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Why Sunday Parkways organizers are reaching out to female volunteers

Posted by on April 29th, 2015 at 9:42 am

Sunday Parkways Northeast 2011-44-53

A volunteer “Superhero” in action.
(Photo: J.Maus/BikePortland)

Sunday Parkways, the series of summertime open-streets festivals that starts next month, runs in large part thanks to volunteers. Today we noticed an interesting angle in a recruitment pitch for those volunteers.

The recruiter, Phil Barber of Axiom Events, called his appeal “a long-overdue first step toward trying to connect with wider circles of women interested in supporting Sunday Parkways.”

Here’s what Barber wrote in an email today to the Shift bike-fun email listserv, with emphasis added:

I need your help filling our highest volunteer leadership role in the organization with women from Portland’s (often male-dominated) cycling community by providing me with suggestions, feedback, and possibly even volunteering yourself.

This role, which we call Superhero Coordinator, is the secret to our success as an event. It entails spending the day at Sunday Parkways teaching, organizing, distributing, supporting, and generally building rapport with volunteers, managing route logistics, and riding 15-20 miles with a partially loaded trailer. The volunteers who perform this role are, every one of them, some of the most amazing people you’d ever hope to meet– and many amazing women have performed this role over the years (some of you among them).

We fill this position from our pool of Mobile Superheroes. These volunteers ride the route as a team with the Superhero Coordinators solving problems as they arise over the course of a Sunday Parkways event. In order to fill the roster of next year’s Superhero Coordinators with women, we need excited and engaged women to serve as Mobile Superheroes this year.

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Our effort to recruit female leaders for Sunday Parkways is about much more than simply gender-balancing our volunteer base. It’s about the core mission of Sunday Parkways to build community and foster connections among the citizens of Portland, half of whom are women. It’s about maintaining the diversity of perspectives that help make any community stronger, more intelligent, more versatile and capable. It’s about fostering female leadership in a male dominated bike culture and the wider culture in which we live. And, it’s about creating mutually beneficial professional relationships with female leaders— for those who like event work, growth opportunities exist within our company (Axiom) and the wider event community in the region.

Here’s a link to the Superhero Coordinator volunteer position and the Mobile Superhero volunteer position. We ask that those interested volunteer for a few events as a Mobile — from there, it’s easy to identify individuals who have fallen in love with the event and want more ownership.

This note is a long-overdue first step toward trying to connect with wider circles of women interested in supporting Sunday Parkways. If you or anyone you know are looking for a fun, challenging, bike-oriented volunteer leadership experience, please reach out to them, encourage them to volunteer, or even simply forward this email to them. If you know any female cycling teams (5 or more), let them know that an opportunity for fundraising on behalf of their team exists at our events and that I would love to get them connected. In addition to my personal email address, I can be reached here: and here: (503) 333-8399.

Finally, please give me your thoughts on different ways I can approach women in our cycling community! Your input immeasurably helps to strengthen the Sunday Parkways program, and our community in general. Thank you!

It’s nice to see Barber, a city contractor, being proactive about getting women involved in a bike event. His efforts to anticipate the possible benefits to the volunteers — leadership development, fundraising for a cycling team, and of course social good — also seem well-chosen.

Being a Sunday Parkways superhero is a great way to see Portland at its best. Whatever your gender, consider signing up for a slot or two this summer and/or finding friends who might enjoy it too.

Sunday Parkways NW-23

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  • Esther April 29, 2015 at 10:15 am

    Hey, that’s me in the bottom photo riding in Barb Grover’s bullitt!

    I’m a former Intersection Superhero, Mobile Superhero and Superhero Coordinator, now turned Volunteer Coordinator (who assists all those Superheroes to do what they do best). I <3 Sunday Parkways and I <3 working with Axiom and all the volunteers to make it happen and put a smile on tens of thousands of faces. If anyone has a question about what volunteering in these roles are like, feel free to ask me in the comments here, I'll check back on my breaks later today. And definitely consider signing up as a Mobile Superhero – it's a great way to experience Parkways on a bike and volunteer at the same time. 🙂

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  • SilkySlim April 29, 2015 at 11:16 am

    Phil is the “man” for promoting gender equity! I think there is a joke in there somewhere…

    FYI – He has also led the superhero vs. villian pedalpalooza ride, among many other things. What a guy.

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  • Brandon April 29, 2015 at 11:28 am

    I think ultimately paying for a female to hold an outreach position or superhero type position would be a good way to positively involve more women from the community.

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    • Esther April 29, 2015 at 2:10 pm

      Hi Brandon, there are 2 of us women working as Volunteer Coordinators and we’re helping to actively recruit volunteers.

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    • Middle of the Road guy April 29, 2015 at 3:49 pm

      Perhaps you missed the part about being a ‘volunteer’.

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  • Rick April 29, 2015 at 12:02 pm

    Will there be Sunday walkways or a small scale bikeways for any of the west side this year? The west side deserves better.

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    • Eric April 29, 2015 at 11:10 pm

      Critical Mass rides on Barbur?

