Local leadership expert Jessica Gendron advises attendees of Indy Chamber women’s event to be proactive

by Shari Finnell, editor/writer, Not-for-profit News

Gender equity in the workplace — whether in for-profit or nonprofit sectors — is still far from a reality, based on the latest reports from various sources.

For example, while women in the nonprofit sector historically have fared better than those working in the for-profit sector, discrepancies still exist based on gender, according to a Nonprofit Quarterly report. For instance, women make up 73 percent of the nonprofit workforce in the United States. Yet, they only represent 20 percent of the CEOs of nonprofits with annual budgets of $50 million and 45 percent of all nonprofit executives.

Another report, “Negotiation and Executive Gender Pay Gaps in Nonprofit Organizations,”
found that executive compensation at nonprofits was 8.9 percent less for women than men when the executives had the option of negotiating their salaries.

Those were the types of gender equity challenges Jessica Gendron of The Center for Leadership Excellence recently discussed during Indy Chambers’ 2023 Women in Business Retreat.

Gendron, one of numerous speakers during the two-day retreat at The Alexander Hotel in Indianapolis, outlined seven female leadership competencies that she compiled after interviewing women executives throughout the nation.

When she asked them what was integral to their success as a female leader, the competencies of self-advocacy, self-awareness, resilience, courage, intuition, communication, and relationships emerged as commonalities. However, she said, self-advocacy ranked at the top of the list.

“Self-advocacy emerged as the most important competency,” she said. “As women, we are taught to be nice, collaborative, and helpful. We will go to war for our friends. But we will not do it for ourselves because it’s considered as being selfish. That’s a behavior that we’ve been conditioned to avoid. There are all these negative connotations about the idea of advocating for yourself.”

Gendron also said this type of work must begin with positions within the workplace, even in situations where it is clear that male leaders far outnumber female leaders. While some women may be tempted to avoid those types of work environments, Gendron pointed out, that is where an impact can be made,

“In order for us to have influence, power, and impact with the decision-making process, we have to be inside those organizations,” she said. “We must be in relationships with those people. It’s an inside job. We have so much influence when we are inside talking to the people who are already making the decisions.”

Women supporting women leads to progress

Gendron’s stance is supported by research that reveals a clear link between women representation on governing boards to the increased likelihood of a nonprofit organization hiring female executives.

In her report, “Scarce as hen’s teeth: Women CEOs in large nonprofits,” author Young-Joo Lee, School of Economic, Political and Policy Sciences, University of Texas at Dallas, found that there was a correlation between the number of women represented on governing boards and the hiring of female CEOs.

Out of 340 human services organizations listed in GuideStar’s database with budgets of $10 million or more, those with a governing board with 30 percent to 50 percent females were more likely to have a female CEO than nonprofit organizations in which women were considerably outnumbered on the governing board.

Gender differences at the root of self-advocacy

During her presentation, Gendron also noted that societal norms and upbringing are also at the root of inequities based on gender.

“Men are conditioned to advocate for themselves from a very young age,” she said. “They will apply for jobs that they are not qualified for because ‘Why not?’”

She went on to stress that people don’t get things that they don’t ask for. “So many times, we think our bosses, partners, and friends are paying attention to what we’re doing and what we need. We think they are reading the signals but they’re not. Guess what? Your boss is trying to get their own pay raise or promotion. Your partner has their own stuff they’re worried about.”

Gendron suggested that women get in the habit of documenting their successes in the workplace to support their requests for a pay raise, promotion, or better working conditions.

Most workplaces, which are frequently led by men, value logic — like facts, reports, and statistics, she noted. “So we’ve got to show the data. Track your successes so that you can successfully advocate for a raise, a promotion, a title change — whatever it is that you’re trying to achieve,” Gendron said.

“If we are not getting the things that we need to have in our careers and our relationships, we have to be willing to speak up and ask for them,” she added. “That is the most crucial competency every single female leader I talked to referenced.”