by Kristen Blessman President and CEO Colorado Women's Chamber of Commerce www.cwcc.org
There are a few statements I hear more often than I’d like when talking to people about the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce (CWCC). “There are too many women’s organizations in Denver. What’s the difference between all of you?” and, “You should partner more, merge and figure out who’s doing what.” While I agree we should work together to meet our market’s needs, I absolutely disagree that there are too many organizations serving women in Colorado.
The latest McKinsey and Company study shows it will take 107 years for women to catch up to where men are in the workplace. As staggering as that statistic is, this means the landscape for women in the workplace is actually getting worse! According to Catalyst, a nonprofit working to build better workplaces for women, only about 5% of CEOs in corporate America and only 26.5% of executives in the S&P 500 are women. For women of color, the numbers are even more dismal.
To top it off, in almost 10 years, the number of women in senior roles in the United States has only increased by 1%. If you ask me, there aren’t enough organizations serving women because if there were, we wouldn’t be seeing these numbers. I started to ponder … nonprofit organizations are often encouraged to partner more, but when it comes to a for-profit organization, they are encouraged to be competitive, develop the best product and let the consumer choose. The company that is the most successful at this ends up on top.
I wonder why, as nonprofits, we don’t think this way. Is it because we’re ultimately serving people and working towards a mission? I believe a competitive marketplace can lead to development of strong programming and be a pathway to innovation. Don’t get me wrong, we still need to partner because the need is so very great, especially when it comes to improving the work landscape for women. But, by introducing some aspects of the for-profit culture into our nonprofit organizations, we can serve more individuals better.
My Experience During the course of my career as the previous CMO of Goodwill and the current President and CEO of the CWCC, I’ve faced the challenge of blending a competitive business culture with cause-based culture and have learned a few lessons along the way.
Lesson 1: An organization whose ultimate goal is to create real and lasting systematic change in a community can have a competitive edge over an organization that lacks a mission of this type.
Lesson 2: In many industries, the more competition you have in a close proximity, the more successful the industry is as a whole. More choices equals more engagement.
The Takeaway While it’s true there have been many positive changes over the past 30 years for women in the workplace, the McKinsey and Company study shows that there’s still change needed. My vision is to place the CWCC at the forefront of this change. We are the place where conversations start and learning and collaboration occur.
I don’t think anyone has the secret sauce yet, but I do believe if we have the conversations, promote the education and get like-minded individuals together, we will begin to see better results. I believe the more organizations we have in our community trying to make lasting change for the advancement of women in business, government, life or any particular cause, the more we’ll chip away at the statistics for women in the workplace.