by Haley Cahill-Teubert
Sometime in June or July, I began my outreach to campuses and chapters I would be visiting in the fall semester to learn more about their specific education needs and how I can support them. A lot of those conversations included things like: how to make philanthropy round stronger or how to have deeper conversations, but the most consistent thing expressed to me was this: “The women just need confidence.”
Actually, no conversations come to mind where those five words weren’t voiced. In fact, I grew to expect it in every single one of my conversations.
We could spend hours talking about the epidemic of diminishing confidence among women. There’s a lot of ideas about how we should address this, and there’s no one-size-fits-all solution about how to teach women to be more confident. Maybe we can’t teach confidence, but we can create environments that foster confidence. What’s an example of an environment that doesn’t foster an overwhelming amount of confidence? Formal sorority recruitment.
And that’s not an opinion I formulated myself; it’s one that’s been shared with me repeatedly.
How so, you ask? Here are a handful of examples from students who are recruiting AND going through recruitment:
Strict Dress Codes
It’s hard to be your most confident self when you’re required to wear something that doesn’t make you feel good. Whether that’s a certain type of dress, pair of heels, or piece of jewelry, requiring (or expecting) women to wear something they wouldn’t wear outside of formal recruitment doesn’t really allow them to feel like their authentic selves. Sure, yoga pants and grungy sweatshirts may not be the best choice, but we have to remember not everyone feels like their best selves in a leather mini skirt and Essie ballet slippers nail polish. Help create an environment of confidence by allowing members or PNMs to be their best selves (while knowing that’s different for everyone), which likely means reviewing the outfit requirements to ensure your members’ individuality, comfort, and confidence are priorities.
One of the complaints shared most often about formal recruitment is the pressure of unrealistic beauty standards it places on women. Things like spray tans, false eyelashes and manicures are recommended, even required, by some chapters for recruitment. That’s totally ok if that’s your idea of your best self, but that may have the opposite effect on someone else. It’s 100% possible that requiring your members to have certain treatments or appointments ahead of recruitment won’t spike their confidence, it could make them feel inadequate. Consider the language and requirements about physical appearances that may have an undesired effect on a member’s confidence.
Sometimes I ask chapter women what they would most like to change about their recruitment. Again, this is an area I’m looking for responses like: “telling the story of my chapter” or “asking better questions”, but often I hear: “Can we please not sing the welcome song?” Maybe you’re someone who’s totally into the clapping, chanting and singing. That’s totally fine. But we must realize that not everyone is. For many members and PNMs, those songs and door stacks feel unnatural and even aggressive, and it’s hard to do anything with confidence when it feels forced and out of the ordinary. To help create a confidence-boosting environment, review each component of your recruitment plans. Consider if some of your plans are just because of tradition, or if they really enhance the experience of the PNMs and chapter members alike. It’s also important to ask yourself if your plans accurately portray the sorority and chapter experience. If the answer is no, members and potential members are likely to feel less confident.
This may be the biggest culprit in the confidence epidemic. Maybe we’re always so worried about how we stack up to others that it’s impossible to ever feel good about who we are. There are plenty of campuses that have a pretty competitive nature when it comes to relationships between organizations or relationships between PNMs who feel like they’re competing to get a bid to the best chapter. And way too many PNMs say that they felt self-conscious going through recruitment. They weren’t pretty enough. Smart enough. Skinny enough. Rich enough. Whatever enough. And it’s OUR system that makes them feel that way. On the chapter side, women are stressed about how they stack up to other chapters. Are their outfits as cute? Is their balloon display as grand? Is their sisterhood video catchy enough? Every decision is about stacking up. And you know what? It’s never enough. No one ever feels perfectly content. It’s hard to feel confident about yourself when you’re constantly comparing and competing. Focus on building confidence in your members and PNMs by being yourselves and reminding your members to respect, appreciate, and celebrate each PNM she meets. Her family, clothes, and hairstyle don’t matter; her heart does. When our focus shifts to that, we create a space where PNMs can feel more confident about who they are.
