Anyone who was identified as a girl in their childhood remembers at one point or another being told they did something – playing, fighting, crying – “like a girl.” As a woman, CEO, advocate, and a mother of a pre-teen girl – I want to reclaim that phrase. It is more important than ever that women in leadership own that they are powerful, capable, innovative, and exactly the right kind of leader to take us into the future – just like a girl.
Women make up the majority of the nonprofit sector workforce. The latest Health of the U.S. Nonprofit Sector report confirms that 66 percent of the workforce are women. And yet, a slew of recent studies show that men still make up the majority of leadership positions in the sector, that men are paid higher on average than women in the same positions, and despite some real efforts in recent years, that an even larger leadership gap exists between white men and women of color.
We certainly have work to do to improve our recruitment and retention practices, as well as checking unchecked individual and systemic biases and sexist policies. But it’s also vital that we see women as assets because of – and not in spite of – the fact that they are mothers, caregivers, community leaders, and tend to lead with their emotional intelligence and resilience. All these attributes are powerful characteristics for any leader, regardless of gender identity.
Women’s History Month isn’t just a time to reflect, but also to consider your own policy and practice change. I challenge you all to think through your own mentors, advisors, and trusted colleagues, and make sure you have some people who identify as women in your corner. Take a better look at your boards, consultants and vendors, donors, and employees and volunteers. How are you ensuring gender equity? When was the last time you did an analysis of the gender pay gap in your organization?
There are critical ways to support better policies on a broader sector level as well. In light of the fact that the majority of the nonprofit workforce are women, I invite you to consider how supporting Independent Sector’s public policy agenda might be contributing to the improved outcomes of millions of women in the sector and in our communities across the country. The National Infrastructure Investment Advocacy Group, a national coalition of nonprofit leaders co-led by Independent Sector and longtime IS member KABOOM!, will soon be announcing their updated policy agenda, which includes efforts to create an Office on the Nonprofit Sector within the Executive Branch, support of The Charitable Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, and calls to stop efforts to end the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program. Learn more and consider joining this coalition.
We need strong voices during this Women’s History Month, and always, to call folks in and make the social sector both strong and equitable.
Lastly, there are so many incredible organizations working directly on women’s and gender issues. Please take some time to learn more about them in your community, as well as those working on a national level. To help give you a head start, here are two resources from Independent Sector Members that are worth checking out:
- Let’s End Period Poverty! Donate Goods This Women’s History Month, from YWCA National Capital Area
- Conservation Trailblazers: Meet six women who are changing how conservation is done at TNC, from conference rooms to local communities, from The Nature Conservancy
Thank you as always for reading, for your reflections, and for your partnership in this effort to build a healthy and equitable sector and nation.
Dr. Akilah Watkins is president and CEO of Independent Sector.