By Patti Samar
Blue Water Woman
The post-vacation pile of mail was teetering on top of my desk.
A large percentage of the snail mail received during my November vacation was from nonprofit organizations. Their envelopes were filled with their annual fundraising “ask.”
I opened them all, quickly scanning the letters, reading about the various needs of our community.
One particular letter jumped out at me.
It wasn’t the content of the letter that stood out, but rather the list of board members that was printed down the left-hand side of the stationery.
More than two-thirds of the board was composed of men. That means, according to my simple Yooper mathematics, that less than one third of the board members are women.
This is an organization that touches many people in the Blue Water Area. This nonprofit does many good deeds.
I did a quick internet scan of a number of other nonprofits in our community. Of those I randomly looked up, most had boards that were composed of anywhere from 45 to 60 percent women, all of which is much higher than 30 percent.
Women make up 50.3 percent of the population in St. Clair County. Clearly, we are half of the community, and we are entitled to one half of the say-so regarding the current direction and future of our community.
Because I know the executive director of this organization, I did drop a note of encouragement to please consider adding more women to the board in the future. The reply I received caught me completely off guard:
“(When selecting board members) we don’t work from targets or goals or quotas for any class of people — not by race, geography, gender, education.”
Why the heck not?
It has been 16 years since I last worked for a large (nonprofit) corporation, but even back then, as a member of the management team, I sat through numerous meetings regarding diversity (of race, gender, religion) and the importance that our organization, which attracted large numbers of volunteers and donors, build a balanced, diverse team that was accepting of many schools of thought, be it from a gender, religious or cultural perspective.
As the marketing director of that organization, I was expected to use photography that included people of all races, creeds, colors, gender and religions in order to help the community as a whole feel welcome.
This thought of “inclusion” in marketing, and even in corporate human resources policies, really took off in the late 1990s.
That was 20 years ago.
I’m sad that there are organizations in the Blue Water Area that do not make a stronger, more concerted effort to ensure that the female perspective is not just represented with but a token few, but would have the foresight to understand that attempting to create gender – or racial, et al – diversity and balance on a board helps the organization function with a more global perspective than when, essentially (and with all due respect), a bunch of white, middle-aged men in suits attempt to solve the issues at hand from a one-dimensional perspective.
Even the rest of the nation has finally clued into that fact, as more women than ever before were elected into our United States Congress on November 6. (And what a wonderfully diverse group of women, many of whom bring diversity of race and culture to our Congress for the very first time!) I know our community is better organized than the United States Congress. I’m hoping those in leadership positions here see the value of gender, cultural and racial diversity.
And do not think this is just Patti Samar spouting off on her “I Am Woman Hear Me Roar 2018 World Tour” (though if I thought I could sell enough tickets, I’d surely go on this tour!). Forbes magazine discussed this very issue in an article earlier this year, with respect to corporate boards:
“A recent analysis from 2020 Women on Boards found 55% of companies that fell off the Fortune 1000 index had one or zero women on their boards. An analysis from Harvard’s School of Public Health ranked Fortune 500 companies by number of women directors present on their boards and found those in the highest quartile had a 42% greater return on sales.” (Forbes, May 21, 2018; Frances Kiradjian)
The fact of the matter is this, and science will back me up: Men and women think differently, and approach problems and their solutions differently. Neither way is right or wrong, but it seems to me that if the oversight of your organization is heavily weighted with just one sex, your organization is missing out on many, many problem-solving opportunities.
Sheryl Sandberg told women to “lean in.” Once again, I’m suggesting that leaning in is not enough. We must “speak up.”
But it is awfully hard to speak up when you don’t have a seat at the table.
So, my New Year’s Challenge to the Blue Water Area is this: Include women at the table. Give them a voice in 2019. Nominate women to sit on boards. Mentor a young woman to help her become a community leader. Encourage women to run for office, or run for office yourself. Speak up on behalf of all minorities and those who are marginalized.
Speak up for yourself.
Speak up, indeed, because, in the words of my dear, adopted mom, Donna Schwartz: If not you, then who?
Peace and Happy New Year to All!