DG Mo, Past Rotary Foundation Trustee Dean Rohrs & the 1st Female Rotary Club President Sylvia Whitlock
When will Rotary have a female president?
 
It is a question that Rotarians ask a lot.  As a female District Governor, it seems that I get asked the question even more often.
 
I am always happy to be asked when Rotary International will name a female president.  It is exciting that Rotarians want to see that happen.   With International Women’s Day in March, this seems like a natural time to address the issue.
 
There is no shadowy international conspiracy to ensure that only Rotarians with a Y chromosome take on the Rotary International presidency.
 
It takes time to gather the credentials to become an international president.  There have been several female candidates who have already put their names forward.  These women have interviewed for the position but have not been selected.  The important note is that they are applying.  Women, just like men, have to be ready to do the work and take the roles necessary to gain the training and experience expected.
Think of all the amazing women you know in your Rotary Club.  Think what great international presidents they would make.  Now consider the steps. 
 
First you have to be willing to serve as Rotary Club President.
 
Second you need to apply to be District Governor.  One of the requirements is that you have been a Rotarian for a minimum of seven years to be District Governor.  Once you are selected, you complete your five years of service and training as DGD, DGN, DGE, DG and IPDG you are ready to move forward.  You are now at a minimum of 13 years.
 
The third step is to volunteer at the Zone level of Rotary as a regional leader.  This is a minimum of 2 years, but is often more, since there are many roles to fill for membership, public image, Rotary Foundation and training.  You are now at a minimum of 15 years, but there are often interim positions, such as volunteering with the President Elect Training operating committee.
 
Once you have the necessary experience, you can apply to be a Zone Director.  There are 34 Zones in Rotary International and a director represents a pair of zones for a two year term, so there are 17  director positions on the board of Rotary International.  Our district is part of Zone 27.  For the 2020-2021 year the director was selected from candidates in Zone 26.  The next year the candidates will come from Zone 27.  Depending on your timing, you might have to wait 4 years from the time you qualify to be able to submit your name as a director.  If you are not selected the first time, you have to wait at least 2 years to apply again.  Directors are selected 2 years prior to taking office.
 
There are 14 Districts in Zone 27 which means there should be a good selection of both female and male Rotarians to apply for the director role. The candidate selected from Zone 27 was a woman - Johrita Solari.
 
Fourth step, once you have served as a Director, you can apply to be Rotary International President.
 
Its as easy as 1 – 2 – 3= 4 – 5.   Except I have not mentioned all the other attributes that give value to a candidate.  For instance, many applicants have helped organize international conventions or international presidential workshops.  Other candidates have served not only as an RI Director but also as a trustee of the Rotary Foundation.  Some have led major Global projects.  The more experience prospects have the greater the possibility they will be selected to become RI President.
 
The minimum time to be able to apply to become Rotary International president? 19 years.  The number of years that women have been in Rotary?  33.  The number of women who were in Rotary for the first 10 years?  Minimal.  The number of women in Rotary outside of North America?  Not as many as there should be.  The fact that we are close to having a woman as president of Rotary International is close to a miracle.
 
I think the number of influential women I have met in Rotary is a sign of how brilliant this organization is.  We attract women like Sylvia Whitlock.  In 1987 Dr. Whitlock became the first woman Rotary Club President.  You can find her story in a book title “Women Also Serve” via Amazon. I had the privilege of meeting Sylvia this year and she is as dynamic a personality as I imagined.
 
There are other leaders like Carolyn Jones who joined Rotary in 1987 and went on to become Governor of District 5010.  At that time District 5010 was all of Alaska, Russia to the Ural Mountains and a little piece of Canada (Yukon Territories).  Carolyn completed a four-year term in 2009 as a Trustee of the Board of Directors of the Rotary Foundation. I worked with Carolyn as part of the team developing the curriculum for President Elect Training and was amazed to learn she had visited Russia 33 times as a Rotarian.  I am not sure if she was prouder of her law career or her fishing skills.  I think of her every year on January 9th as we celebrate the same birthday.
 
I could go on and on naming one incredible woman after another who is a great Rotary leader.  Take the time to Google names like Jennifer Jones, Johrita Solari, Brenda Cressey, Nan McCreadie, Dean Rohrs, and many others who would qualify to become our next international president. 
 
The resounding comment they have in common, perhaps worded a little differently by each, but the same end message is the same “They don’t want to be selected because they are a woman – they want to be selected because they are the best person for the job.”
 

I still have my fingers crossed we will see a female Rotary International President serving for 2022 – 2023.