A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about the struggles of balancing work and life – especially for those of us in the nonprofit world.
Many of you read it, shared it, commented or sent me email messages. I’m so grateful to everyone. Because stress is a very real problem. And it’s getting in the way of our organizations’ missions.
I don’t want to leave the conversation with that one post.
It would be unfair to ask for your input and then just move on. And by myself, I can’t achieve much.
So please keep commenting and sharing your ideas.
Women’s work: stress and your career
The New York Times article that inspired my original post looked at the problem of stress in our lives.
The author suggested as a society, we’ve separated caregiving and work. Work we prioritize, caregiving is sidelined. And the need for both in our lives puts a great deal of pressure on the people who are caregivers – mainly women.
It’s also holding women back. The need to juggle so many responsibilities at work and at home becomes impossible.
We know women are the vast majority of nonprofit workers.
But men still fill most of the leadership roles – particularly in larger organizations.
Then I found Gender Trouble at Nonprofits, a piece Dan Pallotta wrote for The Daily Beast 6 years ago. One paragraph really whacked me in the face.
Charity is not allowed to use the same tools as business because society subconsciously regards it as female, and discriminates against it the same way it has historically discriminated against women. Charity is subservient. The for-profit sector heads to the office every day to do the real business of the world, while charity stays at home and dabbles in idealism and sentiment. Even the governing structure of charity is patriarchal; business people direct nonprofit staff—seven in 10 of whom are women—from the perches of their board seats.
A leadership problem – understanding women’s work
Here’s the irony of it all, though. Survey people about the most important leadership qualities? They’re the ones most associated with women.
Diversity is desperately needed to build a strong organization. That’s not lip service, that’s a fact. Surveys point to a need for the qualities women score more highly on. These traits include “expressive”, “plans for the future”, “reasonable”, “loyal”, “flexible” and “patient”.
An article in the Harvard Business Review talks about second-generation bias – unconscious, unintentional, but still present.
It’s a trap for women: men who score high on likeability are also seen as more competent leaders. For men, the two leadership traits are complementary. Women are seen as less competent if they’re more likable.
This infographic from TCC Group makes the problem of gender diversity in our sector quite clear.
So nonprofits must work twice as hard to care for the needs of the world. And as Pallotta says, they’re denied many of the tools used in the for-profit world. Somehow, we’re supposed to innovate without investment. Care for people while not caring for our employees.
Our work is seen as less important – even though it’s desperately needed. (And not likely to be done by the private sector.)
And within our sector, women are still fighting for a place at the grown-ups’ table.
So what now?
We can mentor. We can push for flexibility. We can be conscious of bias when we hire or promote. We can model kinder, gentler organizations.
But what’s needed to create real change is leadership.
And leaders with those qualities usually identified with women. We need the loudest voices to be those who value empathy, vulnerability, loyalty, flexibility and patience.
This isn’t only about what’s just.
It’s about what’s best for the sector and for the world. It’s about effectiveness.
We’re killing ourselves to save the world.
Doesn’t that mean we’re doing it wrong?
Please share your thoughts – we need them!
Photo: Lewis Hine [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons