Rotary Clubs – Bad or Good?

From a Women's Point of View

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Rotary Clubs — Good or Bad?

by Joan Perry

Is Rotary, the international service organization with local self-contained clubs — a good thing or a cover up for Bad-Boy behavior? There is a danger when altruism is the veneer for persons being dubbed righteous.

Under the veneer can be — ‘we make up our rules’. We help people on the outside in public view, and hurt people on the inside in private view. All is copasetic in a world of what was originally created as an ole-boys gathering panacea.

Let’s examine this premise. I have some personal experience to share. Is it ‘fair to all concerned?’ — one of Rotary’s organizing principles? Or, is it only ‘fair’ for the male bastion of the Rotary membership?

Rotary has expanded its membership with more women since the early days when I joined in the 80’s. But the numbers are only up 3%, from 10% ten years ago for women. This is a conundrum for Rotary as they wonder why more women don’t join.

And, has the culture accommodated women? This gives us a chance to look at how life goes for women who feel the impact of change — and the struggle to tackle existing male oriented enterprises.

Rotary has provided a veneer for men to associate themselves with altruism and appear to be ‘the good guy’. I don’t think that women get this same benefit. They don’t get a pass on character enabled by the culture of these conveniently altruistic organizations. I saw it in my Father, so I recognize it in structures like Rotary.

In the community, my Father was noble and respected. He was seen to champion the greater good. At home, he would torture all of us. He would engage me to insult my Mother, attack her self worth to keep her in her place, and laugh at her. I knew it was wrong. I had five collapsed lungs by age eighteen from the stress. But I was pinned in between the anger that flew between them.

My Mother was smart and capable with her own business, but demeaned and controlled in these secret ways. I watched her fall apart and wither from the pain. I felt helpless to stop it.

Which is why I can see this same bad posturing in organizations where power is welded, non-profit organizations such as Rotary.

On the face of it, Rotary is stellar. It’s the abdicator of Polio world-wide. The ambassador of missions around the world for better understanding of our sameness and differences; and caretaker of sanitary, medical and economies of the underserved. It is people who can, in action for people who can’t. Admirable, for sure.

But beneath the surface, taking away the veneer, that so well protects the men — what about women? I started a Rotary Club. Under my direction, it was deemed the ‘Best New Rotary Club in Recent Memory’ by the district governance. Great acclaim was showered on my leadership of the Club and I was honored. Was I finally a fixture in this land of altruism?

There was a bad apple in the bunch. A guy in the Club who harassed me in public and private. I was getting divorced at the time so it was a very vulnerable time for me. I suffered with this unwanted sexual advancement. He made up his own rules and wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer from me. The Club members took a ‘hands off’ position.

I filed a 20 page litany of complaint with the District leadership detailing my tortured circumstances. Interesting, there was a woman in the leadership group but that didn’t change the outcome for me in the Club. This was a bastion that she was associated with but apparently she was yet to influence.

Keeping this story short — is the hypocrisy. The same guy that is being ushered in to lead the Rotary District now — the to-be shining face of Rotary — is the same one who threw me out of the Club I founded, and harbored the guy who sexually harassed me. Who can figure? It was his solution of how to solve the controversy.

This isn’t just about my story — it’s the story of women who are belittled, demeaned and made to feel worthless — in a confusing situation of men making it look good on the outside but abusing on the inside. This is an insidious condition of holding down women’s self worth, ability to belong and value to be authentic and heard.

Has anything really changed for women? Yes, with the ‘Me Too’ movement women are speaking up. But we still have to dissolve the institutional bias and altruistic cover of perceived goodness, when women are being stifled and hurt on the inside while they try to belong.

We need to analyze — what has happened that women can now speak up and be heard — and not experience what I did of being thrown out of the Club for taking a risk to speak up for self preservation?

And what of the prevailing institutions, such as Rotary, that still inshrine those who have history of being ugly on the inside and virtuous on the outside? The conditions that still protect some men from fair play?

Hopefully, our voices will deal with this problem too. The problem of this shroud of ‘I’m the good guy’ associated with altruism that persists in diminishing others. It’s a long-standing game that creates a hierarchy. And, it holds our voices down.

Now, it was me. I was the one withering in pain, like my Mother before me. I’d seen this posturing before. I knew that I had something worth saying at the time but I was discounted to worthless. I didn’t like it.

