Two articles, juxtaposed in the Sunday New York Times (9/19/2010) reminded me how times have changed for women in business and philanthropy. Roxanne Rivera, Chief Executive of the Associated Builders and Contractors of New Mexico, described how she built her business and succeeded in the predominantly male oriented construction field. Award winning jewelry designer Judith Ripka wrote about how “hard it was to find a voice in an industry dominated by men.” What struck me was how many comparisons to the world of women’s philanthropy reverberated throughout the narratives.
In the 1970s and 80s, when these pioneering women started their companies, philanthropy was the province of rich white men. To some it still is. But Rivera states, “[i]f you are a woman hesitating to seek a desired career in a traditionally male-centric company, know that the current climate is in your favor. Management is starting to recognize that women can perform as well as men – and that we bring qualities to the table that men often lack.” Ripka remembers that in 1977 women were “few and far between and not taken as seriously. In hindsight, it was a blessing because it caused me to work even harder.”
Today, women around the world are working harder, bringing high energy, new ideas, and innovative ways of effecting change to philanthropy. Candy Lightner founded Mothers Against Drunk Driving in 1980 shortly after her 13 year old daughter was hit by a repeat drunk driving offender. By gathering information, bringing attention to the issue, and focusing on policy and legislative changes, Candy and her team developed a movement against drunk driving. Today MADD has more than a $50 million annual budget.
Sisters Helen LaKelly Hunt and Swanee Hunt are the driving force behind the Women Moving Millions campaign which raised $181 million through 101 gifts of $1 million or more from women philanthropists to create sustainable social change in women’s funds. They exceeded their initial goal by 20 percent and changed how the world sees philanthropy.
Donna Berber started A Glimmer of Hope Foundation with her husband Philip to help the rural poor in Ethiopia lift themselves out of poverty. She had been deeply moved by the images of the Ehtiopian people during the famine in the mid 1980s. Following the sale of the couples’ company to Charles Schwab she guided the development of the social profit enterprise.
Rivera, Ripka, Lightner, Hunt, and Berber are trailblazers, illuminating the path for others to follow. Yet, Rivera reminds us that more is needed. “But remember that many traditions die hard and that prejudices linger in many industries and companies. Only if more women enter these fields will lasting change occur.” The possibilities are great and the opportunities limitless for women’s voices to be heard in philanthropy. Join the conversation today.