The Resignation You Want!

Helping individuals and organizations navigate change is critical to personal, professional and organizational success. Yet, my clients often struggle to make decisions that are in the best interest of the organization (which, I believe, is also in their own self interest). The conversation with my clients is always an interesting one and usually starts with my asking “do you have the right people in the right places?” The answer, more often than not, is no. And, more often than not, the person who is not the right fit or not living up to their role and responsibility, knows too. This is a critically important issue for all businesses (heck, all relationships) and one that gets avoided all too often.

Gene Takagi’s 12 Reasons Why You Should Gracefully Resign from a Nonprofit Board is an absolute must read and guide for individuals who serve and governance committees of nonprofit organizations. As I read and thought about sharing this with all of my nonprofit clients, I realized I needed to assess my own board participation and make some decisions.

I invite you to do the same.

Assess your nonprofit board participation using this list and, if you find yourself on the list, gracefully resign. It relieves the angst of having to confront you, the embarrassment of being confronted— more importantly, it allows the organization to invite change, and to create a culture of engagement among board members invested in the success of the organization. Staying on a board well beyond your time and interest level can have a significant impact on the board and its culture and, ultimately, harm to the organization. Lack of engagement spreads like wildfire and leaves the organization vulnerable on every level. Nonprofit leaders often struggle with their boards and invest significant resources (human, financial, capital) with very little return on investment. While return on investment is often a conversation being had in leadership circles among Executive Directors, it is rarely a conversation had among board members. What is the return on investment to the organization provided by members and the board as a collective?

Trust me, countless stories from my clients (board and staff) and experience leading and serving on boards provide enough data to write volumes on the impact of board member leadership and engagement, or lack thereof, on the sustainability and success of a nonprofit organization. The remedy is often easier than we want to believe.

Change needed to revitalize your board or organization can be made easier if we all accept responsibility for gracefully resigning when we no longer add value!

Awakening

I am completely fascinated by the inherent ability, the often uncharted and sometimes intentional capacity for growth and development of humans.  In a constant state of investing, (yes, yes often over-investing) in others , I should not have been surprised the day my LC said “How about you fall in love with your own potential for awhile!”.  I laughed—-and realized she wasn’t.

I’d started my conversation with her that day sharing an aha moment.  Interestingly, my best ideas and insights seem to spring forth while in the shower.    Streams of water that with force can move mountains, flood villages, and with gentleness can provide unfathomed beauty and give life—cascaded down on me and whispered softly  ”Marcia, you fall in love with potential.”

I stumbled out of the shower in a daze, looked in the mirror and said the words out loud to my image “You fall in love with potential”.

The message came to me as though an awakening.   As though this thread would shed great light on the darkness of the most recent, deeply painful breakup (though is it a breakthrough now?).  The epiphany that would allow me to alter what I could not before this moment.

It’s true.   My first love, first marriage and all the loves in between and after had one thing in common– they all had great potential.

My confession during that session, I thought, would lead my LC to explore this insight about “them”.  Instead, she challenged me to become interested in my potential.   And so I have become curious about the falls, geysers,  sheds, babbling brooks and still streams of my potential.   This space a place for my musings and mutterings through the lens of something I love– potential–yours, mine and ours.

The morning after

Election eve can be much like riding out the storm; the angst, the waiting, the deluge of information both accurate and inaccurate, the internal conflict of wanting to know and not wanting to know, the hope that all will be well in the end.  The emotional toll, the build up and eventual arrival takes on individuals, communities, and the enormous cost both financial and human calculated in the aftermath.

It’s been a challenging election season for women—one storm after another.  We’ve been tossed around the political banter, had our character and integrity as a gender battered about—we’ve been talked about, spoken for, shamed and blamed and had blatant lies presented as facts. 

Yet, despite the diatribe or because of it, women where highly engaged in this election. We voted at higher rates than men– 54 percent of the electorate were made up of women and the gender gap in the presidential race was higher than predicted by all the pre-election polls.  Three states elected their first female senators and among them are a woman of color, an openly gay woman, and two women with combat experience!  Twenty women will serve in the U.S. Senate—a record number and cause to celebrate (be mindful this record number represents 1/5 of the U.S. Senate). 

Closer to home, New Hampshire has elected an all female congressional delegation and governor.  Massachusetts was one of the states that elected its first female Senator and Maine passed marriage equality legislation.  How’s Rhode Island looking after the election storm? 

Rhode Island women came through the political storm holding strong.  While some seats were lost, others were gained and so it looks (still waiting for District 72) like we’ll keep our 29 seats in the RI General Assembly (just about 26 percent).  Women of color hold a mere 3 of those 29 seats or 10 percent.  Before the election Rhode Island ranked 18th among states for representation of women.  A review of 37 years of women’s representation in the Rhode Island General Assembly shows that we’ve never crested above 26 percent representation and our ranking against other states never higher than 13th and a lowest ranking in 2006 at 40th.   While we are showing improvement its clear there is room for more!  We can do better.

The issues that disproportionally affect women contested nationally are the same issues we confront here in the Ocean State; equal pay, health care, and housing — real life, every day needs that have real impact on women and their families.  A woman’s well being and economic security are critical to her family, her community, and our state.  Yet our history in Rhode Island demonstrates that more often than not, the systemic impact of policy decisions are not evaluated based on gender.  The financial aftermath of these policies and programs leave families in crisis— much like the effects we’ve seen in our state in the last week from Sandy or Athena.  Weakening the economic security of women weakens the security of her family, community and state.  We can’t continue to expect different results when we aren’t engaging in ideas and opportunities that show real economic promise. 

Yes, let’s celebrate the advancement of women this election cycle –not only the women who ran (181 women ran for congress –another record), the women who won, but also the men who won and are committed to equality.  Let’s carry this momentum into the 2013 legislative session of the Rhode Island General Assembly and strengthen Rhode Island’s economy and well being by ensuring there is equality for all. 

Playing Offense

It’s difficult not to have politics on my mind these days.  Between the presidential primaries and conventions and our state and local primary this week the candidate appealing and information has been non-stop. 

As the leader of an organization that works to advance women in the halls of government, local, state and national, I’ve been paying closer attention to how things are being said and how candidates are behaving rather than what they are saying.  The truth is that within primary politics there can often be very little that separates candidates in terms of public policy issues or huge divides that leave one wondering if their party affiliation matches their values and policies.  As a result, we seem to have developed a culture where policy conversation and real platform development is no longer the focus.  Rather, the focus really seems to be more on the individual person as though each candidate lines up for an Olympic race—fastest on the day wins.

So, how do you draw attention to YOU as the candidate?  You know, the things that make you as a human being –each of us a mix of strength and struggle– better than your opponent?  We see and hear phrases like proven leadership, trusted leader—and we hear and see the scribble of a pen or the modern day tapping of keys that magically stretches our experience—personal and professional—to sound like we could run almost anything, anywhere, better than anyone.  I can accept this as part of the natural human tendency to see ourselves and have other see us in favorable light. I can also see it from a place of fear and hiding—what if people don’t think I’m good enough just as I am?  This is where the jousting begins.   

It seems to me our way of electing has become more about the YOU rather than the values and policy platforms of the individual representing the party.  We have these interesting popularity contests that are never ending.  The result seems to be endless smear campaigns.  A sort of male and female adult relational aggression activity we call campaigning.  So, what? Anything goes?  

So it seems.

When I think of the money that goes into campaigns I’m just blown away; yet another unintended outcome of our electoral system.  The bullies are bigger and demand a lot more than lunch money to make you fearful of them, to make you pay—by saying and doing things you would not normally say and do. These campaigns are not only expensive, but they also have a significant human cost on our children, families, friends, society, and on the candidate. 

While meeting with leaders and talking with the locals during my travels in Scandinavia last summer I often asked this question—what do you think holds women back from gaining political parity in the United States?  Unequivocally, the answer was our electoral process—one many in Scandinavia believe, is the root cause of lack of representation of women—and one that will keep us lagging behind for decades to come in their estimation.  The system was established, quite frankly, when no man ever thought a woman would be allowed to run for elected office. 