We’ve instilled this huge sense of fear in women about what they can and can’t talk about, which is weird. I once gave an example of a conversation one might have in recruitment, where a PNM talked about her brother and boyfriend helping her move into her residence hall. Before I could finish this make-believe story, I was vetoed. “WE CAN’T TALK ABOUT BOYS.” Woah. We can’t talk about male family members or significant others? How bold of us to assume someone has male loved ones they want to talk about. Sometimes we take rules, guidelines and suggestions so far that we box ourselves in a corner and have nothing to talk about, so our conversations are surface level and stale. Revisit the recruitment rules (or rewrite them entirely) to provide clarity (and flexibility) for your chapter members. Having a better understanding of the parameters can help boost your members’ confidence with respect to their conversation skills.
These are just a few examples shared by members and potential new members about the role recruitment plays on their confidence. It’s not uncommon for these women to voice that sorority recruitment depletes confidence.
We can do better. We should do better.
Today’s women deserve more. Today’s women crave more. Modern women don’t inherently hate recruitment; modern women just don’t love archaic recruitment practices.
Understanding today’s women, along with the recruitment practices that do and don’t work with them, isn’t just a step in the right direction for sorority; it’s a step in the right direction for women’s confidence.
We must continue improving the sorority recruitment experience for the students we are actually recruiting. We have to keep having tough conversations. We must prioritize the PNM experience. We must be willing to part with the lifeless practices and pursue the fresh ones. Maybe we can’t teach our sorority women to be more confident, but we can create spaces that allow confidence to grow. What better place to start than the very entrance into sorority?
by Haley Cahill-Teubert
We’ve all heard our fair share of WEIRD recruitment rules. Surely all these rules were well-intended, but at some point in time, things went a bit too far.
In talking with communities about strategies for maximizing COB efforts, building relationships with PNMs and growing chapters, I’ve been told: “No, that’s against the rules” many, many times.
Mind you, I’m not encouraging anything outlandish or illegal; I’m encouraging normal human activities. Parameters are fine, but rules that don’t allow members or PNMs to behave like normal human beings are not.
A few examples:
Somewhere along the line, policies were misinterpreted and taken to extreme lengths, because if these things are against the rules, we’re not allowing our members or PNMs to act like normal human beings.
We’re scaring people; we’ve got to be more normal.
Why would anyone want to join our community when we won’t interact with them outside of a formal recruitment round? That doesn’t scream friendly, inviting, or sisterly. Not to mention how insulting it is to micromanage our members. We’ve got taglines and mission statements about how we are organizations that empower women, shape women, inspire women–and we’re doing any of that by controlling their every move. It’s not normal to tell a woman she cannot ‘like’ a PNM’s photo on Instagram because that’s considered bid promising. It’s not normal to tell chapter members they must change their names on social media so PNMs cannot find them and try to interact with them. It’s not normal to instruct chapter members to immediately change the subject if a PNM mentions a male loved one in conversation.
These rules aren’t just silly; they are insulting and overbearing, and they don’t portray sorority life or sorority women in a great way. Who would want to join an organization that dictates your ability to interact with people in your residence hall, a coffee shop, or class? Women deserve better–the women we recruited and the women we will recruit.
There’s never been a better time for a discussion about your community’s rules–and perhaps some serious revisions. At the end of the day, the rules should be about improving the recruitment experience and the membership experience. They should align with the NPC Unanimous Agreements, yes. They should align with school policies, yes. They should align with academic success (that’s our main focus of college, don’t forget). What they should not do is prevent our women from behaving like normal humans, paint an inaccurate picture of sorority life, or dissuade potential new members from joining.
We’re scaring people with our weird rules; let’s be more normal.
by Josh Orendi
QUICK QUIZ: Answer any of the following questions:
ANSWER: No one knows the answers to these questions (the list could easily go on and on). That’s the problem.
Fraternity/Sorority is a global brand with nearly 10 million initiated members, all from the most prestigious institutions of higher education … with real estate holdings, foundations, and annual revenues that I’ve been told exceed billions of dollars … yet we lack industry business systems to answer simple business questions (above).
Technology will change that. Soon.
CONSIDER THESE QUESTIONS for a few seconds each before reading the next one.
Fraternity and sorority is hundreds of years old, but we don’t have to act like a tired old brand that is scared of an uncertain future. Our target audience is wildly innovative 17-19 year old college students, and our front line representatives are wildly innovative 19-21 year old college students. Our young members want our help. They’re asking us to make the process better. We (those of us who are a part of the “fraternity/sorority industry”) are extremely well positioned to innovate if our old leaders (me included) are willing to embrace change.
