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Women's Leadership in NOBCChE: How Far Have We Really Come?

An open letter from Talitha Hampton, NOBCChE Executive Vice-President


At the 2013 conference, we asked a panel of female leaders in NOBCChE about the state of Women's Leadership in NOBCChE 40 years after our founding. What they shared was both infuriating and inspiring. They talked about their frustrations with the lack of gender diversity in the male-dominated NOBCChE leadership and the obvious absence of women during the decision making process. They also talked about the positive changes that have happened and how NOBCChE is a different organization than it was 40 years ago. As I reflect on NOBCChE's history, I want to be clear that I believe the men leading NOBCChE had the best interest of the organization at heart and their contributions have made a lasting impact that has benefited thousands. But I also believe that NOBCChE was not exempt from reflecting the societal norms that existed during those times. NOBCChE and organizations like it can be microcosms of the society that they operate in. In the United States, women have made major strides. From early victories such as the the Equal Pay Act, Roe v. Wade and Title IX to the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, new rights for women have been enshrined into law. Perhaps more importantly, attitudes have changed. And yet, we've still got a long way to go. Women today earn only $0.77 for every dollar paid to men. Only 21 Fortune 500 CEOs are women. The U.S. is one of the only countries on the planet that doesn't guarantee a single day of paid maternity leave. Similar to the U.S., women in NOBCChE have made major strides. In the past 20 years we have had three female presidents, two female board chairs and a number of female board members and committee chairs. Our current vice president and vice chair of the board are female. In 2008, Dr. Sharon Haynie was the first female to receive NOBCChE's highest recognition, the Percy Julian Award. We continue to make progress through the Winifred Burks-Houck awards, our COACh Partnership and our annual NOBCChE Women's Reception. But just like in the U.S., more is needed. We have not had a female chair of the board since 2003 and there has not been a female recipient of the Percy Julian award since 2008. Many of our professional awards are inundated with male nominations. As an organization, NOBCChE is not satisfied with the status quo. At the 2013 conference, we gave ourselves the challenge to think outside of the box. The current state is still very much in the box and it is marked gender. We must do more to change this. What has sustained us for the past 40 years is not sufficient for the next 40 years. So what are we going to do? I do not believe in hope or hoping things get better. The only acceptable option is to plan for things to be better. But we must plan and execute strategies that position us for success. How will we do that?

  • Build our leadership pipeline: NOBCChE commits to establishing a future talent program that strengthens our leadership pipeline. We will work with our partners who have HR expertise to ensure that this program aligns with industry standards, is intentional about inclusiveness and positions the organization to be sustainable for the next 40 years.

  • Strengthen our current programs: We will continue to add rigor to our female programs such as the Winifred Burks-Houck Women's Leadership Award Symposium and our annual women's reception. We will establish a talent and inclusion committee to identify and nominate more NOBCChE women for external awards.

  • Create an expectation of inclusiveness: Finally, I challenge the NOBCChE board, of which I am member, to be deliberate in selection of appointees. This does not mean that all appointees have to be female, but it does mean that diverse candidates (age, race, gender, industry, life experience, etc.) must be considered as a matter of fundamental practice.

What can YOU do?

  • Reach out and make your ideas happen: When you see an opportunity for growth in the organization, step up to the plate and make it happen. The WBH Awards were established because three young women wanted to see a change in NOBCChE.

  • Recognize diverse colleagues: Every year NOBCChE sponsors professional recognition awards. All of us know highly capable females — nominate them, advocate for them and publicize them among your network.

  • Run for office or volunteer for a committee: If you don't step up, then you can expect more of the same.

  • Vote! If you want change, you have the power to vote it in or out. Exercise the fundamental right and power you have as a member of this organization. The NOBCChE leadership serves at the pleasure of the membership.

In 2014, let us focus on being at the table. In the words of Dr. Mae Jemison, "If you are not at the table, then you are on the menu." As a leader of this organization, I am committed to empowering NOBCChE to set the table. Members of NOBCChE, we need you to be there! Let us continue to change the dynamic so that NOBCChE can be a place for empowerment of all people.

Will you join me to help move us forward? Join me for a live tweet discussion on March 31. Tweet me your ideas at @THMayo and include the hashtags #NOBCChE #Moveforward

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