Volume XIII | Issue 1 | Spring 2013
Do women lead differently than men?

Women and men in leadership positions

Do gender imbalances matter in a community’s seats of power?

For the past few years, I have been privileged to volunteer as a board member for a large, local nonprofit organization. The organization is complex and provides services that are an essential component of the surrounding community’s vitality. At the time I joined the 12-member board, there were nine men and three women. When the time came to replace outgoing board members, I suggested that we look for qualified women candidates. I advocated for a balanced board of six men and six women.

... there are still only three women board members

As of this writing, there are still only three women board members. I’ve continued to encourage my fellow board members to nominate women, but I often hear “There just aren’t very many female candidates.” At first I felt that the statement was ridiculous. But over time, I’ve realized that there is some truth to the statement. It’s a lot easier to come up with a list of qualified male candidates than female ones.

A host of questions

And that sparks a host of questions. Why? And does a leadership gender imbalance matter? Is my board experience unique or commonplace? What do the national trends look like? Do men and women lead differently? How does gender balance in leaders influence organizations and communities? What are the implications for our community-building efforts? 

The Ford Institute for Community Building uses the Tupelo Model to help guide our priorities. The second rung names Leadership Development as a key success factor. We believe that vital rural communities develop in part from a broad base of knowledgeable, skilled and motivated local leaders. 

Our investment in the Ford Institute Leadership Program represents a “call to action.” We hope to see greater numbers of rural leaders making things happen in their communities. 

Many graduates have listened to this call and stepped up to take new or expanded leadership roles. “Bravo!” to each of you who have answered the call. 

A wide spectrum

In recruitment for our leadership classes, we ask local teams to nominate participants, men and women, across a wide age spectrum (from 13 to 103), from all walks of life (public and private sectors, students, retirees, home executives, community volunteers), and ethnic diversity that is reflective of their community. 

We promote gender balance as well. However, a quick scan of our graduates shows a significant gender imbalance: 65 percent women and 35 percent men. This statistic does not reflect the norm across the United States, where numerically men far outpace women in leadership positions. 

A launching point

This imbalance provides a launching point for increasing our understanding of how men and women lead. 

This issue of Community Vitality examines women in leadership and the impact on rural vitality. We’ll look at the demographics, attributes and qualities that are common in women leaders, and we’ll feature stories of dynamic rural leaders. In a future issue, we’ll give equal space to the men.

Meanwhile, I can’t help but wonder if the female leaders stepping up through the Ford Institute Leadership Program and answering our “call to action” are the women who one day will sit with me on the board of that large, local nonprofit organization. We may get a gender-balanced board of directors yet.

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