Studies have shown that women leaders bring a unique set of skills and perspectives to the table, including empathy, collaboration, and inclusivity. Companies with more women in top management positions tend to have higher profitability and better organizational effectiveness. This is because women tend to bring diverse perspectives and approaches to problem-solving, which can lead to more creative and effective solutions.
But despite these strengths, women leaders still face obstacles that their male counterparts do not. For example, women are still underrepresented in leadership roles in many industries, including the nonprofit sector. Although women make up an astounding 73% of the nonprofit workforce, we are still very much the minority in leadership spaces — just 21% of large nonprofit CEOs are women. The fact is we are still the minority.
As we come to the end of Women’s History Month, I’m reflecting on my own journey as a woman leader in the nonprofit sector, and how my experience can have ripple effects far beyond my own career. At Code Nation, where I am the President, we are focused on equipping students, with an emphasis on Black, Latine/x and women youth, in under-resourced high schools with the skills, experiences, and connections that together create access to careers in technology. I have seen firsthand the unique benefits and challenges of being a woman in a leadership role — but I’m hopeful that my work at Code Nation will set up other women to take on leadership roles, too.
I grew up in a household where my parents really believed in serving others and giving what you could when you could. It was almost inevitable that I would end up working in the nonprofit world, even if I didn’t see it coming — and even if I didn’t fully understand some of the challenges I would face as a woman leader. For me, being a woman leader has overall been very rewarding. Nonprofits, in particular, offer opportunities to make a real difference in the lives of others and to build stronger and thriving communities.
Here’s a little known fact about me: I left college early because I didn’t find myself invested in what I was learning. It was only when I started my nonprofit career as a 10-month AmeriCorps member that I was motivated and excited for my future and the prospect that I could make a difference. I ended up staying with the organization for more than 18 years.
At City Year, a member of the AmeriCorps network and one of the largest AmeriCorps programs in the country, I dedicated myself to the service of 350 schools committed to ensuring students stay in school, are engaged, and connected to resources and people that will help them thrive in and out of school. And while I was committed to City Year’s mission and my work, I regularly faced challenges at work as a woman. Many women leaders face the “double bind,” where women are expected to be both assertive and likable, which, as I’ve personally experienced, can be a difficult balancing act. Studies have shown that when women exhibit assertiveness, they are often perceived as abrasive or bossy, while men who exhibit the same behavior are viewed as confident and decisive. Patriarchal norms are so ingrained in many workplaces and it can be hard to spot. But I’m committed to breaking down these barriers and helping other women do so as well.
As a woman leader working for more equitable education, I have the opportunity to mentor and empower the next generation of women leaders, which is one of the reasons I’m so excited for our work at Code Nation. I hope by sharing my own experiences and offering support and guidance to other women both in the schools we serve and among our staff, I can help to build a more equitable and just world for all.
I know what it’s like to be underestimated or dismissed because of my gender, and I try to be especially mindful of this when working with women and girls. I also know what it’s like to juggle multiple responsibilities and to feel like I have to be everything to everyone. This has made me more sensitive to the needs of the people I work with and has helped me to be a better listener and problem-solver.
The challenges I’ve experienced in the past may continue to surface throughout my career. Women still face gender-based discrimination, bias, and underrepresentation in leadership roles. But I truly believe that by using our unique skills, perspectives, and experiences, we can make a real difference in the world. We can help to build more empathetic, collaborative, and inclusive communities that value and respect the contributions of all individuals.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s remember the progress that we have made. But let’s also rededicate ourselves to the work that still needs to be done. Let’s work together to empower the next generation of women leaders and to build a more just and equitable world for all. Let’s lift up the amazing women who have come before us by forging paths and opening doors for those who will come after us.