Funding Social Justice in the Time of Trump



Women Writers Breaking Rules

I’ve just gotten a handy gizmo (ION Tape Express) that converts tape cassettes to sharable electronic files. In 1981, I helped to found the National Council for Research on Women (now renamed RE:GENDER, a vital coalition of research, policy, and advocacy organizations, corporations and community organizations around the country, still going strong); I served as NCRW’s executive director from 1989-1996.

Here’s a lovely piece of NCRW history: Spend an Evening with Ursula LeGuin, Paule Marshall, and Grace Paley, a “Conversation at the Altar about Women Writers Breaking Rules,” featured in a clip that Margot Adler did for NPR that reports on NCRW’s Second Writer of Distinction Awards April 6, 1992 at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in New York City. Besides segments of the conversation (which also includes a sardonic aside from Carolyn Heilbrun), you can hear Marshall discuss her publishing experiences, and Paley and LeGuin reading from recent work. Enjoy!

Ursula (1)

Margo Adler’s NPR Story  Sound

Dream of a Common Language: A Women’s Thesaurus

Here’s a recording of a talk I gave at the 92nd Street Y on February 25, 1992: What Do the Words We Use Say About Women? I got to delve into the history and development of the National Council for Research on Women’s thesaurus project and my own fascination with language and gender norms. A Women’s Thesaurus: An Index of Language Used to Describe and Locate Information By and About Women (Harper & Row, 1987) was our first major NCRW project/publication: my dream job! I got to coordinate amazing groups of women librarians, researchers, policy specialists, writers, and activists and then edit lists and more lists of our language, inspired in no small part by Adrienne Rich’s Dream of a Common Language. We changed the Library of Congress Subject Headings and significantly improved online access to existing databases before the arrival of full-text searching!

Apologies about the recording: the taping did not capture some very interesting questions but did catch some longer responses, and Part 2 finishes with readings of Ursula LeGuin’s short story “She Unnames Them” and Adrienne Rich’s poem, “Transcendental Etude.”

What Do the Works We Use Say About Women? Parts 1 and 2: A 92nd Street Y talk by Mary Ellen Capek  Sound


Institutionalizing Diversity: Working Assumptions

These working assumptions informed the early work of the Diversity in Philanthropy Project, precursor to the current D5 Project . As the work moves forward, these and related assumptions continue to inform the strategies, recommended research, and tools being developed to extend and embed this work across the sector. Please share feedback with mecapek(at)

Numbers Count. Two examples of recent research: mathematical models have been developed that prove diversity and inclusiveness trumps ability in most settings[1]. Once minorities on boards number three or more, opportunities for influence equalize between all members[2].

Numbers Are Not Enough: Diversity Must Be Both Wide and Deep. To be successful, diversity in organizations must go wide (be understood as actively including many different kinds of differences) and deep (be absorbed into an organization’s culture). “Shallow diversity” organizations have a harder time being effective[3].

Organizational Cultures Can Pose Roadblocks. Valued traditions, history, even mission—an organization’s self-identity—can mask unspoken, unnamed assumptions and unwritten rules that pose major roadblocks to going wide and deep, even with all key stakeholders’ best intentions.

Foundations Are Privileged Institutions. Because of the inherent ratios of power defined by being asked for and awarding resources, with rare exceptions, foundations—even community and public foundations—function as elite institutions, often with less actual public accountability and oversight than organizations in other sectors. Most foundations have self-perpetuating boards.

Privileged Institutions Expect New People to Cover to Fit In. Elite institutions in any sector usually expect “covering”[4] from new staff and board members: it is assumed that new people will “fit in” to the organization rather than the organization change to accommodate new perspectives. These assumptions are usually implicit, not talked about. Especially in smaller or family foundations, these assumptions can be framed as cherished principles, part of the founder’s vision.

Addressing Unspoken Norms and Assumptions is Key. Surfacing and assessing these latent cultural assumptions (“naming Norm”) can be a useful strategy for creating organizational cultures that give all stakeholders opportunities to succeed and organizations opportunities to innovate.

Stakeholders Who Don’t Cover Do Better Work and the Organization Benefits. To the extent that an organization’s key stakeholders, including grantees, don’t have to cover to fit in—understand themselves to be heard, encouraged, and valued—stakeholders do better work. The organization will obtain increased value of more creativity and unleashed energy—and with grantees, transparency, trust, and mutual respect: in short, organizations will be more effective.