It was painful. The guy who threw me out of the Club for filing a harassment complaint was standing on my laurels to claim ‘I’m the good guy’ and worthy of leadership. Yikes! He had discounted all my accomplishments to claim victory for himself.

It takes courage but we have to openly discuss inequities. Humanitarianism, promoted by Rotary, means safe secure places for humans at home as well as abroad. This man didn’t get shrouded in the cloak of altruism from teamwork — he got there from exploitation.

This time I took action. I was no longer hurt and broken and the victim as I’d witnessed in my Mother’s struggle. Here’s what I had to say to the Rotary leaders:

Clean up your own sandbox if you expect to clean up the world.

Your quest for power through destroying others is exactly the problem, and it starts at home. The glory you want to stand on came from intentionally harming my life and my rights, I’ll have no more of it.

Why is someone who endorses sexual harassment and punishes the victim the public face of an altruistic organization like Rotary? Let’s name it Hypocrisy, and a detriment to women!

Let’s not masquerade ‘good guy’ inside an upstanding organization. Women have claimed a voice, let’s use it to shape organizational structures. We can have great impact.

The Rotary organization is asking itself — now that we have contained Polio world-wide — how do we step in to stop the human trafficking of girls and women? Women and girls make up 96% of victims of trafficking for sexual exploitation, where 20.9 million people are exploited each year, according to ‘Equity Now’.

Let’s gain our power in altruistic organizations, and not be derailed as my Mother was. Let’s recognize the situations that diminish our gifts and do something about breaking the confines. Big things like women being dramatically exploited need our attention — and we’re capable of shaping altruistic organizations like Rotary to meet these demands.

I have my own campaign which is speaking my truth: That the man who condoned and promoted sexual harassment in full view of the organization, under the guise al altruism, should not be the ‘face’ of Rotary in the prominent leadership position.

What’s your campaign to get this world moving in a new direction to a world that you want to live in? You know what they say: There is nothing stronger than a woman when she gets grounded, comes from her heart and makes up her mind! Now’s our time. Pile in! And expect the sisterhood to be the rising tide!

Joan Perry


The Women’s Wealth Model Academy

Joan is a highly accomplished Senior Executive, Entrepreneur, Consultant, Investor, Author, Public Speaker, and Thought Leader. She has 30 years of success in investment banking, trading, options, bonds, alternative investments, capital markets, publishing, higher education, adult learning, financial education, and women’s issues.

Joan advocates for women and wealth as a best-selling author, keynote speaker, writer, teacher, and investor. She is Creator of The Women’s Wealth Model – The Heroine’s Journey to True Wealth; Founder and President of The Women’s Wealth Model Academy; and Creator and Owner of the national authority website for women and money,

Joan is passionate about the path for women to create lives of purpose and contribution by establishing Stability, Authenticity, Expression, and Contribution.  She has authored A Girl Needs Cash (Random House) and Living Proof, Gifts That Came Wrapped in Sandpaper.

A former investment banker, Joan started the first female investment banking firm in the U.S. to underwrite municipal bonds for major governmental issuers; including the Cities of Chicago, San Francisco, and the State of California. Participating in deal structuring and execution for $10M-$200M bond issues, she was responsible for managing billions of dollars overall in the securities markets.

Joan has engaged as a financial coach in the Tony Robbins Wealth Mastery Program, and as a keynote speaker in Harv Eker’s Extreme Wealth Program. She has been tapped for her financial expertise by Glamour, Wired, NBC, CNN, NPR (All Things Considered), Wall Street Journal, Gayle King Show, and others.

As a keynote speaker, she has addressed University of Michigan Women’s Prosperity Summit; University of Arkansas Women’s Alumni Forum; University of Oklahoma Women’s Conference; the Commonwealth Club (National Broadcast); International Rotary Convention; Health Trust Annual Conference, and others.

Joan obtained her MBA in Finance from the Owens School at Vanderbilt University, and her B.A. in Biology from Denison University. She has served on boards and advisory councils; including for Franklin Hospital, NextDoor for Domestic Violence, San Jose Repertory Theatre, West Valley College and Hearts & Hands Animal Rescue.

Woman Wealth Money

The Women’s Wealth Model

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