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Wanting Wisdom Re: Women

I am very aware that there is a certain level of risk involved in a male grantmaker publically commenting on the development of women as leaders in the nonprofit sector, particularly around the Christian context in which there has been so much debate and division. All the same, the conversation is happening in so many circles that I want to chip in my two cents and ask for yours. Catalyst offers what we think is a pretty amazing award to graduating students in our local school board through a partnership with the Halton Learning Foundation. We’re looking for young people who are ready to orient their lives around a dream of serving others, and we provide the opportunity for those dreams to be nurtured and expanded. This year every applicant was female. While I am not surprised that we’ve always had more young women than young men apply, having only women was a little jarring. Particularly because I still see predominantly men in the prime leadership positions of a majority of the nonprofits I interact with locally, nationally, and internationally. Somehow, these active and inspiring young women are not reaching the top of the ladder. Conversations with great people at organizations like Arrow and Next Level provide some affirmation of what I’m seeing; there are just too many factors that still make it more difficult for women to be identified and prepared for strategic positions. (I understand that the barriers for many other groups of people may be even more difficult, but that will have to wait for another time). In recent conversations with women who are playing leadership roles in Canadian charities I’ve been encouraged that most believe many of the past systemic issues of the “Old Boys Club” have diminished, but there are still real issues needing attention. I’d love to see comments from any readers on the following: -How can women be helped to find and become mentors in leadership? -How does an organization develop a leadership culture that is truly equal in opportunity and support for women and men? -Is there a way to help women to keep progressing as leaders during the years (say 25-40) in which many are marrying and have small children while there male colleagues are advancing? -Could Catalyst be intentional about seeking to support the development of women without drifting into tokenism that ultimately undermines the goal? Should we even try? -What should I be saying to our 17 year old award winners to encourage them and challenge them as they will be facing these same difficulties? I’d sincerely appreciate your thoughts…