But, ever so slowly, women are making progress and it is no longer unusual to see women running for office.  As more women throw their hats into the political ring, we’ll begin to see women squaring off against other women —in primaries and in general elections.  My hope, at all levels, is that women won’t stoop to the relational aggression tactics that has become the hallmark of political campaigns. 

But, as Hanna Rosin states in her new book The End of Men the Rise of Women, this fundamental and momentous change in a culture’s views inevitably creates resistance, not just from the men in charge (running) but also from women.  She wisely notes, and I think this is a critical message for women, that researchers often attribute the lack of sisterly solidarity—in this case meaning stick to the issues and policy platforms, not the character assassinations— hallmarks of the relational aggression society has stereotyped women and girls with— to women’s sense that they are still underdogs who have to fight for the few spots reserved for them. 

When we add women, we can change everything but ONLY when we as women are prepared to be the difference that makes a difference.  

The Rule of the Fathers

The Archbishop of St. Louis spoke to the Leadership Council of Women Religious as they started their annual conference on Wednesday.  He asked them not to politicize their reply to the Doctrinal Assessment from the Vatican.  I find his request interesting given how political male leaders of the Church are not to mention the now very public scolding of the nuns.

Their crime?  Advancing radical feminist themes that have them “pouring their energy into work for the poor and disenfranchised” rather than advancing the political agenda of the Catholic Church.  There has already been much criticism and protest on the political issues at the forefront of this dressing down. But what I keep thinking about and the conversation that interests me is the “radical feminist theme” accusation.  Is being radical or feminist or a radical feminist inherently bad and against religious doctrines?

Radical, by definition, means going to the root or origin and figuring out the cause of things to remove them—like say for instance, poverty.  We also know from history that radical acts are often the tipping points for real change.   After all, nothing changes if nothing really changes.

Feminism at its most basic definition is about gender equality—equal access, opportunity and status at the intersection of gender, race, class and yes, even religion.  Again, if we are all equal in the eyes…

Radical feminists?  These are men and women who find the root cause of oppression of women to patriarchy.  And here we have the truth.   The real crime of the nuns?  Not submitting to the rule of the fathers.

For Better or For Worse?

Not long ago I wrote a post titled, For Richer or Poorer, about stay at home moms and the importance of their economic security.  My intention, when I wrote that first post, was to follow-up with a part II about the significance of equal financial footing for men in these relationships.  The effects of gender inequality in a marriage can have consequences for men and, quite often, not for the better.

In the last decade I’ve had some interesting conversations with male friends and colleagues who report that they are unhappily married.  In their words, “we live like brother and sister”, “we focus on the kids only”, “we haven’t done anything together in years”.  Truth be told, their unhappiness is palpable and the activities they engage in to counterbalance their lack of fulfillment at home is well, interesting and sometimes disturbing.   Obsessive compulsive running, working, eating, an extramarital affair or contemplating one. When I ask them why not just deal with the issues at home and, if unresolvable, decide together to leave the marriage, the story gets interesting and changes considerably when he is married to a woman who is a stay-at-home wife.

Not surprisingly, they all respond with statements that go something like this:  “my wife doesn’t work outside the home and I’m the financially responsible one”; or “she hasn’t worked for years, says she doesn’t want to work and really, what kind of pay would she get for what job she’d qualify for anyway?”; and “we agreed that she would stay at home when we married, how do I go back and say this doesn’t work for me any longer?”; and ultimately this comes out—“I can’t afford to support two households”.

So, what’s going on here? Some obvious things, some not so.  Leaving a marriage has financial implications for everyone but the stakes for men with stay-at-home wives are deep in their emotional and financial pockets, as is true for their partners. Lars Einar Engstrom (blogger for MARC:  Men Advocating for Real Change) recently wrote “how can there be love if one partner is dependent on the other? If the relationship is built on dependence then we have conditional love.”

