I have a friend that within the last few years made a career shift. They went directly from being a pharmacist to being the Executive Director of a non-profit center addressing women’s health in a rural area of my home state. No in-between job. No experience with non-profits. Did I mention that this friend is a cis-gendered, white man?? Look, I am not upset at my friend. I am tired and irritated with our sector.
I wish I could say this was new. Did you know, in 2015 only 18% of nonprofits with an annual budget of over $50 million have CEOs who are womxn? (Guerrero, “Women in Nonprofit Leadership: Is There a Gender Gap?”; MissionBox.) Compare these statistics with the fact that 75% or more of nonprofit sector employees, at all levels, are womxn. It’s not that womxn aren’t interested in leadership positions. We most certainly are. In 2014, a poll was taken by The Chronicle of Philanthropy that showed that of the 62% of womxn that had been in the nonprofit sector for at least 10 years, 57% said they aspired to lead. (Guest Blogger, “Why Women are Still Underrepresented in Nonprofit Leadership and What We Can Do About It”; Maine Association of Non Profits.)
I would like to think we all know why this is important, but just in case, let’s break it down.
Diversity of voices matters
Not all genders, cultures, races, and socio-economic statuses are the same and have the same life experiences. None of these differences make anyone better than the other. However, what it does show is that we don’t all understand each other 100% because we are all coming from a different perspective. We don’t understand what we don’t live. It is irresponsible to not educate ourselves in how other people experience the world to understand people more. Organizations do this through the diversity of their employees, the lense their employees see the world through.
Women bring different skill sets
A study was completed recently that shows womxn are more empathetic than men (The White House Project Study: Benchmarking Women’s Leadership). This study also showed that womxn hold more soft skills than men, commonly known as skills that help build connections and relationships. In the nonprofit sector, connections we make with those we serve are critical to being able to do our jobs and do them well. Leadership positions aren’t exempt from having to build relationships. Relationships are how you elicit sustainable funding sources for your organization. They’re how you’re able to build partnerships, recruit volunteers, get legislation passed etc. Relationships are everything. I’m not saying that men can’t create relationships. I’m saying that womxn have a different skill set that certainly doesn’t hurt this process, and can bring a competitive edge to the non-profit sector.
Keeping womxn out of leadership roles is perpetuating systems designed to oppress them
Oppression shows up in many ways. It shows up through outright policies, such as Jim Crow laws, womxn not having the right to vote, or deciding to break treaties and steal land from those who own it. And it shows up in implicit biases, like thinking natural African-American hair isn’t “professional,” not posting jobs in places Latinx people utilize when looking for employment, or not advancing womxn in the hiring process for leadership positions because they don’t have the “professional” demeanor you’re looking for. No matter what policies or behaviors manifest, all of these things oppress large groups of people.
Recently, I attended the Association of Fundraising Professionals ICON Virtual Conference. One of the sessions was focused explicitly on diversity in fundraising, specifically hiring and retaining African American womxn talent. One of the points discussed was that hiring practices are inherently biased and we can fix it. If there is a low percentage of minority folks in the running at any stage of the process, we have to go back and look at that stage and figure out what’s wrong. For those of us that are involved in the hiring practices of our organizations, it means not being afraid to ask the hard questions: Where are we posting jobs? Is the salary range attracting enough applicants? Are the job requirements unrealistic? Once we answer these questions and make the appropriate changes, then the applicant pool can begin to widen and more qualified, talented folks will come out, from all backgrounds. This will make us stronger people and make our organizations stronger as well.
It’s been a while since my friend got that job. To me, this very real example of what patriarchy can look like in the workplace. I don’t know what this center’s hiring practices are. I can make assumptions all day long, but at the end of the day, I have no clue. And I’m not saying I’m perfect at this stuff either. When given the opportunity, however, I hope we all have the strength to choose diversity and inclusion.
“Here’s to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them.”