The following is the final few paragraphs of an article “Could you be the next RI President’ copied from The Rotarian magazine. Author Vanessa Glavinskas

MYTH: Women aren’t welcome. 

After the 2018-19 Board was announced, The Rotarian magazine received a spike in letters expressing concern about the lack of women directors and wondering when Rotary will elect its first woman president. Rotarian Monica Smith wrote, “It pains me to see how little concrete action appears to be taken at many other clubs locally, nationally, and internationally to recruit, support, and promote women members, not to mention officers.” Texas Rotarian Sarah Carriker wrote, “If the leaders of Rotary really wanted more women in Rotary, there would be more women in leadership roles.”

Past RI President Riseley says the lack of women on the Board is unfortunate: “It indicates to the world and Rotary that there’s no place for women in Rotary – and that’s completely incorrect.”

Smith, a member of the Rotary Club of Washington, D.C., says her club’s strategies to diversify its membership could serve as a model for the organization. The club has attracted young professionals by enacting programs such as its “Rule of 35,” which offers discounted membership fees for new members under age 35. It also relaxed attendance requirements and moved club meetings to evenings to accommodate young professionals who can’t meet for lunch. “Making a program indicates you’re trying,” she says. Over the past few years, she says, club members have also made an effort to invite more women. That effort has paid off as those new members invite their friends. Now the club is about 40 percent women, and it has members from 30 countries. 

Smith admits that it’s probably easier for her club to foster diversity given its location in the U.S. capital, but members do make a concerted effort to achieve that diversity. “If you don’t see Rotary’s leadership pushing this, there are going to be clubs that don’t make it a priority,” she says. One hypothetical solution: Rotary could set a minimum number of leadership roles that have to be filled by women. That might seem drastic, Smith says, but Rotary isn’t the only organization wrestling with a gender imbalance in leadership. She notes that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau chose to appoint a cabinet that is ethnically diverse and has as many women as men. Trudeau called it a “cabinet that looks like Canada.”

While Rotary has yet to elect a female president, four women have served Rotary as vice president. The first was Anne Matthews. “I was honored and humbled to be asked to serve as vice president,” Matthews says. While her appointment marked a first for women in Rotary, Matthews is quick to point out that it was her experience, not her gender, that stood out to President Ron D. Burton. She expects the same will be true for Rotary’s first female president. “The first woman president of Rotary International should be a lady who is respected, of unquestionable character, who possesses integrity, and has earned this important role.”

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