“In every decision you make, in every strategy you make, ask yourself a question: Where are girls?”
This is a statement from one of The With and For Girls Collective’s teenage activists, quoted in an article for Inside Philanthropy, and it rings true for philanthropic organizations around the world.
The growing influence of women on philanthropy is starting to draw attention, in the best possible ways. As more women work together to enact true social change, and as more female pioneers lead the way toward a more gender-equal future, mainstream media outlets are beginning to observe and comment on the trend.
While women fill most of the shoes in ballet,
leadership positions are still dominated by men, especially in choreography and
artistic direction roles. A nonprofit called the Dance Data Project (DDP) aims
to help more women in dance keep up to date with choreographic opportunities
and ascend the ballet leadership ladder. With this goal in mind, in April 2019,
DDP released a report on contemporary
opportunities in choreography, along with monthly spreadsheets and calendar
reminders of global deadlines. Earlier in 2019, it also published research on salary by gender for
leaders in ballet, finding notable imbalances in favor of men, especially in
Good news for women in sports: for the first time ever, the Augusta National golf tournaments included women, in the form of the first Augusta National Women’s Amateur event. Finally, one of the oldest and most revered golf courses in America allowed women to officially compete on its greens.
Teen girls are becoming movers and shakers across the globe in areas like gun violence, environmental activism, and gender equality, as well as advocacy for inclusiveness and systems change of all kinds.
And rather than simply accepting the hands they’ve been dealt, teen girls and young women are taking the lead to change their lives and the lives of those around them. A Swedish teen activist, Greta Thunberg, has recently made waves and garnered well-deserved media attention for her work around climate change. She has protested outside of the Swedish parliament and has spoken about the need to protect the environment for future generations at Davos and the United Nations. Thunberg has also inspired others her age, mobilizing school-based climate change protests in Sweden and worldwide. She was recently nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, and stands to be the youngest recipient since Malala Yousafzai if she wins.
On March 8th, Girls Who Code announced the biggest philanthropic commitment in their organization’s history — a $3 million endowment from Walmart. The funds will go toward Girls Who Code programs across the U.S., supporting girls and college-age women as they work to join the tech talent pipeline.
Founded in 2012, Girls Who Code is an organization dedicated to closing the gap between women and technology-focused careers. Through workshops, Summer Immersion Programs, clubs, and College Loops (networks for college-age women studying computer science), Girls Who Code connects girls in underserved areas with technology education.
Increasing women’s participation in portfolio management and executive leadership is key not just to the financial world, but society as a whole. Investment professionals are charged with making major decisions on behalf of venture capital and private equity firms, as well as managing funds invested in by corporations, governments, pension funds, endowments, foundations and non-profits.
One organization heavily involved in correcting this problem is Girls Who Invest (GWI). GWI aims to increase the number of women in asset management and finance, fields where females are highly underrepresented. To help in its efforts to recruit more young women into the fund-management pipeline, GWI recently received $1.5 million in funding from the venture capital and private-equity firm Vista Equity Partners.
The new program — called Pre-G3: The Elsevier Foundation Data Analytics Preparatory Program for Girls — will introduce underserved and low-income girls to data analytics, boosting enrollment in Girls Inc.’s continuing high school courses “by improving [girls’] core skills and confidence in their ability to comprehend the lessons and succeed in the coursework.”
Do major league sports leaders have a responsibility to model respect for women in everything they do? This question is fresh on the minds of many due to Robert Kraft, philanthropist and owner of the New England Patriots, being charged with two counts of soliciting a prostitute in Florida, where he was allegedly engaging in sex acts with women at Orchids of Asia Salon.
Through his philanthropy, Robert Kraft has funded initiatives specifically aimed at ending sexual exploitation of women and girls. USA Today reports that Kraft gave $100,000 in 2015 to My Life, My Choice, a Boston-based organization that works on ending child sex trafficking. Some might ask how the same man can be both perpetrating sexual exploitation and funding initiatives to end it.
“Funny Girls is a philanthropic investment in building the pipeline for female leadership,” says Jenny Raymond, of the Harnisch Foundation’s (HF) program employing improv techniques to build girls’ leadership skills.
Raymond, who is HF Executive Director, and Carla Blumenthal, Funny Girls Program Manager, spoke to me by phone from the HF offices in New York.
It’s an auspicious time for a program devoted to building the next generation of female leaders as 2018 saw a historic number of diverse women elected to political office. “That didn’t happen overnight. It was brewing for a long time,” says Raymond, who sees Funny Girls as a tool to build on these gains.
