President Hannah's March Message.
 
 
In March, we celebrate both Women’s History Month as well as Santa Barbara Sunrise Rotary’s founding on March 6, 1985. Although I will always be grateful to those who founded our club, I cannot overlook that none of our charter members are women because at the time, Rotary International (RI) did not allow women to become Rotarians. 
 
Though proposals to admit women members came up to RI previously, it wasn’t until the Supreme Court made a unanimous decision in 1987, after a lengthy court battle, that clubs began allowing women. Sylvia Whitlock of the Rotary Club of Duarte was elected the first female Club President that June. RI officially changed their constitution to reflect the decision in 1989.
 
For me, it can be embarrassing and a bit shameful to acknowledge to peers and potential members that nearly 70 years after white women were granted the right to vote (unfortunately, this right for women of color came much later), they were still not allowed to fully participate in the world’s oldest service organization.
 
Rotary’s longevity can be both one of its greatest accomplishments and sources of pride while at the same time contributing to slow progress in chipping away at a culture and belief system reminiscent of its 1906 founding.
 
Even now, women make up only about 23 percent of Rotarians worldwide. In North America, that number is a bit higher - 32 percent. As of July 1, 2018 , only 23 percent of women were in Rotary leadership at the club level and one in four clubs had female presidents.
 
So why does a young woman like me stay involved despite these statistics
 
The majority of my interaction with Rotary is through our Santa Barbara Sunrise Rotary Club and it’s clear that our club supports female involvement and leadership. Our club is almost exactly 50/50 when it comes to our member gender ratio. Eight of our 12 board members this year are female. I am the club’s tenth female president and next year, we will again have a woman at the helm.  
 
I also see progress in how Rotary International is slowly steering the ship toward a culture of more diversity, equity and inclusion. Starting July 1, Jennifer Jones will become Rotary International’s first-ever female president. Additionally, RI seems to be strengthening their commitment to diversity in recent years.
 
I believe Rotary is at its best when our clubs represent our communities, and our communities are half female. So how can you as an individual member continue to support women in Rotary? Here are two ways:
 
Be intentional about supporting participation among women. That may look like inviting female friends to Rotary, seeking out female voices for club speakers, mentoring female members, and speaking up when you notice women being interrupted or talked down to at meetings.
 
Shift your perspective about what it means to be a leader. We may know intellectually that women are capable of being great leaders, but culturally ingrained bias might still be getting in the way. Ask if your mindset may be creating barriers for women and work toward noticing and challenging those thoughts in your day-to-day life.  
 
We all have power over whether Rotary is an organization that provides a place for everyone to serve, to lead, and to feel welcome. Let’s continue to make Rotary a place where women can contribute and thrive.