexible Workplace and Community Resource panel. The conference focused on integrating women caregivers of critically wounded military into a flexible workplace, which allowed for community support. It is important to me to uplift veteran caregivers by raising awareness of their contributions and challenges as well as strengthening the services afforded to them so they can once again thrive in leadership roles in the workplace.