“This is a man’s world,” are the opening lyrics to James Brown’s 1966 Billboard hit, “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.” Perhaps relevant three decades ago, but according to the latest issue of The Economist, “women will cross the 50 percent threshold and become the majority of the American workforce within the next few months.”
Not only that, but women have begun to expand their versatility in the work place, commonly moving past the secretarial desk to the managerial office, even to the position of CEO or Executive Director of operations. Here in the Northwest it is no different, as King County has seen many API focused non-profits being led by women.
“Women have come into our own with increased confidence, knowledge and expertise,” says Teresita Batayola, Executive Director at the International Community Health Services (ICHS). “It is only natural that more women have become directors.”
As a non-profit community health center, the ICHS provides the vital service of keeping our communities healthy, especially in the Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities of King County. For Batayola, the rise of women is a natural occurrence that is long overdue. An opinion shared by Pramila Jayapal, Executive Director of OneAmerica, a non-profit organization protecting immigrant rights and speaking out for the oppressed.
“I believe women really do understand what it takes to build a healthy society and a healthy world,” Jayapal tells me. “Women tend to see all the changes that need to happen around us in order to raise healthy families and perhaps that drives them to want to work to effect that change.”
While both Batayola and Jayapal believe that women are naturally fitted for leadership roles, historically, societal norms have thought otherwise. Worldwide, a multitude of social barriers were created to inhibit the advancement of women, and only after centuries of struggle, is it now beginning to slacken. So while we are finally seeing the traces of an overdue equity in the workforce, it hasn’t been easy getting there.
“The glass ceiling is real,” contends Batayola. “There have been many instances in my career when I rose to be second in command and realized that my competence as a deputy got in the way of eventual promotion as an agency head.” In Batayola’s case, a job well done paradoxically hindered her advancement, and sadly, her story isn’t alone.
“I was usually the youngest, the only woman and the only person of color in many of the rooms I have been in over the course of my career,” adds Jayapal. “The reality is that women still are not often given the weight of attention or accomplishment that men are, and women still have to fight for opportunities to be recognized for the work they do.”
And according to Vicki Asakura of the Non-Profit Assistance Center, an organization fostering support for developing local non-profits, gender differences aren’t the only obstacle. What inevitably happens in a discussion about gender comes the discussion of race and culture. Asakura describes how her cultural upbringing may have also hindered her delayed arrival to the top.
“There are also many cultural differences being brought up Asian American,” says Asakura, “Making it through an interview process is always a challenge for me because of these cultural influences. I was brought up not talk about myself or boast about my achievements.”
Combining the views of these three successful women reveals a hybrid of reasons as to why women of color are delayed in their rise in the ranks. But, they overcame these barriers, and what is most striking is that these women are leading non-gender-oriented organizations intended for everyone. The hope is that these patterns of women in high-ranking positions will continue to flourish in the non-profit sector and eventually translate into the for-profit sector. But according to Maribeth Ellis, Executive Director of the Chinatown-International District Business Improvement Area (CIDBIA), there is still much work to be done.
“Non-profits have their own unique set of challenges compared to the business/for-profit sector,” explains Ellis. “But understanding budget and financials is critical in either world, so even if you are in it for the people or cause, you MUST grit your teeth and understand budgets, income and expenses because it does take funds to operate an organization.”
Therefore, while the emergence of women at top positions within non-profits is a progressive accomplishment, it shouldn’t and won’t stop there. The campaign towards equality is still a struggle and difficult.
Maybe James Brown’s old 1966 opener still holds a hint of truth, but what could be more fitting to our times are the adapted words of Dominican street-poet Oveous Maximus: “This will always be a man’s world, under a woman’s supervision.”
To find out more about the organizations mentioned in this article, please visit:
Non Profit Assistance Center: http://www.nacseattle.org/
International Community Health Services: http://www.ichs.com/
Chinatown and International District Business Improvement Area: http://www.cidbia.org