Tami Dixon is at it again. This time around, she’s not telling South Side Stories. Based on women’s working lives in the nonprofit sector, she’s telling true stories of employment that are sometimes hilarious, often wrenching and mostly outrageous in their truth.
Dixon along with two accomplished local actresses, Laurie Klatscher and Bria Walker, took the stage on May 21st at Bricolage in front of a sold out crowd of mostly women who work in the nonprofit sector.
The commissioned piece, a work in progress, is based on more than 60 interviews with women in this sector, such as community leaders Deb Acklin, Heather Arnet and Esther Bush, as part of the 74% initiative out of The Bayer Center for Nonprofit Management at Robert Morris University.
“In 2000, women executives were paid $.67 on the dollars to male executives leading the same size organization,” says director Peggy Outon. “By 2012, it was $.74 on the dollar—and women are 74% of the nonprofit.”
Researcher Carrie Tancraitor of the Bayer Center says, “There’s the irony that this is a sector that is about social justice and we are not being just with our own employees.”
Dixon’s job was to bring those stories of injustice and inequity to life.
At the beginning of the reading, the three actresses conveyed what nonprofit workers say about why they entered the field, based on actual comments by women interviewed.
“Nonprofit work called me.”
“It was my calling.”
“It chose me.”
As the reading progressed, a broad range of problems women face in the workforce were revealed. “Even if you are exceptional, you aren’t equal,” read Tami Dixon in a portrayal of one woman, anonymous like all the others.
Or: “When I said it, no one reacted. He said it and it was the most brilliant thing in the world.”
Or: “You should be happy to get paid for this work.”
The audience reacted strongly to that line and exploded in laughter when at one point Dixon said, “All because I was born without a dick!”
To add to the dramatic element, the actresses played off each other. While Dixon was portraying the working life of a woman struggling with a growing family, Bria Walker stood next to her, commenting in a deadpan manner. “Tami is now overloaded with babies.”
As the story progressed and then ended with an overwhelmed mother with kids everywhere, Walker concluded: “Tami drowns in babies and disappears.”
The audience roared in laughter.
In 2009, The Bayer Center’s Executive Director, Peggy Morrison Outon, began the first of over 60 interviews that would become the readings onstage. While she says she enjoyed those conversations, she found shocking answers.
“In the interviews, there was clearly an issue around age discrimination—maybe more than gender discrimination,” says Outon. “Younger women reported being discounted and condescended to an appalling rate.”
“We needed to move from reviewing evidence to taking action,” Outon says of the staged production.
“Each interview was transcribed by Carrie Richards and we have a fat notebook of all that was said,” adds Outon. “We have mined them for quotes in our publications and I am planning to write a monograph this summer using them to shape the narrative.”
In her introductory remarks that night, she said, “I knew that in Tami, we had an artist who would take your stories and make them sing!”
Tancraitor hopes the anecdotes encourage people to change their behavior and ensure better governance practices.”We hope to help them think about ways to develop younger generations,” says Tancraitor. “And for younger leaders to be able to come into a place where they can assume the leadership, advocate for themselves, negotiate for themselves, and institute a better level of equity.”
To help with that charge, the Bayer Center formed The Kitchen Cabinet, with people from the business and corporate world, nonprofit and foundation leaders, and academics—a broad swath of our community, says Outon.
“They have used our research to get some people raises, bring more order to the compensation world. We hope to see HR issues become as important to the measurement of nonprofit effectiveness as financial management issues are to the donors, both professional grantmakers and inidividuals.”
“The Kitchen Cabinet are the foot soldiers of the movement that joins with all the other pay equity efforts going on in our community—Women & Girls for city employees, the negotiation work at CMU and many others. This issue has legs and is under discussion in many arenas,” she notes.