Liza Yntema’s Feminist Giving Featured in Sheridan Road

Sheridan Road, a “luxury and lifestyle” magazine out of Chicago that focuses on North Shore activities, did a recent feature of Elizabeth “Liza” Yntema, whose work in dance equity we have covered here at Philanthropy Women. Liza has also participated in our Feminist Giving In Real Life (F-GIRL) series.

Elizabeth “Liza” Yntema was recently profiled by Sheridan Road, showcasing her gender lens dance philanthropy . (Image credit: Portrait Photography by Robin Subar)

The wonderful thing about this interview, written by Allison Duncan, is how effortlessly it moves through different layers of experience as we come to understand the subject’s world view. The article starts with a foray into Liza’s family history of accused Salem witches, early women scientists, and Depression-era bankers with integrity. From the article:

The North Shore’s Elizabeth “Liza” Yntema descends from a storied line of relatives best described as, Yntema tells it, “life-long troublemakers.” Take Yntema’s ancestor John Proctor, who was hung as a witch in Salem. Yntema notes that the family maintains it was a “land dispute.” Or her grandmother Jean Busey, an early environmental and civil rights activist who referred to herself as a suffragist, and very rare for the times, graduated from the University of Illinois in 1920 with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry.

One of the stories that most dominated Yntema’s childhood, however, stems from her great grandfather, who helped found the Busey Bank in Champaign-Urbana. Prior to the Great Depression, he paid out his depositors on at least three occasions during financial panics. “I was told that story repeatedly growing up as a reminder of what integrity looks like,” says Yntema.

Later generations will likely hear tales of innate integrity within Yntema herself. When we were first introduced to Yntema for her 2017 profile in Sheridan Road, we learned of her commitment to philanthropy and dogged pursuit of gender equity, especially in the arts community. She has been a long-time supporter of organizations from the Chicago Park District, the Joffrey Ballet, and Hubbard Street Dance Company, to the Harris and Auditorium Theaters, and Holy Trinity High School. She also currently serves on the Board of WTTW, the Chicago Shakespeare Theater, and the Advisory Council for the Trust for Public Land. Yntema is also a sponsor of the ABT Women’s Movement program, a multi year initiative to support women in choreography.

There was a lot covered there, but I was just gliding along, feeling grateful that Liza has been willing to bear the difficult cross of advocating for gender equality in dance. Then, the story moves into more upsetting territory: statistics about the lack of pay and leadership opportunities for women in dance. Discussing one of the reports produced by Dance Data Project, the nonprofit started by Yntema, Duncan writes:

The new report shows women earn only an average of 63 cents for every dollar their male counterparts receive as artistic directors. In addition to being significantly underpaid compared to men, DDP’s updated study demonstrates that women are underrepresented in artistic leadership, holding only 25 percent of positions within the largest 50 companies. That number drops to 10 percent for the biggest ballet companies, who together account for 62 percent of the overall top 50 company combined budgets.

Those are some troubling numbers, to say the least, especially when you think of how ballet starts out heavily dominated by girls learning the art form as children.

Armed with research, Yntema and her allies are gradually chipping away at the male domination in the dance world, a world likely to be facing more uphill battles for mere survival since COVID.

I’ll let you read the rest of the article here, but I want to call attention to one more aspect of the piece: how Liza shares her interview space with colleagues. From my reading, it seems this tendency to share the spotlight is more prevalent in women than men (need some research on that!) and speaks to the way women conceptualize their identity more relationally. It may seem small, but this is actually an important departure from hierarchical gender norms. Situating yourself in your community when speaking of your experience also syncs up well with research on the added value of women’s leadership in business, where they are more likely to give credit to others for success.


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Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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