Saturday, February 13, 2010

Why don’t women have a greater profile?

There is an interesting discussion happening right now thanks to an article Rowena Lewis wrote for Civil Society. When almost half (47%) of the senior leadership roles in the third sector are filled by women, Rowena asks why women don’t have a greater profiles?

In a follow up blog called ‘Invisible Women in Fundraising’ on the same website someone named ‘Susy Who’, not her real name - which is ironic given the content, says ‘I am filled with gloom every time I read about the appointment of yet another middle aged, middle class - normally ex-forces - male to a senior position in a charity.’

‘Susy’ missed the point. This isn’t a whinge about why there aren’t more women in senior leadership roles. Rowena is lamenting the lack of high profile women. Women who are willing to be bold, take public risks and yes, write under their real names. It is true, I can think of many fabulous women doing great work in the sector. However, there are very few who are – publicly putting themselves forward - so that we can look up to them and be inspired by them.

For some reason we generally seem to be holding back from asserting ourselves as mentors and sector leaders. So why don’t women have a greater profile in our sector?

I've been working in this business for close to ten years and it is just in the past eighteen months I have started to be more ‘out there’. It has been a very interesting experience. In my opinion there are five key ingredients required to putting yourself at the front publicly.

1. Ambition
2. Ego
3. Thirst for knowledge
4. Assertiveness
5. Willingness to come forward.


Women may think that an ardent desire for rank and power is a bad thing. So they shy away from being ambitious. Men might think of ambition as a desire to achieve a particular end. It’s all about framing.

A good friend of mine (John) said to me last week. ‘Kimberley I just think people don’t know what to do with your ambition.’

It is true. I am ambitious. I’m on a mission – you can read my mission right here on my blog. I also have a personal plan for how I’m going to accomplish my mission. The consequences of achieving my mission will be a bigger paycheck and a higher profile. The result, I hope will be improving peoples lives. I will have a larger impact, so that when I die, my children see me as a hero who made a difference. That is my mission.

As far as what other people need to do with my ambition. NOTHING. It’s mine and seems to be serving me rather well, thank you.

It’s okay for women to be ambitious. Just don’t hurt people along the way – bring them with you.

2. EGO

At a conference two years ago my session was up in the same timeslot as a very ‘famous’ male speaker. While surveying the rooms with a colleague I commented on how the other speaker had a much bigger room than I did. The response: ‘He needs a big room – to fit his giant ego.’ At the time I thought these words were really unkind. They certainly were intended that way. But over time I’ve watched presenters and have presented at more conferences myself. Ego is fundamentally important to setting yourself apart as a speaker.

If you are going to stand up in front of hundreds of people who have paid to be there, you bloody well better think that what you have to say is important and worth listening to. You need to be confident, entertaining and set yourself apart from the delegates. The best actors and entertainers know this. The best, most in demand, highest marked speakers at fundraising conferences know this too. Is it a coincidence that the ones who come to mind first are all men? I think not.

As women we are taught ego is a negative thing. For a high profile sector leader it is extremely important. It’s what gets you a plenary session.


To be a mentor, leader, high profile influencer you need to know stuff. In fact the more I learn the less I know.

Its Saturday morning, my house is a mess and I don’t want to do anything else but write this blog. At the moment I have four half read books beside my bed. The Rules of Management, Maverick, Forces for Good, The Leadership Challenge.

I’ve been living in this house for ten years and don’t have window treatments. Just good blinds with all the hardware exposed. Last night I did not watch the Olympic opening ceremonies. I started this blog.

My dear husband feeds us, shops for us and thankfully when he isn’t here – the kids can now cook. No one cleans really - except me about once a month or so.

Of course it wasn’t always like this. When our kids were little I was at home with them. Breastfeeding and making bread from scratch. I even had a sewing machine and designed little bibs that I sold to other mothers. We bought groceries from the money I made. I loved those years, and will always be glad we made that choice. AND it was a choice. We made bread because we couldn’t afford to buy it.

As women we CAN ‘have it all’. I just think it unhealthy to expect to have it all at the same time. In my opinion more women aren’t in high profile positions because they either carry the weight of most of the household responsibilities or perhaps have hobbies and other interests. I went to a book club once (actually I started it) but they didn’t want to read Jim Collin’s books – I did. Career and family doesn’t have to be a choice – it just needs to be sequenced.

Knowledge is necessary if you are going to teach anyone anything. It takes commitment and time to read and write.

4. Assertiveness

Assertive women are often labelled as aggressive. Assertive men – strong leaders. I absolutely love this clip from Mad Men. I can’t embed it in the blog but you can see it here

Peggy asks for an office that she has earned and deserves, and then she apologizes – saying she didn’t mean to be impolite.

I also love this article about Hillary Clinton – a strong woman I admire very much. The article ends by saying ‘And that’s the best thing about Hillary Clinton—she has a way of making sure everyone knows she’s there.’ This is something we can aspire to and learn from.

