Thursday, May 8, 2008

Nowhere to Grow

As promised, my thoughts on Tuesday's Leaders Who Lunch event, sponsored by Woodhull, on the theme of intergenerational issues among women at work:

Sitting at a table of leaders from various organizations, I was struck once again by the ubiquity of a problem within the organizational structure at many small nonprofits. There are entry-level jobs and director-level jobs, and not much in between. Hence, for many young people who enter small nonprofits, there is nowhere, really, to grow.

I worked at a small, national nonprofit fresh out of college. I was a research assistant. I loved my job and was mentored well. Following the path of many who work the nonprofit circuit, I went back to graduate school for a PhD, thinking I'd like to teach. Once I realized I didn't (want to teach college, that is), I returned to the same nonprofit, by then under new leadership, as a Project Director. And again, I loved my job. But in the end, and to my surprise, I found myself facing the same dilemma as my younger colleagues: nowhere, really, to grow.

As Courtney, Gloria, Kristal, and I also do regularly at our WomenGirlsLadies events, Woodhull's gifted facilitator Karla asked us to think of one thing we'd like to share with our elder--or younger--colleagues about the kinds of generationally-tinged struggles we sometimes face. So here's what I offered, in the context of that safe space:

To my elders in women's organizations:
1. Have a succession plan in the works for the executive director, and start grooming.
2. Make room for us. Some organizations seem to have distinct limits in terms of voices of leadership. If there is room for more, those of us who end up leaving may instead decide to stay, and help the organization grow.
3. Try to operate from a psychology of abundance, rather than one of scarcity. Your staff are not your competition, but allies.

Whew -- pretty feisty for so early in the morning, huh? I just got back from trying a spinning class for the first time in years, which must be giving me the chutzpah to speak my mind.

Gratitude to Woodhull, and again to In Good Company, for a very rich event. Woodhull is running an Intergenerational Leader Retreat up in Ancramdale on May 16-18. Note: I won't be there, but I urge folks to check it out.