Five Questions With: Tina C. Benik

President of the board of directors of the Women's Fund of Rhode Island discusses the future of the Women’s Fund as the organization searches for its next leader. More

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Five Questions With: Tina C. Benik

"While we are still in the process of determining what the competencies for the role will be, given where we are strategically, one area we know we will focus on is a candidate’s fund development skills."
Posted 7/25/14

Tina C. Benik is president of the board of directors of the Women's Fund of Rhode Island. The organization is searching for an executive director to replace departing leader Marcia Cone. Benik joined the board in January 2009 and became chairwoman a year later. Prior to that, Benik had worked on several special events committees for the Fund since 2006. Here she discusses the future of the Women’s Fund as the organization searches for its next leader.

PBN: Marcia Cone has just departed as your executive director. What type of search are you doing and how soon do you hope to complete it?

BENIK: Marcia was a terrific executive director: She was exactly the right person to grow the organization over the past decade. Under Marcia’s leadership, the Board [of Directors] relatively recently determined to pursue a policy change platform that, if implemented, will accelerate the goal of attaining gender equality in Rhode Island.

Now that the platform is developed, our needs as an organization have changed. The board is taking the time with Marcia’s departure to reflect on what those organizational needs are and to assess what specific competencies we will need in a new executive director. We expect to do a regional search and have targeted to have someone in place by the end of 2014.

PBN: What were Cone’s chief contributions to the Women’s Fund and what attributes will you be seeking in her replacement?

BENIK: Marcia has made numerous contributions to the Women’s Fund. Under her leadership, the organization engaged the people of Rhode Island in conversations about what true transformation of our state could be. Over the past decade, Women’s Fund has hosted former governors, national press, and researchers focused on creating gender equality. We’ve released reports on the status of women, on equal pay, on housing access, and on the state of older women in Rhode Island.

Marcia established the Women’s Policy Institute to train women in policy advocacy; she brought RI-GAP to our state to ensure that the governor increased the number of women appointed to boards and commissions; and she oversaw a shift in the organization from grant-making to policy change making. Marcia’s leadership has caused the Fund to affect and improve many people’s lives in Rhode Island.

While we are still in the process of determining what the competencies for the role will be, given where we are strategically, one area we know we will focus on is a candidate’s fund development skills.

PBN: The Fund’s mission is to use research, advocacy and strategic partnerships to “eliminate gender inequity through systemic change,” the website states. What types of change are still needed in Rhode Island?

BENIK: Systemic change can be difficult. An example of systemic change that the Women’s Fund was a catalyst for is the passage of Temporary Caregiver Insurance, which provides paid time off for employees who need to take care of a seriously ill loved one or to bond with a new child in the home. Women’s Fund has also advocated for the Pregnant Workers Discrimination Ordinance that was passed in Central Falls and Providence. These ordinances require employers to make reasonable accommodations to pregnant workers so that they can keep working. Other areas where we believe systemic change is necessary include pay equity in the workforce and equal representation of women in the corporate sector. We get there by passing and supporting applicable legislation and policies and by keeping our progress in these areas uppermost in the public’s eye and focus.

PBN: What is the Women’s Policy Institute? Who participates and what is the upcoming agenda?

BENIK: The Women’s Policy Institute is a program sponsored and run by the Women’s Fund in which women from across the state are trained in how to research and advocate for legislation and policies to increase gender equality in Rhode Island.

The 2013/14 leaders in the Women’s Policy Institute successfully researched and advocated for ordinances in Central Falls and Providence that require employers to make reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers so that they can continue to work. Any woman over the age of 18 is encouraged to apply to the institute. [Participants] have included college students and retirees. Women’s Fund seeks to have a diverse group of participants in each cohort; no former policy experience is necessary. Applications for the next group are due on Aug. 4. The cohort works together to discuss potential policy ideas for its focus.

PBN: What new research and publications has the organization pursued?

BENIK: Most recently, Women’s Fund of Rhode Island conducted a survey, working with nationally recognized Lake Research Partners, to assess the voting patterns of likely voters in Rhode Island in 2014 on policy issues affecting women. The support for these policies was incredible. For example, Rhode Island voters overwhelmingly favor a proposed bill that would guarantee equal representation for men and women in both the government and corporate sectors, advance women’s economic security and measure the state’s policy impact on women and girls. Further, nearly two thirds of Rhode Islanders support the view that the economy can’t move forward until women are paid fairly. These are but a few of the findings gleaned from the survey results. The full report is on our website at www.wfri.org. I encourage readers to access it.

We will continue to work with these findings and to talk with policy makers and the public to ensure that we are all working towards creating a better Rhode Island.

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