Here’s the thing, inequality in marriage does not serve women nor does it serve men at home or at the office.  A recent study (Marriage Structure and Resistance to the Gender Revolution in the Workplace) examined the attitudes, beliefs and behaviors of men in the workplace and grouped them by men in traditional marriages (stay-at-home wives) and modern marriages (both partners work full-time).  Men in traditional marriages tend to view women in the workplace unfavorably and are more likely to deny qualified female employees opportunities for promotions.  They also consider organizations with more women and with women leaders as less efficient.

Okay, so let’s take this back home.  See the double bind?  How do you face the inherent dilemma, resolve it or opt out?  You can but it isn’t done quickly or easily.  It’s confusing and, honestly, takes a whole lot of effort by both individuals, as well as the couple,  to understand what’s going on.

Sonscreen

The other day while shopping,  I ran into a colleague of mine right in front of this display!  Both of us mothers of daughters, both working on gender equality, both frustrated with this kind of gendered marketing ploy.

Upon examination of the blue, white and pink bottles  we figured out the ingredients are the same —so why the color scheme in stereotypical blue and pink? and why is girl written on the pink bottle but no other gender identification on the others?  Trust me, I’m not shocked by this sort of marketing ploy-it’s everywhere and it frustrates me!

What I walked out of the store mulling over in my mind was —what  does this sort of marketing ploy do to boys?   Pink and blue are just colors and yet we’ve got them all wrapped up in defining who gets what.  I’ve known plenty of boys who, at a young age, would have wanted the pink colored bottle rather than the blue or white.  I’ve known as many mothers or fathers who would be appalled by their son wanting the pink bottle with the word girl written on it.  You might be thinking, yep, you bet –why does it matter?  It’s just sunscreen, after all.

Gendered marketing strategies and tactics do matter .  They matter because they define cultural expectations for boys,  as well as for girls.

Here comes the summer sun!   It’s not alright to draw gender lines in the sand– you CAN sell sunscreen without it.

For Richer or Poorer

An old friend of mine gave me this t-shirt back in October as a way of acknowledging my passion for women’s equality.  We can all smile at the caption but we must do so acknowledging its truth.  Though that moment between us was lighthearted, it did lead to several uncomfortable conversations about economic security for women and, in particular, women who, like his partner,  stay at home.

Salary.com  reports that on average stay at home moms should be charging $115, 000 per year for their work.    (You can enter your own data on the paycheck calculator and factor in your hours and salary if you work outside the home, in addition to the stay at home only.  Turns out my total paycheck would be $248,886!  Woo Hoo! )  Sadly, stay at home moms aren’t likely to see a penny of that $115,000 paycheck and many are not seriously thinking about their economic security over their life span.

We already know that when women leave the workforce to stay at home full time it significantly impacts their re-entry; both in position and salary.   What we don’t talk about is what other sources of economic security, in addition to having their own income, women forfeit.  I’d love to know how many families contribute to a 401 k in mom’s name to ensure she has retirement income.  How many are ensuring that mom stays engaged in some sort of professional development or education so if she chooses to return to work or ends up not having a choice but has to work, she can ensure her economic security?   How many families factor the entire family income and the loss of mom’s earnings when deciding to stay at home?  When does mom get a sick day or a bathroom break of her own?

I’m willing to bet my $248,886 paycheck that these conversations are not happening often enough, if they are happening at all.  Women aren’t negotiating salary and benefits at work and they aren’t doing it at home either!

The divorce rate for first marriages is 44% in the United States.  It’s even higher for second and third marriages (around 77%).  What happens to mom economically after she’s been at home, is now divorcing and must depend on alimony and her own ability to earn?

How does this impact mom when she is 65 or 70? After all, the life expectancy of women is nearly 6 years longer than that of men.  According to the Older Women in Rhode Island Report: A Portrait the average income for older women in the United States in 57.4% of older men.  So women live longer and with much less income.

Though my friend wasn’t contemplating divorce or retirement (yet), he also hadn’t contemplated the economic security of his partner,  the real dollar value of her stay at home contributions or her financial needs should she, at some point,  find herself alone.  It was also clear she hadn’t thought of her economic security.

