#365take2 — or, A letter without expectation.

Posted by Erin J. Hoppe, Sep 21, 2018

There is so much to write in a blog about female leadership in the nonprofit arts world. This conversation includes so many marginalized communities, which invariably intersect. I can’t possibly do justice, and don’t think anyone expects me to write that manifesto. Except maybe myself. Which is maybe half of the issue at hand. Instead I’ll just share some perspectives and ruminations. I think, organize, and write in bullet points, so there may be some jumping around.

I believe in transparency, especially when such a hot topic is at hand. I’ve been incredibly lucky in my professional and personal life. My experiences in adversity are real, but they are also privileged. I’m white, come from a wonderfully loving home, and am able-bodied. I have generally been surrounded by supportive people—women—family, friends, coworkers. I don’t have a lot of stories about being held back or feeling discrimination, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have them.

The Nonprofit Leadership Workbook for Women notes that while 73% of all nonprofit employees are women, we only account for 45% of nonprofit CEOs. Slightly better than the 5% of female CEOs in the Fortune 500. I was honored to become the executive director of my organization very early in career, well before I was ready. But that’s the thing about women, right? We face challenges head on. We take advantage of opportunities when they arise. We figure it all out as we go. We must. We’re spending our days making the world a better place.

Being a woman in a leadership position today means responsibility: being a role model, being thoughtful, and being more things than our male counterparts have to be. Is that because men are more direct? Is it a bad thing to think so much about a decision? It’s a lot of pressure. I make so many decisions each day I can’t decide what to eat for dinner. Most of the women I know thrive under pressure. Deadlines drive our to-do list. Appointments are carved out of 24 hours. Most women seem to fit 30 hours into a day.

Encouraging others is certainly part of our work. I’ve watched women I’ve worked with and mentored grow past their role and on to the next chapter. Sending bittersweet congratulations. I love them and want them to follow their hearts, interests, and opportunities. But there is always that part of me that yearns for them to stay longer than they should. Being a leader is being able to let go.

When I think about the arts today I think about endless opportunity, endless creativity. Struggles exist, and I’m there with you, raising my hand for injustice, for persistence. And I think about all the things possible today that weren’t in 2008. Or in 1998. It’s actually a bit strange for me to write an optimistic essay. I’ve always found myself rather skeptical and worried. History moves slowly, and it’s odd to think of oneself in the midst of it. I’m ready for the great change, and wonder when I’ll experience the moment when I can say, “This is it, a just world.”

At my organization, 80% of our budget goes to paying employees and contractors. The majority are amazing, strong, passionate women running art galleries, teaching young people, maintaining spreadsheets, communicating value, making value. They are my colleagues, mentors, friends, and support network. I could easily fill 700 words with their names. I think I tell and show them often enough that I appreciate everything they are and do. But it never hurts to say it one more time.

A couple years ago I tried writing #365letters (#eventhoughineverputthemonline). Handwritten postcards to folks in my life. A sort of dying art and internet challenge where you do one thing every day of the year. My Rolodex (ok, Gmail contacts) had more email addresses than home addresses, so I used a lot of work addresses, which just meant brightening a different inbox. I didn’t totally meet my goal. Pro tip: don’t keep an electronic list of your handwritten project—you never know when your phone will die. But I got close to my goal and I got in touch with a lot of people I might not have otherwise. I loved the idea of people getting something in the mail that wasn’t anything with expectation. People still tell me stories about which bird was on their postcard. We ask so much of ourselves, our loved ones, our colleagues. Maybe we can give ourselves and others a break. Maybe I’ll have to make 2019, #365take2.

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