“So when we ask “Where are the men?” we must also ask: Have we made a place for them? Have we sought out the men who are hardest to reach and have the most to benefit? Have we been sensitive in our marketing and scheduling? Have we helped them see why leadership matters and provided a compelling case that any costs to family or work are worth it?”
“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.
Perhaps the idea of volunteering one’s time to participate in a “community leadership class” is just not attractive to many men.”
I am a proud graduate of a Ford Institute Leadership Program and vice chair of www.neighborsforkids.org in Lincoln County Oregon… As a matter of “giving back” and being grateful for all the support of my community during my lifetime, I have committed a significant portion of my time during the last 20 years or so to community service. I have and now work with some of the very best men and women leaders who are highly skilled, passionate, and dedicated to making a difference for the greater good. But for the most part, I have been asking the same question, “where are the men?”
I don’t believe men appearing to be “missing in action” in the community service arena has anything to do with the lack of desire or leadership qualities. Men have a strong belief in working to take care of their families, including the younger generation of their own kids challenged with making a go of it in the real world. Some of us have been fortunate enough to retire without a major financial challenge to face for the long term… But we fear this could change anytime. We are not getting any younger either. Nor are we rich… And once you get stuck providing in-kind professional services as a board member of a major non-profit, especially in rural areas, the value of what you do is not calculated in the context of remuneration…we work for free! After you work without any compensation for an extended period of time, it is tough to get folks to pay cash for your professional services… The other downside of the professional services volunteer path is your value added work is often not appreciated or recognized. We humans are conditioned to value a person’s worth on the basis of the pay check or compensation received. Free professional services often does not get anymore recognition of value than “baking cookies” for a fund raising event. And equally important, women professionals can get caught in this value proposition-less volunteer culture the same as men. Even staff members who get paid in a volunteer organization unintentionally treat hard working professional board members at times like we are getting paid to do their job.
Most of us aging boomers who give our time to community service are not rich either. It would be nice to have a little extra pocket change and some value placed on the professional work and leadership we provide to build a sustainable non-profit business enterprise. I know this rant sounds like a lecture to some, but it is important for we dedicated community service volunteers to express our feelings once in while if we a permitted to do so. There is no “free lunch” from my own life experience at the prime age of 67. I believe communities need to take some time to honor and appreciate volunteers a bit more than they do. There seems to be unrealistic expectations of volunteers in my view. On a positive note, I get a great deal of personal and professional satisfaction out of making a difference for my own favorite causes, especially for military families and children. I would only ask that those in community service leadership roles, volunteers or paid staff, should recognize the value of in-kind or “free” professional services so there is a clear reference to the bottom line contribution and the broader success of a non profit business enterprise. I do not believe we do enough to create a culture of value for the many community volunteers who dedicate significant time and in-kind professional services to building “community vitality.” With the highest respect for my professional, dedicated and passionate colleagues of the opposite sex, I believe women are more inclined to volunteer their time to community service and to social work in general as compared to men. Men also have bigger egos to feed than most women and like to get paid for the work they value greatly from long professional careers and “beating the pavement” to succeed. In my opinion, men must make more adjustments to the need for compromise and teamwork than women. Pushing folks around to get things done is not very effective in community service where building social capital is critical. The reality is that volunteering to serve is hard work and stressful. The responsibility is enormous and the stakes are very high. It is also a labor of love when you can make a big difference for children and families in your community. It is not easy to recruit volunteers in general, and even more challenging to find professionals to serve on non-profit boards. When Neighbors for Kids recruits new board members, both men and women in balance, we are very honest about the challenges of community service. Serving in a volunteer leadership role can be the most rewarding job of a lifetime while being totally thankless at the same time. We do this work because we have a strong desire and passion to make a difference in the lives of others. This is the fuel that feeds the soul and a sense of urgency to do something far greater than yourself…
Steve Sparks is a retired information technology sales and marketing executive with over 35 years of industry experience, including a Bachelors’ in Management from St. Mary’s College. His creative outlet is as a non-fiction author, writing about his roots as a post-WWII US Navy military child growing up in the 1950s-1960s.