Are we afraid to track and share our diversity metrics?

by John Borst, Past President, Rotary Club of Dryden, ON

Sometimes ideas unexpectedly, seem to converge. This is what happened with the topic of diversity within Rotary this past week.

I was in Toronto and while there visited the East York Rotary Club. The speaker, a member of the club gave a brief slide presentation on their draft Strategic Plan. The first priority identified was titled  “Diversity and Inclusion”.

Later the same week,  while looking through the PowerPoint presentations at the Atlanta convention, I read through one titled “The Future of Rotary” and discovered it had a slide, titled  “Importance of Diversity by Rotarians, Rotaractors, and Alumni”.

Diversity is a topic to which I have given considerable thought and which I believe is crucial to the future of Rotary, especially in western democracies.

But there is a troubling convergence between the two presentations which points to a reticence,  or maybe even fear, to address the topic head on.

At the Club breakfast presentation, as a former certified Strategic Planer, I praised the drafts conceptual framework for its simplicity and completeness, especially their inclusion of what the speaker termed “metrics” or measures by which the club would quantify their progress in achieving the Plan’s goals and actions. Somewhat reluctantly though I pointed out that they had overlooked any metric for their very first priority namely “Diversity and Inclusion”

In an interesting slight-of-hand, RI does the same on its list.


Diversity Factors RI June 2017

Slide 26, from The Future of Rotary by Stephenie Urehick, June 2017


What ensued at East York was a discussion on the meaning of diversity. It became pretty clear to everyone that diversity included concepts such as gender, ethnicity, race or colour, religion and even LGBTQ identification. Interestingly, the LGBTQ identity was actually used to suggest that these kinds of data were inappropriate for a club to collect.

A careful analysis of the RI survey results indicates that the same thing happened but it is kind of hidden. Each item listed except one is written in a form in which a club can track the data. One, however, is written in a manner which only references Rotary International. That is “Membership from 200 different countries”. It is impossible for even the largest club to have such a membership. Why was such a term used? It doesn’t even make sense for a District.

I would maintain that “200 different countries” is code for such concepts as nationality, ethnicity, colour, or even race. Why can’t we use such terms? Are we afraid of what we might see? Do we see a club made up, overwhelmingly, of white Anglo-Saxon heritage? Are our clubs anywhere near proportional to the ethnic or racial demographics of professional men and women within our communities?

I know at my club in Dryden, ON we talk about the under-representation of our local indigenous peoples even though as a % of our professional group we are probably within the demographic range.

In that regard, East York is way out in front of other clubs I have visited in Toronto. Toronto is considered by some as the single most diverse city in the World. People of colour already make up 52% of its nearly 3,000,000 inhabitants. This figure only increases as the age cohorts get younger. If you are an old white male like me, a visit to a Toronto and area Community College or University campus will reveal the future makeup of Toronto’s next generation of professionals and it isn’t going to be white.  Toronto’s Rotary clubs have all got to put diversity and inclusion at the apex of their strategic plan initiatives and it has got to mean such concepts as race, colour, and ethnicity. Many of those youths are not from those 200 countries. They are from Canada; they were born here.  I can’t speak for elsewhere, but in Toronto, if Rotary clubs are not recruiting with diversity as their focus, they will not survive this Century.

Rotary International’s survey reveals other interesting reasons why Rotary is failing to grow within the USA, Australia and the EU. There is a fair bit of congruence between Rotarians, Rotaractors and Alumni in the top five categories which I will shorten to diversity in professionalism, opinion, ages, career stage, and social economic background. At that point, active Rotarians diverge from both Rotaractors and Alumni. In reverse order, they are a diversity of women as members, women as leaders, the age of leaders, ethnocultural and personal cultural identifiers, and current place of the career path. The differences go a long way to revealing why Rotary is in decline in the west.

The road ahead is not going to be easy for Rotary if it wants to maintain its numbers in about the same proportion as they are currently distributed throughout the World. Whether Rotary can deal with the significant barriers to even talking about some of the cultural factors which are faced in differing proportions within each of our countries is just one of its many challenges. Yet we must talk about it and then take action. Our very future really does hang in the balance.