Female domination in Rotary

RotaryBlogger has published a number of posts relating to the apparent gender imbalance within the membership ranks of the organisation which have resulted in some of the site’s highest hits and comments.

So this prompted me to undertake a little bit of formal investigation into the actual gender balance across the various areas of the organisation – both back and front of house – in the hope that it may allow some informed discussion and balance to the common perceptions.

Interestingly my basic findings demonstrate that while there may be issues associated with the membership aspect of Rotary; the fact is that it is a very female dominated organisation behind the scenes with well over three-quarters of our staffing establishment being the females who oil the cogs and keep them turning to support and operate the organisation behind the scenes.

I therefore posed a few questions to the offices on both side of the Atlantic and came up with some interesting results.

First of all, the information received from Rotary in Britain and Ireland was returned reasonably quickly. However, I waited substantially longer to receive a response from Rotary International headquarters on the basis that they did not hold the information I was seeking and therefore had to do a bespoke search (for which I was obviously very grateful).

The gender balance behind the scenes is heavily weighted towards females 

Image: Seattle Municipal ArchivesBy CC

The first question I asked was the ‘old chestnut’ of male to female split in the membership of the organisation.

The response from RIBI stated it was around the 18% figure where as the American HQ said they did not maintain records of gender and didn’t ask for it on any of their membership application forms.

I followed up by asking what the highest office held by a female in the organisation. Nan McCreadie was the first ever female President of Rotary in Britain and Ireland when she took up post in 2013 so in effect a female has held the highest office available in these islands. However, in the worldwide organisation it appears to be a very different story. I was informed that there are two female Board members (out of 20) albeit that Rotary.org states that there are actually three. Regardless, in the worldwide organisation it works out at around 15% – which is actually reasonably reflective of the total membership.

I was also informed that there is one female Rotary International Trustee, however again this is contrary to the information on Rotary.org which demonstrates no females on the Board, chaired by Past RI President John Kenny from the Rotary Club of Grangemouth.

I then asked about females holding other offices. On both sides of the atlantic I wasn’t supplied the information but was directed to the various websites to undertake my own research (on the proviso it wasn’t used for marketing purposes).  Therefore my findings demonstrated that in Evanton HQ there appears to be no females holding chairmanships . Whereas Rotary in the British Isles has two female Chairs out of around 20 committees – as well as a number of female committee members therein.

Moving behind the scenes to the ‘paid staff’ the General Secretary for the worldwide organisation John Hewko is obviously male, whereas the female Amanda Watkin heads up the same role in RIBI.

The total number of staff employed at Rotary International Headquarters in EvanstonImage: Tilo Erwinby CC

When moving to the general staff structures on this side of the Atlantic there is 78% female staff in a total establishment of 18 in Alcester. Whereas from a staff of 509 in HQ in the states around two-thirds are female. So looking at staffing across the two offices it seems that we only have around 15% of those running the organisation who are male.

So with a slightly non-scientific irony it seems that the percentage of male to female Rotarians sits at around the same ratio of female to males who are actually paid to run the organisation. Why? I’ll leave that up to you to decide.

But to those who may claim to see Rotary as an organisation that is a misogynistic, male dominated, boys club – I think this blog demonstrates something slightly more positive. In actuality, some may argue that in the modern working world a priority for the organisation is to redress the gender balance in the staff operating the organisational offices. My view is that where employment is involved, it should always be gender neutral with the job being offered to the applicant who best meets the role criteria.

So in all honesty, no real surprises in the information pulled together.

However, what did surprise me was the fact the information was not at hand and question whether a national press reporter would have been willing to wait the time RotaryBlogger did for the information. I doubt it, which is dangerous as it leaves the reporter to write their ‘piece’ with no statistical information provided by the worldwide organisation.

However, for me the biggest surprise is that the organisation has over 500 staff employed in the world-wide headquarters. I’m sure a figure that will surprise many of the regular readers of RotaryBlogger. Taking into account generic figures generally supplied; it means in round terms one member of staff in the US services around 2,500 members – whereas in RIBI they are allocated 3,000 members each.

Good value for money for the Rotarians in these islands? On the above basis, it would seem so.

5 thoughts on “Female domination in Rotary

  1. says:

    I have to give a plug for the RI Archives staff in Evanston.
    As the “Global History webmaster” for Rotary Global History Fellowship for a period of 8 years, the staff in the archives were amazingly helpful, efficient and professional; female every one.
    Apparently drastically understaffed, about 3 ladies attended to all enquiries from around the world relating to information and documents on matters of RI history.
    I recall their helping me end a 75 year old debate on what was the first club to be officially formed in Malaysia. A gap of only a few weeks between the first and second, the final proof caused some short term animosity towards me, ending only with the Bell being sent to my (ex) club a year or 2 later.

  2. Sue Wilson says:

    I am afraid I do not see the conclusion of this research as ‘positive’ for women! I think it is actually ‘typical’! I think that if one was to look at how many women work at St.Andrews Golf club as waitresses,barmaids,secretaries and administrators one would find they are disproportionate to the fact that no members are women! We are just about to have a vote as I understand it as to whether women can join the club! Women always work behind the scenes of organisations! They often ‘oil the wheels’ but are not adequately recognised for this work! I would not say that this is anything to celebrate!

  3. Chris Garner says:

    It is simplistic to assume the RI staff just service the US. They service all 1.2 million Rotarians worldwide, INCLUDING some aspects of the 4% who reside in RIBI. RIBI staff do a great job, but they do not cover all the things that are provided by RI. There are RI staff in offices around the world who provide a similar service to that provided by RIBI. They are all a particularly talented group of professionals, with a level of tolerance (of us volunteers) that we would do well to emulate.

    1. Thanks for reading and commenting Chris. I agree with all you say – and if you look at the figures quoted, the calculations use the numbers you suggest, at the same reflecting an assumption that all RIBI Rotarians were also included in full in the RI figures as well, as you are right that RI also service the Rotarians in the UK. That said, from my understanding – the same reciprocal arrangement does not exist and RIBI purely work with Rotarians in Britain and RoI.

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