Guest Authored By: Rebecca Undem, Executive Director of Growing Small Towns
Ah, gender equality.
You’d think in the year 2023, this wouldn’t still be something we’re talking about, but alas, despite the tremendous strides we’ve all taken (dudes, you get some credit here, too!) to balance the scales of equity for men and women, there is still work to be done.
Plus, on March 8, we celebrate International Women’s Day!
Gender inequality is a systemic problem, so it’s fair to say that at times, it feels like this is just too large of a problem to tackle.
As a female nonprofit founder and leader who is often surrounded by more men than women, has personally had more things “mansplained” to me than I even care to recount, and is nearly six feet tall, which on its face, doesn’t seem even a bit relevant—unless you’re a fellow Amazonian, then you know precisely what I mean—I want to offer the simple ways that every single one of us, regardless of our gender (or height), can work together to create more equality. For all.
And before I go any further, let me say this: these ideas are not about checking boxes.
Yes, you likely have a DEI plan, have considered creating one, or have been told that you must have one.
A DEI plan is a great frame, but unfortunately, in my experience, people are often creating one not because it’s the right thing to do, but because it helps them check a box.
If your desire to improve equality is only about looking good, please read no further.
Around these parts? We’re not about looking good, we’re about doing good.
Because actions stem from beliefs, the only real way to do good is to be good.
So, let’s explore the questions we all ought to ask our organizations, boards, communities, and ourselves to help us see where we might have opportunities to drive more equity and inclusion for all.
Question #1: In what ways are you or your organization better because of the influence of women?
One of the best ways to see the value that women can offer is to challenge ourselves to think about how we’re better because of them.
Can you identify the women who made you who you are? Or the ones that shaped the history of your organization or community culture?
If someone doesn’t immediately come to mind, this is a great place to start. We’ve all been influenced by women. Sometimes, we just need to stop and reflect on that experience.
Question #2: Where is the female perspective missing from your work?
Again, avoiding anything that sniffs of box-checking, I’m asking you to honestly think about your work and where a woman’s influence might be missing.
Do you have females in positions of leadership? Do you have female board members? Do you engage women in your volunteers, activism, or advocacy?
Are any of your beneficiaries women?
This isn’t about making sure that for every single man involved, there’s also a woman present. This isn’t a quid pro quo kind of thing.
This is about organizational and personal candor; we can’t change what we won’t address.
Question #3: What would your work look like without women involved?
We’re humans. By nature, we often find it easier to imagine how much worse things could be rather than how much better. Yeah, not my favorite part about being human, but it is what it is.
I urge you to really consider this one.
What would your work look like without women involved at all? What would be missing?
What emotions, feelings, ideas, and perspectives would be lacking without women?
How would your organization suffer?
How would you as a leader suffer?
Question #4: What written or unwritten “rules” are hurting your organization’s ability to engage women in your work?
Every organization has written policies, by-laws, and procedures, and usually, those are written in a way that covers this topic.
But what about the things that aren’t written, but are a part of the culture of your organization?
When do you meet? Where do you discuss the “biggest and best” ideas? How is your office set up? If flexibility is given to certain individuals, is that same offer extended across other roles, as allowed by the type of work they do?
You see where I’m going with this?
I’ve worked for organizations where the best ideas only get discussed on the golf course or over drinks. Sure, women can both golf and drink. (Oh, I’ll drink, but I’ll just drive the cart, thank you.) These unwritten rules often carry over from previous administrations and put the onus of inclusion on those being excluded.
Nothing makes a person feel more left out than having to raise their hand and explicitly ask, “Hey…is it OK if I tag along?”
If any of this is happening in your organization, you’re not a misogynistic jerk. (Well, maybe you are, but I’m guessing you wouldn’t still be reading if that were the case.)
But we all fall prey to this kind of thing; if we never stop to question why we do what we do, we’ll never even consider the unintended outcomes of our actions.
Question #5: How can you use technology to engage with women more effectively?
Specifically, this year’s International Women’s Day theme is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality”.
There are so many advancements to help you engage across the diversity spectrum and even looking at digital tools to assist with flexible work arrangements, volunteer engagement, and gathering real-time feedback can really help drive equality.
I believe in the power of personal assessment, organizational honesty, and doing what we can with what we have.
Creating a more gender-inclusive world isn’t about demeaning or demoralizing men, but rather engaging all of us in conversations that lead us to consider where we can do better.
These ideas clearly are written in support of International Women’s Day, so the context is about gender equality.
But these questions can and should be asked to address any perceived inequality.
The more diverse our organizations are, the richer our work and impact becomes.
If you don’t want to think this hard and you want to celebrate International Women’s Day with me, simply think of a woman who made your life better.
Then reach out and tell her what she did and what it means.
Systemic change is overwhelming when we look at it globally, but every single one of us can take small steps to move the needle in our own worlds.
Don’t ever underestimate the power you have to make changes that matter.
Cheers to my fellow female founders and nonprofit leaders!