‘Where are the men?’ asks Institute Director
Question prompted by fewer men in Leadership Program
When I was a younger mother (a long time ago), I was worried about my 15-year-old son. He was defiant and frequently angry (usually at his dad). He was a marginal performer at school and lacked motivation to do much of anything. I kept thinking: Should we be more tolerant or more strict? Believe me, if I had known what to do, I would have done it.
In my search for understanding, I stumbled upon the book A Fine Young Man by Michael Gurian. It is no exaggeration to say that this book changed my life. Gurian’s straightforward approach helped me to think differently about my role as a parent and to understand adolescent boys on their journey to manhood.
I remember so clearly reading one passage where Gurian described adolescence as spanning anywhere from pre-teen to mid-twenties. I was stunned. I thought: I can’t possibly survive that long.
Ultimately, however, understanding more about the journey of male coming-of-age and learning positive parenting strategies proved to be instrumental in achieving our family goal of raising a fine young man.
Focus on men
In our last issue of Community Vitality we explored women and leadership. As promised, this issue focuses on men. Men have traditionally been viewed as natural leaders and have occupied the great majority of leadership positions, both private and public. As of 2013, men continue to hold 9 out of 10 highly paid executive and board positions. According to a Pew public opinion study on leadership traits, men are seen as decisive, ambitious and hardworking. In public office and policy matters, men are seen to be better at dealing with national security and defense as well as public safety and crime.
The past and present dominance of men in leadership roles throughout the United States provides an intriguing contrast to the Ford Institute Leadership Program’s experience. Since the program began in 2003, just 35% of the nearly 5,000 program graduates are male — despite our equal recruitment of men and women.
This fact has me wondering: Where are the men? Do men not value community leadership training and community volunteerism? Or, are they sufficiently overwhelmed and challenged in their day-to-day work with no room for additional commitments? We know that in Western culture, men have been seen as the predominate breadwinner. That expectation is shifting, however, as more women enter the workforce, many following a successful college experience.
Maybe the idea of volunteering one’s time to participate in a “community leadership class” is just not attractive to many men.
This fact has me wondering: Where are the men?
But make no mistake, both men and women volunteer their time. In a 2011 study conducted by Georgetown University’s Center for Social Impact Communication, 45% of Americans are active supporters of charitable causes. However, women make up a significantly larger portion of that 45%.
Perhaps volunteer activities are simply less appealing to men than women? According to the Georgetown study, men report being more pessimistic about the power of getting things done in volunteer positions.
As the Ford Institute’s curiosity continued to grow, we decided to seek opinions from our favorite experts in community leadership, our Ford Institute Leadership Program alumni (both men and women). Who better to weigh in on this issue than past participants? The results of our informal survey are summarized here. As you read the findings, give some thought to your own perspective.
One cannot wonder about the absence of men in volunteer community leadership without at least considering the social context and environment in which today’s young males are growing up. Our 21st century culture is a challenging place for many boys. An African proverb says, “If we do not initiate the boys, they will burn the village down.” Experience through the centuries validates this proverb. Successfully raising all boys in our communities is serious business.
We cannot do a comprehensive review of the opportunities and challenges. We will, however, discuss some current trends, highlight areas of concern, offer suggestions from experts, and recommend resources for parents, community leaders, teachers and mentors of young boys. For example, Knute Buehler, a Foundation board member, writes about the power of mentoring. Tom Gallagher expands on this theme in his article about his time in the far North.
Denise Callahan, director of the Foundation’s Scholarship Programs, talks about the decreasing number of men on college campuses. She outlines what her office is doing to foster success among recipients of Ford Family scholarships—both male and female.
You’ll find a review of The Purpose of Boys, Michael Gurian’s more recent take on raising boys. We’re offering the book for free through our Select Books program. I hope you find his writing as helpful as I did so many years ago.
Our son is now 28, a homeowner, and a systems administrator for a Portland-based company. He was lucky to have a teacher in high school who saw his potential for information technology. The spark was lit. Best of all, he now sees how truly brilliant his parents are. We text almost daily and see him often.
Each young person, boy or girl, is a precious resource. Let’s redouble our efforts in rural areas to create vibrant places for all young people to grow up healthy, fulfilled and ready to contribute to the larger community.