As I was leaving the Toronto Breakout session on Rotary Research, I happened to find myself next to the panellist Mary Beth Growney Selene. Selene is currently a Trustee on the Rotary Foundation Board (2016-2019) and a past member of RI’s Board of Directors (2013-2015).
As we were walking, I asked her if she was going to put her name forward for President to the selection committee. She quietly, replied no. I do recall telling her it was time Rotary had a woman as president but I can’t recall if I asked her why? What does stick in my mind is the tone of her voice and the quiet resignation that unlay it.
Quite frankly, the tone of her reply haunts me still. I think it contained more than a sense of resignation, maybe it was even hopelessness that the time wasn’t right, that it was going to have to be someone else. Sensing a disappointment, I didn’t pursue the question any further besides it was the end of the day and the only thing left was the closing plenary.
What I also noted was a lack of or any hint of anger with the situation. Neither was it the first time I had noted a lack of anger when I raised the question with other women Rotarians.
Twenty-eighteen was a year when the hashtag, “#MeToo” galvanised women across the world to share their story of sexual abuse and grew into “a conversation about men’s behaviour towards women and the imbalance of power at the top”. I wondered why I did I not find the same determination to fight the status quo, whether from a sense of justice denied, equal rights or just plain anger, in the majority of women Rotarians.
I asked other women how they felt about Rotary’s failure to elect a woman as president. Only one couple, both young and from Nigeria, showed what I would term an emotional response underlain with impatience and a need for rectitude.
In 2018-19 Rotary’s Board of Directors has not a single woman as a member. As Helen Clark said in her interview with PP Ian Riseley at Toronto, The Board needs “to look like the body, it represents, and so that means women should be at the top.” Well, it doesn’t look anything like the body of Rotary. If it looked like the ratio in North America, we would have five or six women on the Board.
Check out the links in the first paragraph to Mary Beth’s qualifications; they are equal to or better than any men currently a director or trustee.
The battle to accept women into Rotary commenced thirty-six years ago and will not be complete until a woman is a president. It was a fight in 1983; it remains a fight today. The first woman Catherine Noyer-Riveau took he seat on the Board of Directors in 2008; that is already a decade ago. And we are back to square one with not one woman representing the over 300,000 women in Rotary.
It just isn’t going to happen without Rotary’s women exhibiting passion, determination, and yes even the anger bottled up in the hashtag #MeToo.