5. Willingness to come forward

I know of two partners of two famous consultants who prefer to quietly change the world without a public spotlight. I feel a little sad about this because I suspect they are rather brilliant women and I’m not going to receive the benefit of that brilliance. But I understand it because as soon as anyone steps in the spotlight people will talk about you. Some of the things they say won’t be nice. Most of the people who say not nice things about you – will in fact be women. I guess its part of our make up. That is the risk of having a high profile.

So it is hard sometimes. Lately I’ve been thinking of putting my head back down. Questioning why I’m compelled to write, blog, tweet, speak. Thinking that maybe it is self serving and all about me. There is no money attached to it. In fact it costs money. I can be successful at work without it. Honestly, I was ready to delete the blog and walk away. But then two days ago I was talking via Skype to a fabulous young fundraiser I met in India. She had no idea I was feeling depleted. She thanked me. Told me I inspired her, she looks up to me. Feeling incredibly unworthy, I was inspired by her. Of course I quietly cried - something else women do that men don’t. (Their loss)

There are lots of ways to change the world. Not everyone will be comfortable with a high profile. We are lucky in North America though because I actually can list more than ten women who have personally influenced my life and my career. But you may not have heard of them.

We do need women to be ambitious, egocentric, hungry and assertive. As women we need to support and help each other to do that.

But mostly I think we need women to stop complaining about inequity and to just get to work making the world a better place and inspiring others to do the same. I can’t think of anyone who would like a senior level position because of their gender. Senior level positions should be given to the best candidate. Period.

Thank you for spending time here.


  1. I received an email last night expressing concern that I hadn't publicly recognized any of the women who have influenced me. The writer felt that it is perceived that I only publicly credit 'men who can help me'. Now as offensive as that comment is and while it isn't really the point of the article, I thought I would list some of the people who have influenced my evolution and thinking.

    Leslie Ayre Jaschke, Carol Luck, Gayle Wood, Bernard Ross, Virginia Hackson, Gwen Chapman, David Love, Jen Love, John Lepp, Jackie Mendoza, Aline Reed, Amanda Santer, Ken Burnett, Mark Phillips, Jonathon Grapsas, Christian Stergiou, Dionisia Hanson, Lucy Buck, Sudeshna Mukherjee...

    This list could go on, and publishing it risks misspelling names AND it isn't really the point of the article. The article isn't about 'who' it is about 'where'

  2. Publishing names also risks missing people!

    Ken Burnett, Tania Little....

  3. Fabulous post, KM! As you know, I've made the choice to parent and work while my kids are still little, so part of what I'm balancing is that my professional contacts know that I'm not available all the time, and if they choose to call me when I'm parenting, they will hear transformers, tears and toileting. And I can sense that some people are uncomfortable hearing me balance my 2 lives. You, on the other hand, encouraged me to help Sadie on the potty while we were discussing the intermediate giving strategy in Renewal 1. That would NOT happen with a middle-aged man.

    Your average middle-aged man in a leadership position has a picture of his family on his desk, but his "other life" is not really revealed. Me, on the other hand? I'm a mom and a professional every minute of every day. And that's a fundamental shift -- I just can't be singularly focused. Ever.

    And either the sector will shift because there are enough others like me (and I know that there are), or we'll continue being the solidiers that are actually changing the world...just not the ones who are in the corner offices and the fancy speaking engagments. Works for me!

  4. Thanks for your comment Jen.

    I think the lines between personal and professional are becoming more blurred. Work arrangements are becoming more flexible.

    The renewal 1 will be great! I'm working with some very talented people on it. People who can wipe little bums AND think at the same time!

  5. Kimberley – loving your summary of the five key qualities. It instantly leads us to consider gender stereotyping, which for me is pivotal to understanding women's low profile in and out of fundraising.

    I along with many others in the sector am motivated by the opportunity to improve people's lives. I want to be someone who makes a difference. But until recently I wanted to be that someone working keenly in the shadows - I wanted recognition in the smaller more subtle ways and would have avoided any inkling of public profile. But now I'll be taking on a programme of work around women's role in the sector. The words 'head' and 'parapet' spring to mind. And I can’t wait!

    What changed my mind? Well, I started to speak to women fundraisers in the UK about our low profile, encouraging others to speak up. I was met with a 'shrinking violet' response. Then when the question was bounced back to me, I adopted the exact same pose. How absurd. I wanted women to be better represented but wanted other women to take up the baton. Double standards on my part.

    None of us were inclined to come forward, and the age old limitations of gender stereotypes played a great hand in this. You're right Kimberley, out of the qualities listed above it is 'ego' and 'willingness to come forward' that are considered a-typical of women. It is not our role to unleash the ‘ego’, it is not typically our place ‘to come forward’. And when we do we smash gender stereotypes and challenge the status quo. How refreshing!

