Editor’s Note: The following is a third excerpt from the 2013 paper “Women Still a Challenge for Rotary” by 14 Rotarians, representing 12 zones, 14 Districts and 12 countries.
As observed, the issue of gender equity is complicated by the question of longevity in Rotary as it pertains to the selection of a President.
On average Rotarian women are younger than their male counterparts. Even the first woman Rotarian, would today, only be in her 25th year of service. When you consider for the past two decades the average tenure of a Rotarian who ascends to the presidency is thirty-five years of service, it is little wonder that there has been no woman as president.
Hence, Legislation has to make it possible for a woman to make it through Rotary’s many levels of leadership in a shorter period of time.
Legislation, however, may not be where the greatest problem arises. The real problem is the unwritten practices associated with extending and getting more and more out of fewer and fewer Rotarians.
Although, on the surface the reason for such practice is the belief that many years of training is required before one can become President, Rotary in our opinion has created a situation where stasis is a greater threat than inexperience.
The reasons for this state of paralysis are hard to pin down. On the surface, Rotary has provision for elections, but if a single overriding cause can be identified, it is the singular use of nominating committees, to choose governors, directors and the president. Leaders are chosen by previous leaders at all levels.
The consequence has been a leadership pattern characterized by patriarchy and oligarchy. Conformity, low levels of risk taking, a resistance to change were, and still are, the dominant characteristics of succeeding generations of greying governors, directors, and presidents. The advent of women into Rotary in 1987 presented an opportunity to prevent this drift toward stagnation.
We have concluded that there was a curious timing of events in the year 1995 which appears to be at the root of the problem. In that year, the nomination process was codified into Rotary’s constitution and by-laws. It was also the year that Rotarian membership was legitimated for retirees. These two decisions by themselves may have prevented any progressive changes from occurring. .
Was this planned or was this a coincidence, because 1995 was also the year Rotary’s first eight female District Governors were elected? Did a cabal of elites actually recognize the potential these women posed to the male hegemony within Rotary or was the nomination process and retired membership extension just coincidental?