These may be uncomfortable conversations, especially after the fact, but a woman’s economic security is critical to her and her family.  Gender explains much more than the difference in men and women’s salaries!

Are you economically secure?

“You Get What You Pay For.”

“In this world, you get what you pay for.” Kurt Vonnegut

Really? Image

I’ve heard this quote since I was a child and folks said it meaningfully.  If it was quality you were after, well then,  you must expect to pay the price.  Higher price = better quality.  Folks were willing and often eager to be able to  pay the higher price to have the best quality they could afford.  In fact, talking about the quality of things seemed mighty important back then.  Yep, this here, the best money can buy!

That doesn’t really ring true today, does it?  We all want the highest quality for the best price and that usually means, the lower the price, the better yet we still expect high quality.  Seems we all like to think we are getting the better end of the deal no matter the cost to others. We expect it, believe we deserve it, and in some cases, demand it!  (just look at all the discount stores there are in America).

I’ve come to realize in the past few weeks that this way of thinking and being is deeply destructive to our society.   It isn’t about the money per-se, but about the principles and standards of behavior we carry about money, quality and value.

What’s that got to do with Equal Pay?

The Wage Gap reflects American values about women and work.  Though we have had The Equal Pay Act in the United States since 1963 (www.eeoc.gov/laws/statutes/epa.cfm) women are still earning less than men.  Some like to argue that this statement does not hold true when you analyze the data by education, experience, and hours. In fact, the data is analyzed in this way as well as by profession, salaried workers, hourly workers and more.

Every time we pay a woman less we are dishonest, unfair, corrupt!

The reality is when you hire a woman you get more than what you pay for because we’ve always underpaid women;  no matter the cost to them, their children and families, our communities, and our country.

Put on Your Gender Lens and Then Read On!

Report card time is often one of anxiety even when you know the evaluation criteria against which you’ll be measured and realize you have not done your best (or even made an effort) to meet those expectations.  Though we have been able to track our progress and efforts over time we open the report card hoping it will tell a different version of the story.

On January 30, the CFED (Corporation for Enterprise Development) released the national Assets and Opportunity Scorecard grading individual states (in addition to a rank order of states) on 33 measures.  Basically the assessment determines which states have strong policies toward helping residents build and protect assets.

I opened our report card hoping we’d somehow end up with a different version of the Rhode Island story than the one that, well, we deserve.  We didn’t fare so well.  Our highest grade?  We received a B in Health Care. C was given in policies related to financial assets and income; and education and business and jobs, D’s.   We failed in housing and homeownership.

Not a report card to boast about.   In fact, it’s something I am deeply concerned about.  As any responsible parent, guardian or government knows, it’s time for an intervention.

Dismal enough, these grades really only tell a part of the story.  Reading between the lines (and digging a bit deeper into the data made available by the CFED on their website) we unearth the burgeoning and persistent divide between communities of color and gender.  In general, whites are far LESS vulnerable. One and a half times more white workers own a business; almost two times as many workers of color are unemployed.   And, in every issue area, men are faring better than women.  If the data were analyzed looking at communities of color and gender we’d see an even deeper divide.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet that our B, C’s and D’s might all spiral downward to failing across the board.

The truth is persistent gender inequality continues to keep women and, even more so, women of color among the most financially vulnerable Rhode Islanders.  Underemployment, wage inequity, unfair payday and predatory lending, in addition to 6 years of declining state investments in programs designed to promote economic security among low and moderate income working women are responsible for producing the grades we, in all honesty, rightfully deserve.

Gender equality is the right course, the right intervention!  No community or state can thrive when it does not value and ensure the well-being of all its residents.  Policies and economic priorities must be examined through a gender lens. The implications of policy made without putting on our gender lens will continue to produce report cards and stories that keep real truths about the economic well-being of Rhode Islanders hidden.  More importantly, making policy with blinders on continues to impact the most vulnerable: women and women of color.