By Rowan McClean, District 9800 Club Service Chair

Even though the Rotary Constitution and By-Laws were altered in 1989 allowing women to join the organisation, it didn’t strike Kerry Kornhauser that the organisation was so male-dominated when she joined some 13 years ago. There are more than 25,000 female Rotarians worldwide today—approximately 23% of global membership. In Australia, females represent approximately 28% of the total membership.

Kerry’s father was a Rotarian and she too was keen to join an active voluntary organisation. As her sister had been doing some work with Rotary Albert Park and spoke about it being a group of young people who have fun, Kerry decided to join the vibrant club. It had a large number of projects and a 50/50 gender balance that has been maintained. Kerry soon learnt that many clubs either don’t have a good gender balance, or are able to maintain one and so, Kerry adopted the mission of promoting women in Rotary.

With a change in work commitments, Kerry also needed to change clubs and her new Rotary home is Rotary Melbourne—a large club with a strong structure.

As part of her commitment to Women in Rotary, Kerry has been leading the International Women’s Breakfast event for ten years. She is planning to step down from this leadership role, although stay on the advisory group.

A new focus for Kerry is Women Can, an initiative she and a fellow Rotary Melbourne board member commenced with the aim of encouraging women to enter the trades, undertake a Certificate II and enter apprenticeships. 

“We have negotiated with the unions,” advised Kerry. “And they are setting out to attract more women.”

Considering the way ahead, Kerry feels it is very hard to change club practices and many older male-dominated clubs emphasise fellowship. Whilst Kerry thinks this is fine, she however doesn’t think this culture suits most younger people, and that the answer could be in starting satellite clubs that can use the administrative framework of the existing club, but develop something fresh and exciting.

“We need to encourage people to bring their projects and their passion to Rotary,” Kerry says. “This might be the way to attract them.”

Kerry has been a great champion for women in Rotary, and indeed outside of Rotary. She is also a wonderful role model for emerging Rotarians.