“Learning Organizations”[5] Are More Likely to Institutionalize Deep Diversity. Organizations that aspire to be “learning organizations”—with mechanisms in place for self-reflection that allow, even encourage, stakeholders to challenge assumptions and grow—are fertile ground for successfully institutionalizing diversity and becoming more effective.

Institutionalizing Diversity is an Ongoing, Reflective Process. The paradigm is not “broken/fixed” but “learn/assess/grow,” and the process is ongoing: the goal is not “bingo, we did it” but institutionalizing redundant mechanisms that sustain a vital culture of new learning as well as preserve valued traditions and history. Outcomes include integrity, effectiveness, and success[6].

  1. Back to Post. Scott E. Page. The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 2007).
  2. Back to Post. Phil Buchanan, Ellie Buteau, Sarah Di Troia, and Romero Hayman. Beyond Compliance: The Trustee Viewpoint on Effective Foundation Governance (Cambridge MA: The Center for Effective Philanthropy in partnership with BoardSource and Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, 2007).
  3. Back to Post. Mary Ellen S. Capek and Molly Mead. Effective Philanthropy: Organizational Success Through Deep Diversity and Gender Equality (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2006). See also
  4. Back to Post. Kenji Yoshino. Covering: The Hidden Assault on Our Civil Rights. (New York: Random House, 2006). See also
  5. Back to Post. Peter M. Senge. The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization. (New York: Doubleday, 1990).
  6. Back to Post. For additional information, see:

On the eve of Supreme Court debates…some thoughts

I can’t help myself. I’m writing to all of you–family, friends, neighbors, colleagues–because there’s just so much going on that I can’t keep it to myself any longer. I’m about to burst. Into tears, at least, if not with pride. There’s SO MUCH going on. Can’t pick up a paper or turn on a TV without hearing “gay marriage.” As amazing as all this coverage is, however, it’s stressful: this is not an abstract or trendy debate, this is about our lives.

The Supreme Court weighs in tomorrow and Wednesday, delivers a verdict late June. (Appropriate month for a marriage verdict?) Can we divine their thinking from the questions they’ll ask our brave lawyers and those defending DOMA (the latter aptly named BLAG: Bipartisan Legal Action Group)? Will the “dream duo” of Olson and Boies prevail over Prop 8?However encouraging we interpret the Court’s questions, there’s no getting around some basic facts: they’re a majority older white men, not one of them really knowing our lives from the inside. These judges, sitting high above the rest of us watching, listening, will render a verdict that intimately impacts my life and my family. Stomach-churning. I try not to worry, I want to assume fairness and love prevails, but…

The stomach-churning is not only about DC. Here in NM just last week the Santa Fe Mayor and city attorney “declared” marriage legal for all of us. AND our beloved ACLU (NM and national) and NCLR (National Center for Lesbian Rights) working with Equality New Mexico just filed a complaint in District Court in Albuquerque to challenge the denial of marriage licenses. So many unknowns: will our Attorney General issue a ruling giving clerks a green light? Will the clerks then issue licenses? Will the governor issue an injunction? Will our lawsuit linger so long that opponents gain a foothold in the courts? (We have a Republican Governor on record opposing “same-sex marriage.”) These are just some of the questions that roll around in my head in the middle of the night.

Sue and I celebrated our 25th anniversary last August. This September marks the 10th anniversary of our Canadian marriage. That’s not that long, actually, and so much has happened in a decade. When Sue and I got married in 2003, the Albuquerque Tribune published a wonderful story on us, the “novelty” of our lives, our animals, our family. But the Albuquerque Journal refused to publish our wedding announcement (they still won’t publish same-sex wedding announcements).

But we are no longer such novelties: according to the 2010 Census, there are at least 5,825 same-sex couples in NM living in all but two counties across the state. And 35% of those who identify as couples are raising children. Nationally, the numbers have flipped: regardless which poll you look at, a majority of Americans now support our right to marry. So this will happen. Eventually. We’re not going back. In the meantime, we’ve still got a lot of work to do.

Thanks for reading this through to the end, and if you can, please consider a contribution to Equality New Mexico or ACLU or NCLR or Freedom to Marry or to ALL of these amazing organizations: we’re going to need all the help we can get to get this done. Thanks!!