Programs fostering self-esteem and leadership skills in girls are not uncommon. What is unusual is the use of improv as the tool to achieve these ends. Funny Girls is not trying to develop comedians or actors: the participants are diverse groups of eight to thirteen-year old girls enrolled in after-school programs with a social justice focus. The improv methods are used to cultivate core leadership skills, particularly in low-income populations typically lacking opportunities for such development. “It’s about getting girls to recognize that they have a voice and deserve a seat at the table,” says Raymond.
The HF was founded in 1998 and its mission is to create a “fair, equitable and inclusive world.” It’s angle: empowering girls and women, particularly through storytelling, which can include everything from supporting women-centered film-making, TED Fellows and journalism, to leadership summits, coaching and social justice initiatives.
Funny Girls was developed in 2015 and its name (“it’s fun, it’s funny, it’s about girls,” says Raymond) came from a brain-storming session between Raymond and HF Founder and President Ruth Ann Harnisch. The Foundation looked at Stanford and M.I.T. executive training programs to see what particular challenges women were facing, and how they were being addressed. Women and girls face hurdles including boldness being reduced to “bossiness,” and their authorship of ideas being challenged. Working with experts in leadership curriculum development, Harnisch and Raymond chose specific leadership skills that overlapped with the main tenets of improv comedy, and built a curriculum for girls based on leadership, improv and creative movement.
While leadership can be one of those “I know it when I see it” attributes, the five key concepts of self-awareness (understanding one’s own perceptions of self, and how one might be perceived by others), learning agility (responding quickly and sharing one’s own insights), collaboration (prioritizing a goal and working together to meet it), empathy (recognizing others’ emotions), and resiliency (employing multiple strategies and learning from mistakes) are as good a place to start as any.
“These five skills have been a fantastic marriage with improv,” says Raymond. Funny Girls partnered with NYC’s Magnet Theater and the Pilobolus dance company to develop the curriculum. Pilobolus emphasizes collaboration in movement, a perfect fit with Funny Girls says Raymond. The attraction to Magnet was simple, “We observed all of the local improv companies and liked them the best.” The “story aspect” is key, Raymond says, “Magnet is very focused on developing a character; that is the tenor we wanted to represent in our curriculum.”
The eleven-session Funny Girls program is now up and running and has six partners, all of them after-school programs with a social justice focus. “We train the instructors, who are drawn from the organizations we work with,” says Blumenthal. Each instructor receives 17 hours of training in combining leadership skills with improv. “We don’t do it for them,” says Blumenthal, “the instructors go back to their organization and run the program.”
Blumenthal says one program goal is to instill a “growth mindset” in the girls, and to have them explore their own definition of leadership. This is vital as different individuals, and cultures, have varying conceptions of what constitutes leadership. One improv concept that is valuable in this area is “yes, and …,” in which a participant accepts what someone else has said, and then expands on it. This encourages creativity, collaboration and open-mindedness.
Blumenthal also describes an improv game targeting resiliency in which one girl is a dolphin trainer, and another girl a dolphin. The trainer thinks of a gesture to teach the dolphin and tries to impart that lesson without using words. The dolphin-girl must figure out the gesture and perform it. The exercise can be both hilarious and frustrating, and take five minutes or more to complete. “By the end they embody resiliency – the girls had to try a lot of strategies to get where they needed,” says Blumenthal.
Funny Girls’ participants predominantly hail from communities of color in New York City (and one program in Richmond, Virginia). “The instructor brings their organization’s identity to the program,” says Raymond, and adds, “the instructor may know youth development, and certainly knows her own community, but likely not improv.” Funny Girls has proved to be a good fit with New York City after-school programs, as the city’s Department of Education mandates that programs receiving city funding incorporate leadership training in their curriculum.
The Funny Girls program was piloted in 2016 in three NYC schools, and currently has six partners:
The program concludes with a showcase that demonstrates games tied to leadership skills. “The girls make presentations in which they explain leadership skills and how they embody them in action,” says Blumenthal.
“Funny Girls is part of the continuum of work the Foundation has done from the beginning,” says Raymond. The Foundation has worked with thousands of women since its inception in 1998, and its leadership initiatives have included VoteRunLead and The OpEd Project, among other programs designed to “get women’s voices out into the world.” These efforts have been successful; still, “Countless women have told me,” says Raymond, “‘I wish there had been an opportunity when I was younger to develop leadership skills.’”
