By Cyndi Doragh, Zone 34 assistant Rotary coordinator and member of the Rotary Club of Fort Myers South, Florida, USA
Nearly three decades ago, I wanted to join Rotary. The first club I tried to join told me they weren’t accepting any more bankers. (In those days, it was common for Rotary clubs to limit the amount of people based on their profession.) A month later, I learned they welcomed a new member – and he was a banker.
I really wanted to be a Rotarian, and I soon found a club that welcomed me with open arms. I have been a proud member for 28 years. During that time though, barriers still exist for women who want to join a Rotary club. Only 23% of our global membership is women! We can do better. We need to be leaders and show our communities that everyone is welcome in Rotary, no matter what.
I am thrilled that my district (6960) is making diversity a priority. We held the first of a four-part speaker series called “Infinite Possibilities: Women in Rotary” in July, which included an inspiring representation of internationally acclaimed Rotary women. More than 1,165 registrants tuned in to listen to Dr. Sylvia Whitlock, the first woman to serve as president of a Rotary club. She was joined by Rotary International Vice President Johrita Solariand and Rotary International Director Valarie Wafer, who served as moderators.
How did this extraordinary membership initiative happen? Darryl Keys, our district governor, learned that women represented 27% of our district’s membership. He wanted to increase our district’s overall membership, and that included inviting more professional women to join. Darryl wanted that statistic to soar in our district, and he asked me to make it happen. Those words were music to my ears!
I immediately reached out to more than a dozen leaders throughout Rotary International and in zones 33/34. Everyone told me that whatever I was doing, they were in. Momentum grew and international speakers from around the globe were joining the cause. We all wanted more women to join our Rotary family! As conversations progressed, “Infinite Possibilities: Women in Rotary” turned from a singular event to a four-part series.
I knew if I wanted the series to be a success, I had to surround myself with “do-ers” – people of action who weren’t looking for notoriety or applause, but were passionate about Rotary and making a difference. I built a strong committee to support this mighty endeavor and every team member committed their time, talent, and treasure to make Infinite Possibilities a success.
We wanted everyone to attend, so we created two separate registration links, one for members and one for non-members, and marketed to each audience appropriately. All that was needed to register was an email address and zip code. Plus, once you registered for one event, you were automatically registered for all four; no need to re-register every time! We reached out to each registrant personally. It was a chance to engage with current members, and introduce Rotary to prospective members. Everyone enjoyed this personal touch, especially those who felt isolated by COVID-19.
With so many of us quarantining due to the pandemic, we learned that many members felt disconnected from their clubs. Instead of promoting the series as a learning event, we called it a member initiative. It was something members could get involved with and support safely from their home.
In addition to listening to Dr. Whitlock “rock the house” with her stories, tenacity, enthusiasm, and genuine personal appeal, we offered attendees a few calls to action. We invited Rotarians to join a new Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Rotary Action Group our district is currently in the process of establishing; we invited registrants to listen to future speakers; and we encouraged members and club leadership to use this series as a tool to engage with prospective members who want to learn more about Rotary.
We are so excited about the rest of our series.
- 28 August – Rotarian Jenny Stotts, hosted by Rotary International Director Peter Kyle and Past District Governor Vanessa Ervin
- 25 September – Past Rotary International Vice President Dean Rohr, hosted by Past Rotary International Director John Smarge and Past District Governor Cyndi Doragh
- 30 October – Rotary International President Nominee Jennifer Jones, hosted by Rotary International Director Stephanie Urchick
We are already planning a second series, “Infinite Possibilities: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion,” which will launch 29 January and run through 30 April 2021. This series will focus exclusively on the diversification of our membership by looking at our community and how we can invite diverse business professionals to join Rotary.
I hope you can join us and learn from these remarkable leaders as we work toward welcoming more women into Rotary.
For more information on how to start your own membership initiative, contact Cyndi Doragh at Cyndi.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor’s Note: Throughout 2020-2021, Rotary will host a webinar series to explore diversity, equity, and inclusion, with topics that range from understanding our own implicit biases to learning how to hold each other accountable. Read more about the sessions that will be offered.