Monday, 16 March 2015

A perspective on Diversity

- By Simon Manning, District Governor Elect in District 9940, NZ

We have been told to ensure that our clubs are diverse in their makeup; sometimes this is easier said than done. This is but one of the challenges for all of us to continually do, for our clubs and for Rotary International to achieve on a daily basis.
I was asked to write this article as being an incoming District Governor for the 2015-2016 Rotary year who is openly gay. I was a bit surprised because yes, I am openly gay, but rarely think of my sexuality as a big thing. It always surprises me when people are brave enough to refer to my sexuality as I really don’t give it much thought. Yes it is a part of who I am, but it is only one part, and probably not most important part either.
I operate under simple principles and values which as a child were taught to me by my parents; those were to always tell the truth, and to consider the feelings of others before I open my mouth. Mum and Dad didn’t know about the Four Way Test, but they did a pretty good job in summing up the values of Rotary. They were the first leaders I encountered in my life.
Like most Rotarians, I joined Rotary to be part of an organisation that makes a difference in the lives of those in my community, and indeed in communities all around the world. Maybe I do bring an aspect which is different, but then we all have different gifts to share.
I live in a community where our Rotary club doesn’t completely reflect the community we are serving, so our challenge is to see how we can encourage those of different race, sex and culture to join us as we try to make a difference in the world. Our club like many will understand better the needs of the community we serve if we embrace other cultures, sexes and races. In fact our ability to make a difference will be vastly improved if we can achieve this in all of our clubs worldwide.
It is my belief that the biggest barrier is our traditions. They are so old fashioned that those who enter through the doors of our clubs cannot relate to how we run our meetings. Our meetings look very odd to non-Rotarians. Clubs in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific have to change now or they will continue to decline.
I have no doubt that we as Rotarians have the best intentions and we do good in our community, but we fail to connect to the people we are trying to attract, and many clubs in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific Islands have failed to change in a way that is attractive to new members.
On first glance the Rotary International Board is diverse, but our organisation needs to have a women president and this needs to happen as Dame Edna would say “quick sticks”.
While Rotary International has most certainly embraced the race and culture aspect of diversity, it needs to sort the gender balance out. My message is to the Board of Rotary International – Get a woman president and do it now because until this happens, Rotary will always be seen as a male organisation with some women members, which is what our image says to non-Rotarians.
There are many districts in Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific that are making the changes required, but my fear is that the change is far too slow.
Diversity is not something to avoid, it is something to seek out. Change isn’t something to fear, it is something to embrace. If we get diversity and change in harmony, just watch the growth of a Rotary, a better Rotary, a more relevant Rotary and “What a Gift to the World” that will be.
I am proud to be a part of Rotary, but I want a new vibrant Rotary. Do you?

DGsE Simon Manning (9940) and Jennie Herring (9920) prior to the New Zealander’s stage performance at International Assembly in San Diego, USA

Included in May
Rotary Down Under