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  • daisy April 29, 2015 at 3:36 pm

    I have mixed feelings about this. Women, especially mothers, often perform a large amount of unpaid labor that goes unrecognized. This work can be in the home or for the family — child care, elder care, house cleaning, and so on — and in the community — as a school or PTA volunteer, in the church, and so on.

    While I appreciate that there’s an effort here to bring more women into an area that’s traditionally male-dominated, I don’t love that it’s a volunteer position. And the Superhero Coordinator is a huge commitment! They’re asking for someone to oversee 20-40 other volunteers, commit to at least 3 8-hour days, and attend training. And isn’t Axiom a for-profit company?

    This seems like it could work well as a paid position.

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    • Middle of the Road guy April 29, 2015 at 3:58 pm


      ‘for profit’ does not mean ‘rolling in dollars’. Multiply the number of people volunteering (like around 10), and you are talking enough money to make it a loss to take on for Axiom.

      And how about a shout out for those guys who DO volunteer their time, instead of making it sound like they are the Patriarchy holding women back when it comes to how they choose to spend their free time?

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      • daisy April 29, 2015 at 8:48 pm

        Do you work for Axiom? If so, this is a profoundly poor response to a very reasonable observation.

        Let’s take a step back here. BikePortland is doing a big favor to Axiom by sharing this volunteer request, and including the seemingly-feminist tact that it’s an opportunity for women to take on a leadership in a male-dominated industry. So far so good.

        Then, a woman cyclist — ostensibly your target demographic for this pitch — offers a concern about this approach. It likely would have gotten little attention. Your defensiveness, however, seems over the top, and sadly ironic. The remark about the “patriarchy” — your word, not mine — suggests that the original feminist appeal was insincere. So instead of being a feminist, I should be thanking men?! I’ve never heard of Axiom before, but I’m now wondering if you all are tools.

        Let me suggest a couple of responses that would have been better:

        1. Nothing.

        2. “Thanks for your comment. Axiom is a small company, and running Sunday Parkways requires us to rely heavily on volunteers. You’re right that we do ask a lot. Past volunteers have found it to be incredibly rewarding, and so we want to make sure that opportunity is available to men and women.

        I hadn’t considered the issues you raised before. I’m going to mull it over some more. In the meantime, if you know any women cyclists who might have the time for this, please send them our way! And see you at Sunday Parkways!”

        And if you don’t work for Axiom, you want might to let them know you just dug them a hole.

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        • Middle of the Road guy April 29, 2015 at 11:04 pm

          To answer your first question: No. So all of your supposition and assumption afterwards is projection on your part. I don’t have a target demographic as I have no affiliation with Axiom

          Your observation is not reasonable but it is a projection of your own values…and I suspect they know their business model better than you do, as well as that particular industry. I pointed out the reasonable consideration that paying for the roles might be an unsustainable burden to a company that you had not considered.

          You also seem to be suggesting (but difficult to tell) that the women should be paid but the men should be volunteers. That comes across as sexist if that indeed was your assertion. Again, it was not stated clearly.

          Also, I think you have a lack of awareness of how your original post might have come across as sexist. You have no idea how men might spend their free time…and the model you presented was one where men do not do any unpaid work in the community. Stereotypical assumption on your part.

          By the way, what is wrong with being a ‘for profit’ company. Are you not a ‘for profit’ person, trying to earn a living?

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    • Ryan April 30, 2015 at 11:01 am


      Two of the four paid volunteer coordinators are females including Esther! But the event also takes a lot of volunteers. Unfortunately several of our high level female volunteers have had to step down this year. This is why we are trying to recruit more high level female volunteers. I served in that position as a volunteer for a number of years, and although it is a sizable commitment of time, it is an awesome way to contribute to these amazing community events! I encourage everyone to come out for these, and if you can, also sign up for a volunteer shift! We love all of our volunteers!

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    • Esther April 30, 2015 at 3:06 pm

      Hi Daisy, I agree completely that women perform a disproportionate amount of unpaid labor in our economy on top of 44-77% relative wages for work that IS paid (depending on race and location), and I suspect that (along with disproportionate representation in cycling in general, plus our country’s failures in ensuring affordable childcare) is one of the reasons we have a slightly harder time finding women eager to be mobile superheroes and superhero coordinators. Axiom has made efforts towards representative hiring for its paid positions (including mine) for both Parkways and other events that they run such as Mississippi Street Fair. There are certainly other volunteer opportunities out there that require a high level of commitment such as 4 hour shifts at least once a month for a year. So I personally didn’t feel 3 8-hour shifts was too much to ask of me, since I would have been attending & volunteering at the event anyway. (However, I’m currently child-free and work a 9-5 so there wasn’t a barrier to my participation in that regard.)

      I have no idea who Middle of the Road guy but his opinions certainly aren’t representative of mine (nor I would guess of any of my pals who work full time at Axiom…my position equates to about a 11 hours a month in summer)- with his worries about reverse sexism and accusations that you are ignorant about how business financial operations work- ick!

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  • Dwaine Dibbly April 29, 2015 at 6:47 pm

    Thank you, Sunday Parkways volunteers & donors!

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  • Angel May 1, 2015 at 12:38 pm

    When I first saw this email, it made my heart go squish. It was thoughtful and appropriate. It takes a superhero to recruit superheroes!

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