Or Barriers that make the glass ceiling so thick!

By John Borst with the assistance of 14 other Rotarians*

Barriers exist to a woman becoming RI President in both the bylaws and particularly the undefined practices of Rotary. They make it nearly impossible for a woman to become president before 2025.  These same barriers also apply to men who joined Rotary late in life. Briefly they are:

From Legislation-

  1. The requirement that a Club President has completed their year as president before being nominated as a District Governor Nominee Designate;
  2. The requirement that a member must have been a Rotarian for 7 (seven) years before being eligible to be a District Governor;
  3. The requirement that a District Governor wait three years before becoming eligible to be nominated and elected to the RI Board of Directors;
  4. The requirement that the nominees to the Nomination Committee for RI be former members of the RI Board of Directors; and
  5. The existence of the ambiguous term “best” under the criteria for choosing the President.

From Practice-

  1. The practice that nominees to the position of District Governor spend three years as an Assistant Governor;
  2. The practice that Past District Governors spend a minimum of three years, and often many more than three years, serving as a Zone Coordinator before being considered for nomination to the RI Board of Directors;
  3. The practice that nominees to the position of RI President-Elect spend upwards of ten years serving on RI Presidential Committees after serving their tenure as a Director; and
  4. The continued existence of Club level cultural barriers such as “old boys network”, sexist language, a choice of venues and activities which perpetuate a male culture, non-acceptance or unwillingness to address issues facing women, the timing and conducting of meetings such that they are family unfriendly and a general unwillingness or inability of members to challenge the status quo.


The consequence of the above legislative, non-legislative and cultural practices creates a closed system of over-lapping elites where “too few possess too much power and influence”. The situation perpetuates acceptance of the status quo and results in a system of governance which is and has been blind to the changes in equity provisions taking place within society, and in particular within business and the professions from which Rotary most covets members.

Taken together, the effect of the above factors has been to increase the average age of current presidents into their sixth or seventh decade after an average of 35 years of service. This contrasts to Rotary’s early years when presidents were in their mid-forties. It also contrasts with major world Presidents and Prime Ministers many of whom have assumed their positions while in their forties.

More important than age, however, is the missed opportunity Rotary has had to show the world that women have the capabilities to lead an International organization. Since 1970, women have become leaders of such nations as Germany, the UK, Canada, Australia, India, Brazil and the Philippines.

Victoria DeGrazia, describes in Irresistible Empire (2006) how, during the early Twentieth Century, Rotary as an American invention spread its ideals of service to the countries of Europe and later around the Globe. Today, when it comes to women as leaders, many of those countries which are now demonstrating to Rotary the leadership of which women are capable.

Finally, the use of the word “best” in “10.010 Best Qualified Rotarian… in RI’s elective offices” is ambiguous and leaves too much room for subjective determination of selection criteria, which can be abused by those who wish to hide their bias against gender equity.

Geopolitical factors have in the past, and still play a role in the nomination of a President. Gender is an equivalent considerations; if geopolitics is a valid consideration so too must be gender.

One of the resolutions that passed at this year’s Council on Legislation was number 12

  1. To request the RI Board to consider proposing legislation to the next Council on Legislation to revise the corporate governance structure.

Let’s hope the Board of Director’s takes that opportunity seriously and removes any barrier which now only thickens the glass ceiling and ensures that we will not have a women as Rotary President anytime soon.

*This was written in 2013 as part of a larger paper and submitted to the RI Board of Directors by the Rotary Club of Woodbridge, Ontario. It has been edited to reflect the issue today.