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Women & Nonprofits

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

So, for those of you tracking the Wyoming Legislature and the Special Session that wrapped up last night (with Rep. Stan Blake singing "God Bless America" and Speaker Harshman crying), there was more conversation than expected about nonprofits. Nonprofits came up in two separate meetings of the Minerals Committee (13 men, 1 woman) along with the "Listening Session" (5 men, 1 woman) the Legislature conducted last week. And nonprofits came up again in a late-night move on Friday night in the Senate: In a bid to exclude them, explicitly, from SF1004 a COVID-19 business relief bill.

Women came up exactly as many times as you might have expected. Which is, to say, zero times. (Unless you count President Perkins' offhand comment in the waning hours of the session about how the sole conference committee that was majority female (2 men, 4 women) was also the most effective even as they were handed the most challenging negotiation of the weekend.)

What is surprising to us, upon reflection, is that no one made any association whatsoever between the nonprofit sector and women.

We believe that it is not a coincidence that elected officials elevated for-profits over non-profits when the majority of Wyoming for-profits are populated by men and the majority of non-profits are populated by women.

Writing in the Stanford Social Innovation Review--in a piece aptly titled, "Like the Vacuuming, Nonprofit Work Is Women’s Work"--Kristin Joiner says, "Maybe it’s just a coincidence that leaders of startups in the male-dominated sector get financial support for their ability to develop and execute original ideas, while the leaders of start-ups in the female-dominated sector get financial support for their ability to manage someone else’s idea well. Maybe."

Joiner goes on to say: "I believe it’s likely that the power dynamics at play between the nonprofit and private sectors reflect the gender dynamics of our larger society."

And, they do. They reflect those gender dynamics almost perfectly.

What she means is something that those of us who have spent our careers in the nonprofit sector have experienced, personally, viscerally, and sometimes quite abruptly: We are expected to do more with less, be world-class improvisers, capable of knowing vast amounts about virtually everything, be experts in our field, while also being willing to concede that expertise at a moment's notice. (Often, at the behest of a wealthy board member or donor, and, for that matter, usually one who has no expertise in the organization's area of service. But we digress, even if only slightly.)

We're expected to do the heavy lifting. Address society's ills. Fill in the gaps for government. Remedy the mistakes of businesses. And be grateful all the while. We're expected to be "good girls."

So maybe it also shouldn't be surprising that the Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University says, "Women are 74% of the nonprofit workforce and are often paid 74% or less to do the same job as a man." Women represent only 48 percent of board members and 42 percent of board chairs. And, the nation’s largest nonprofit organizations are run by men. Nearly 80% of all major npo CEOs are male. Only 21 percent of large nonprofit CEOs are women.

And, in spite of accounting for more than 14,000 jobs in Wyoming, more than $1.2B in revenue, and $186M annually in wages (according to this 2016 report from the Wyoming Nonprofit Network), the men in the business sector, the men who sit on nonprofit boards, the men who govern our state, those men don't really see this as *business*. Which is precisely why the nonprofit sector was very nearly *explicitly* excluded from a major business bill.

Because, remember ladies: This isn't "real work" after all. It is more akin to "women's work"--those things we're expected to do and not get paid for. Because, as we like to say in Wyoming, those things just need done.


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