“We see a thirty percent drop in self-confidence among girls between ages eight to fourteen,” says Raymond. She notes that by the time they become teenagers, many girls stop raising their hand in class because they fear social repercussions for doing so; boys typically are not burdened by this fear.
“It is such a fragile time in the development of self,” Raymond notes, citing statistics from the Girl Scout Research Institute indicating that four-fifths of girls don’t believe they have the skills to be a leader. That’s the bad news. The good news: nine tenths of girls believe that leadership skills can be taught. “We are trying to shift girls’ perceptions of themselves as leaders so that they can use that mindset to engage civically, in the work place and in the home,” says Raymond. “We are arming our girls with self-confidence, whatever direction they ultimately head in.”
The recent elections saw a wave of women running for, and being elected to, political office. Naturally, not all girls are interested in the political sphere, nor is Funny Girls trying to push them in that direction. Leadership skills are transferable across a range of professions and interpersonal situations. “The girls are talking about leadership and breaking it down to see what skills women leaders have, whether they are Hilary Clinton or Beyoncé,” says Program Manager Carla Blumenthal.
Funny Girls is a new program and is limited in scale, with only a half-dozen participating organizations at present, all of which receive a grant to run the program, and some supplemental funds for the organization itself. Raymond notes that HF chooses its Funny Girls partners carefully, “Not all organizations need us, or are a good fit,” she says. There must be buy-in from the organization, and the program needs to fill an unmet need.
Funny Girls is off to a strong start and has a format that could be widely replicated. “I’d love to take this to hundreds of organizations,” says Raymond, “but I can’t give that level of support at this point.” HF is a private foundation, and Raymond notes, “We are in the enviable position of concentrating on programming, not fundraising.” The downside is that program budgets are limited.
What will be interesting to see in years to come is how “graduates” fare. The premise, and the promise, is intriguing, but will Funny Girls really build leadership skills? Raymond acknowledges the institutional and cultural barriers women face in exercising leadership, but maintains that one of the best ways to develop women as leaders is by starting when they are still girls, and using unique programming to develop core skills which can be built on throughout a lifetime.
The phenomenon of watching others do something before we do it ourselves: it’s a process that seems hard-wired into humans. And in fact, prior research from the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy shows that when we see others giving to charity, we are more inclined to engage in that same giving behavior ourselves.
Now, new research from the Women’s Philanthropy Institute investigates how the process of observing giving behavior in others plays out differently for men and women, particularly when they are considering making a donation to women and girls.
Takeaway for Fundraisers: Men Need to See Men Giving
This new research, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, uncovered a significant gender difference: women only need to see other women as role models in order to be influenced toward gender equality giving, whereas men need to see both men and women as role models in order to be influenced toward the behavior.
“Women’s and girls’ organizations and fundraisers in general can use this research to take concrete action to increase their fundraising,” said Debra J. Mesch, Ph.D., the Eileen Lamb O’Gara Chair in Women’s Philanthropy at the Indiana University Lilly Family School of Philanthropy.
One solution to this problem: showcase men giving to women’s and girls’ causes alongside women. This research suggests that fundraising professionals can potentially reach more male donors by featuring testimonials and donor stories from men about their decision to fund women’s and girls’ causes.
The study also notes that fundraisers across philanthropy would do well to apply this finding to any other group of donors that may not be giving to their fullest capacity. The research validates that testimonials and donor spotlights on a diverse range of givers may help more people envision themselves as givers to any cause. “Apply this ‘visibility’ strategy to any group that typically gives less frequently to your organization,” advises the infographic that accompanies the report.
Implications for Philanthropy Media: Showcase Diverse Givers of All Genders and Backgrounds
This study affirms that having visible role models is key for any social movement. As more stories of gender equality giving make it into the mainstream media, more people are able to find role models to envision themselves giving in this way. While publishers in the philanthropy sector like The Chronicle of Philanthropy, Stanford Social Innovation Review, and Inside Philanthropy all cover gender equality giving, it would be helpful if they shared more stories that feature a wider range of givers to gender equality, so that the public has more examples of how different people arrive at gender equality giving as a priority.
Takeaway for Feminist Philanthropy Media (Like Us!): Keep Sharing Stories of Gender Equality Giving
The reports speaks to the role that social media sites like Facebook and crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe play in increasing the visibility of people giving. We here at Philanthropy Women would argue that another important part of the landscape for social visibility and discourse around feminist philanthropy is specialized publishing on the subject. Many philanthropy media sites feature stories of gender equality giving, but Philanthropy Women is the only publication specifically dedicated to profiling this uniquely powerful work.