In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re featuring female-led organizations and talking to their leaders about their work and the importance of having women in leadership positions. Today we talk to Rhonda Buckley-Bishop, Interim Executive Director of the International Society for the Advancement of Cytometry (ISAC), and CEO of Illumine Interim Executives, a company that specializes in placing interim leaders.
Cytometry is the quantitative analysis of cells and cell systems and ISAC’s mission is to serve a multidisciplinary community by leading technological innovation, scholarship, and the exchange of knowledge in the quantitative cell sciences.
The decision to form a Society for analytical cytology grew out of a series of Engineering Foundation Conferences on Automated Cytology in 1976. The organization formed as a nonprofit in 1980, and as interest in the Society grew it became the International Society for Analytical Cytology (ISAC). In 2006, the organization was renamed the International Society for Advancement of Cytometry. Not surprisingly, the original founding members were all men. But today, both the President and President Elect are female, as are four out of five of the Executive Council members.
Recently, the Executive Director left and the Board, or Council as they’re known at ISAC, wanted more time to do a thorough search. To keep things running smoothly during this critical time of interest in their field, they brought in Rhonda as an Interim Director.
A classical Saxophone player, Rhonda originally thought she would have a career in music or music management. She earned both a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in music from Michigan State University (MSU). She later received a Master of General Administration degree with emphasis in nonprofit management from the University of Maryland, University College.
Rhonda was the Founder and longtime Executive Director of the Sitar Arts Center, a community arts center that serves at-risk youth and families in Washington DC. In 2007, Rhonda left Sitar to move back to MSU, where she become an Associate Dean in the College of Music. When Rhonda met her future husband, he had just accepted a job at the University of Maryland. In an uncharacteristic move, Rhonda returned with him to the DC area without a job.
Shortly after returning to DC, Rhonda was hired for her first interim ED job. She loved the job and the organization so much that she took the job on a permanent basis. Rhonda then learned that Interims and Permanent EDs have very different roles. She discovered that her true passion was with helping nonprofits through transitions.
Following this experience, Rhonda founded Illumine Interim Executives so that she could commit to serving more nonprofits as an Interim Director.
About Women and Nonprofit Leadership
Although Rhonda knows that both men and women have equal capacity for empathy and compassion, she believes the traits may come more easily for women. She believes the nonprofit sector especially is hungry for a more traditionally female leadership style. A style that combines empathy, boundaries, business intelligence and political strategy.
She illustrates the importance of this combination of skills with a story about ISAC. Recently, when staff were given a raise, the President of the council (who is also female) informed staff about the raises with personal, individualized letters thanking employees for their work. Employees who had felt overlooked or underappreciated reached out to the President to thank her for the letters. This, in turn, gave the President an emotional boost. Giving employees a raise was a business decision. But combining the raise with a thoughtful, personal letter demonstrated compassion and empathy. Everyone gained from the situation.