It is no exaggeration to say that she has stormed into the Rotary world like a breath of fresh air. When Jennifer Jones, the first ever woman president of Rotary walks onto the stage, or even a room, or a large conference hall, you cannot miss her presence. Her broad smile, cheerful demeanour and sparkling eyes tell you a lot about her persona. I have observed her closely in the Rotary fraternity for over six years… oh yes, Rotary News and your editor had engaged President Jennifer in a freewheeling chat at Evanston some seven years ago. The obvious and uppermost question in my mind, for the then RI Director Jennifer Jones, was how long before Rotary sees a woman at its helm… and she had said: “We’ll see an RI woman president in five years”. That naturally became the headline of the interview done in March 2016. Five years later, by 2021 we knew that a woman was going to be at the helm of RI in 2022–23. So she was bang on!
But to me, what she had added while responding to that question was even more important. She had said: “We get asked all the time when will Rotary International see a woman president. But had we put someone in that place just to check a box, it would’ve been terrible not only for Rotary but women as well.” The burden of her song then, as also now, is that while gender is important, Rotary has to look beyond gender… at women who are both qualified and competent to join Rotary. “We do a disservice to ourselves if we go on a campaign and try to fill a certain population. We just have to find the right people who are worthy of our organisation.” You can read our 2016 interview with Jennifer at https://rotarynewsonline.org/well-see-an-ri-woman-president-in-five-years/.
Of course we need qualified and competent women for all leadership positions within Rotary and outside of it. No two ways about that. But the underpinning factor is that even competent and qualified women, in all organisations and all regions of the world, need an enabling environment to excel in their jobs. They need equal opportunities, they need to be evaluated without the lens of prejudice, and they need just a tiny bit of elbow room to bloom in whatever role they are assigned. And this goes not only for women, but for all sections of society who have to be considered for any role or position irrespective of not only their gender, but also colour, creed, community or region. That is exactly where Rotary’s new mantra of DEI — diversity, equity, inclusion — comes into play. In a world that is getting increasingly polarised, the DEI credo holds much more significance than it ever did.
So as Rotary welcomes its first woman president, and a highly qualified and competent one at that, it’s a good time to resolve to really embrace the DEI mantra, with all our hearts and in the truest sense of the word.
Another heartening message from the new president’s stable is her commitment to continuing what the outgoing president Shekhar Mehta had so commendably started and vigorously pursued… the initiative to empower girls and women. Jennifer has reiterated her commitment to keep the focus and headlights on this initiative. When direction comes right from the top, then miracles do happen. The battle for gender equity is a long one, and it needs as many shoulders at the wheel as possible… both male and female.
Let’s wish our new president all the best to make her year a resounding success.