By Nicole Sukenis
Professional Development Chair for YNPN of OKC
Who Narrates the World? This is the question that was posed to the audience at a recent training hosted by the Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits, “Claim Your Expertise: A Breakfast Event with Zeba Khan.” There were two main take-aways that I believe are applicable to my professional life with YNPN of OKC and Infant Crisis Services. You can read about the first one here.
In the beginning, Ms. Khan showed the demographic breakdown of people who write op-eds (opinion editorials, for those of us not familiar with the term). You probably won’t be surprised to hear the majority of all op-eds are published by white males. Women, in particular, only represent 15% of all op-eds that are published. Sadly, this wasn’t too surprising.
Zeba went on to illustrate that the more important piece of information is that women only represent 10% of ALL op-eds submitted. As Ms. Khan simply put it, “if the data is skewed in the beginning, it’s going to be skewed in the end.” So who narrates the world? Well, according to the statistics, men. White men.
And what does the nonprofit consumer population look like? Well it most certainly isn’t only white men, and it’s probably the most diverse it has ever been in the history of nonprofits.
But I believe that’s our fault. As a society, we grow more intelligent the more inclusive we become. As professionals in the nonprofit sector, it’s our responsibility to listen to our consumers and represent all of the other underrepresented populations that we serve.
To be honest, advocacy is intimidating. I’m not someone who openly shares my opinion. I usually prefer to keep my opinions to myself to avoid conflict. This is something I’m pretty proud of. I tell myself, “I think before I speak,” and “I’m a great listener,” to justify the fact that I don’t often share my opinion. I also like to hide behind my lack of experience and young age.
Zeba used a dramatic, but eye-opening example during the presentation, “If you had the cure for cancer, wouldn’t you tell others about your discovery?” When the stakes are extremely urgent, or when there is no chance for error or conflict in what we’d like to say, we tend to speak up. The rest of the time? Silence. We have a “problem of virtues,” Zeba mentioned, “selflessness to the point of abnegation.” We’re afraid to share our opinion out of fear that we may be wrong, or embarrassed of what others may think of us. In the meantime, people need our help.
I’m sure I don’t need to remind you about the dire situation for underserved citizens in the state of Oklahoma. The situation is far from ideal, and it’s our duty to be the ones that speak up for those who can’t, educate the community about the issues that our clients face, and to share our experiences and opinions. Sure, we will have our differences, we will absolutely disagree with each other, but isn’t that the beauty of it? It’s time for us to step up to the plate.
In order to advocate or write an op-ed, you don't have to know EVERYTHING there is to know about the subject. If you’re waiting to be an “expert” in something before you take any action, it will never happen. By all means, please learn as much as possible, educate yourself and gain valuable experiences, strive for “expertise” in your field of work. I believe this applies to all areas of our career life. Do you have a great marketing idea? Tell someone! Don’t feel at peace with the way your programs are running? Chat with your boss about it. If you’re someone like me that tends to hold back, we must learn to speak up. Just don’t wait to feel like an expert before you take action, because that feeling may never come.
After college, I told an old boss of mine that I was afraid to take a job where I would have to use my Spanish, because I didn’t feel like I had mastered the language. He told me to quit worrying about “mastery” and just DO IT. His other advice for me? Don’t be afraid to make my voice heard.
So where does one begin? Look over Emily Reed’s blog if you haven’t already for some insight in to claiming your expertise. The Oklahoma Center for Nonprofits is an excellent place to learn about current legislation that directly affects nonprofits in Oklahoma. You can also network with fellow nonprofit professionals through The Young Nonprofit Professional Network to meet like-minded people (strength in numbers, right?). Maybe submit your first op-ed or write a blog for YNPN!
By staying silent, we aren’t helping anyone. Not ourselves, and especially not the people who need us most. We have to set aside our fear and pride, and seriously think about our clients that are voiceless and hurting. Right now, the stakes may not appear urgent, but if we continue to sit on the sidelines, the long-term repercussions could be severely detrimental for the state of Oklahoma.
Do you know of any other ways to get involved with advocacy in Oklahoma? Comment below!