    We have a responsibility to speak up if only to inspire and act as role models for upcoming talent. But the fact is, it’s unusual to see women break the stereotypes, and the backlash can be quite severe as I know all too well from my work at the Fawcett Society. Kimberley you cite your admiration for Hillary Clinton, her leadership was persistently undermined by stereotyping and sexism throughout her campaign – this YouTube clip haunted me for quite some time, and now it acts as a reminder of the imperative to make a difference in addressing sexism in all its guises

    I believe that once we are closer to equal representation, women in high profile positions will no longer raise eyebrows, and more women will be inclined take up the baton and shine as examples of excellence in their own right.

  6. Rowena - that is a fabulous video. (cut and paste it in folks)All the more reason to admire Hillary for all the BS she puts up with!

    So glad you are not a shrinking violet. I look forward to learning from your work. Although I must confess this seems to be a much bigger issue in the UK. Seems to come up all the time over there and yet hardly at all here. Although... North American conferences seem to seek out UK Male Speakers to add value. hmmmm. Something else to think about!

    Loving the conversation Thanks folks for jumping in!

  7. KM - what a great, thought-provoking post, so much so that it kept me awake for most of last night as various thoughts and responses went through my mind. I see that as a good sign though, it makes me feel truly engaged! And thank you once again to Rowena for floating the issues in the first place - I have also responded separately.

    So now we come to it. I certainly agree with your points Kimberley and the five key ingredients you listed. While "ego" and "willingness to come forward" may be seen as atypical qualities for women, I see it from a different perspective. For various reasons, I was brought up to be fiercely independent by a mother who was and continues to be very driven and ambitious so in that respect, your five key ingredients were instilled in me from a very early age so I've always had a relatively healthy sense of ego and am not backwards at coming forwards as you know! I was lucky to have good role models from an early age and to have searched them out subsequently.

    In terms of Rowena's point regarding the perceived low profile of women fundraisers, I'm not sure I agree. As I mentioned in my comment on her post, I for one can think of at least 10 senior UK women fundraisers I admire and I have had the good fortune of working with 5 of them. I have also had the great fortune of working with many other talented women fundraisers at various levels and I would certainly not describe any of them as shrinking violets. Somehow the terms 'shrinking violets' and 'fundraising' don't go together in my mindset!

    As for your point on inequity, I beg to differ. Before I took up my post at Rosa I probably would've agreed with you but once I delved into the stats on the degrees of inequality that still exist in the UK in the 2nd decade of the 21st century, I was quite shocked. My belief is that as women leaders, yes, we do need to lead the way as role models, mentors and coaches and do what we can to redress some kind of balance be it by taking other women with us or by challenging them to achieve better and more as @laurie_pringle mentioned in her post.

  8. Dear Jackie - what a treat to have your comments here. My apologies for keeping you up last night. Well worth it though for us.

    Feeling a need to clarify though - I wrote stop complaining about inequity, put our head down to change the world and inspire others (men and women) to do the same. Taking people with us as we go.

    By begging to differ are you suggesting that we should keep complaining and expect to get senior level positions simply because we are women? Or would you prefer to get them because you are the best person for the job?

    I read in Laurie's blog a call to stop complaining and whining too. It seems to me we are all talking about supporting women and helping us all to achieve more. Honestly, at the risk of being boring, I think we are all agreeing with each other. Can't paste the link in the comment but just google 'Laurie Pringle charity chatter' if you want to read it.

  9. Aha! Thanks for the clarification, makes sense now. And no, I'm not one to promote complaining and whining, there's enough of that around connected to every subject under the sun!

    Yes, indeed, I think you're right - we're all agreeing with each other in our own inimitable and wonderful way. In begging to differ I was referring to the issue of inequity - ie that we shouldn't ignore the fact it still exists and that in doing our work we also make sure that inequity is addressed, not ignored or shrugged off as something that no longer exists. I think many men and women may believe that gender equality has been achieved especially in the workplace, but it's only when we delve deeper into the stats that we realise this is not yet the case.

    As you said, I think we're both saying the same thing, I just misunderstood the point you were making (I really must stop myself from tweeting and responding to blogs just before bedtime!)

  10. Here's what I think.

    I worked in domestic violence organizations and social justice organizations, so my perception is going to be based on that.

    There are not more women in leadership roles because of internal and external oppression. It's all about power and control. Have you ever read Nicked and Dimed? If you're a woman of a certain age in our society, you are not getting picked for these senior director jobs unless you've got connections. Women are automatically undervalued in our society.

    We do it to ourselves, but hiring teams, boards, and other do it to us as well. This is what feminism is trying to address. It's more than "just stepping up." It's recognizing the dynamics of oppression and calling them out. It's about making women sitting on boards a law, as Norway has done.

    It's about understanding that sometimes social change must be governmentally mandated.