We may not have a choice.
Our target audience of Gen Z pragmatists are running out of patience (check YouTube, Reddit, or ask them). Patience is not a quality Gen Z has in abundance. This is a generation that expects intuitive, efficient tech solutions that make their life simple.
CHANGE IS HERE:
We’re fools to think Gen Z will tolerate “rush” or “intake” the old traditional way.
We have an opportunity in front of us to make fraternity and sorority better using technology tailored to the changing needs (demands) of our target Gen Z audience. We’d be better for it. We’d have answers to questions we should know. We could leverage technology to make fraternity safer and to better prepare PNMs to become retained, engaged, lifelong members! We could make the process more inclusive and welcoming to all students. So many benefits!
BUT THERE’S A PROBLEM
We’d have to come together and find agreement as an industry. That’s a big ask during a time when division seems more common than finding common ground. We’d also have to slay some sacred recruitment/intake cows that represent safety, power, tradition, and control. Those are not things people with authority are quick to give up.
So here we are. It’s almost 2020. The industry is de-centralized as if this were 1970. We’re trying to figure out why educating bad members isn’t working as though this were 1980. We’re still deep into rush t-shirts as if this were 1990. We have big plans to update our web presence as if this were 2000. Our Council PR chairs are trying to figure out Social Media marketing as if this were 2010. No one has their hands on the steering wheel of the global brand. Too many fraternity/sorority leaders are doing their very best to find answers to questions that were relevant decades ago. We can do better.
Many, many campuses still live in a world of bump groups, door stacks, skit rounds, rush event calendars, stale info tabling, billboard letters on campus, manual grade checks, printed PNM lists, Excel spreadsheets, and paper voting. ::Forehead Slap::
It’s still commonplace to force PNMs into a multi-day (or multi-week) process that requires everyone to be physically present, spend a lot of money they don’t have, dress up, and forces dozens of awkward conversations with people from dozens of chapters they aren’t saying they want to meet.
Chapter leaders are asking “how do we get them to pay attention to us, to show up, to stay, to come back, to want to join …” These questions are indicators that the process is broken and/or it isn’t the experience our Gen Z audience values.
To the defense of fraternity/sorority leaders everywhere, we’re trying to do what’s best for them. We’re doing our best with limited local resources and longtime volunteer teams, to adapt a process created 50+ years ago for today’s students. But, we should be asking if that process is the right process for the next 50 years?
Ok. Now breathe. Let’s be honest. This isn’t a do or die moment. This isn’t a problem that will kill fraternity/sorority. I’m not interested in dramatics. The fraternity/sorority industry is under attack and constantly defending itself. But, recruitment is not our biggest problem.
You’ve heard wise fraternity/sorority advisors say that “all problems are recruitment problems,” and “we are who we recruit.” So, perhaps, this is exactly the big problem the industry should be solving — the one that we can control and that impacts all the other areas of fraternity/sorority.
If we don’t. Someone will.
Fraternity/Sorority is relevant and needed. And, that’s exactly why a couple 19 year old kids sitting in their dorm (or a chapter house) will soon experience our antiquated requirements and broken process and those naïve, innovative, Gen Z students will simply create an alternative option online. An alternative to the “old way to rush” that makes more sense to them. Their fellow students will see that option that looks cooler, faster, cheaper, and more relevant to them…. And, that’s when the fraternity/sorority industry will realize tradition does not trump innovation – not when the primary audience is 18-21 year old college students.
To be clear, students disrupting the industry with technology is NOT the problem. That happens frequently in the business world and it’s usually pretty cool when it happens. But it comes at a cost. Taxi drivers didn’t love Uber. Blockbuster wasn’t a fan of RedBox, and RedBox isn’t a fan of Netflix. Truck drivers aren’t as excited about self-driving vehicles as I am. Those big order screens at McDonald aren’t there to help the employees, they’re installed to replace them. Technology disruption shakes up industries that refuse to adapt and innovate.
There is an opportunity right now. Before a disruption.
Technology will change fraternity/sorority. It’s just a question of time and who will lead the change. So, what do you say those of us who care most deeply about fraternity/sorority make 2020 the year that technology modernizes recruitment/intake?