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Where are the sector's female leaders?

08 Feb 2010 Voices

Civil society organisations should be a shining example for workplace equality. Where are all the women at the top of our profession, asks Rowena Lewis.

Civil society organisations should be a shining example for workplace equality. Where are all the women at the top of our profession, asks Rowena Lewis.

Can you name ten high profile fundraisers in the sector? No doubt. Our profession boasts exceptional talent and leadership. But if I asked you to name ten high profile female fundraisers, could you do it?

To all intents and purposes the message is that the shape of leadership in our profession is masculine. In 2009, the International Fundraising Congress came under fire for the prominence of male speakers, despite an overwhelmingly female delegate make up. This is not the first time that the limelight falls on a homogenous group. But can we afford the implication that leadership is predominantly masculine? Are we prepared to run the risk of alienating up-and-coming female talent from progressing a career in fundraising in the face of a relative absence of female role models?

While the shape of fundraising leadership is conspicuously male, our profession is overwhelming female (women make up 68 per cent of Institute of Fundraising members) and so is our donor base. The characteristics and giving patterns of the infamous Dorothy Donor are well researched and familiar to all, alongside the emergence of Felicity Donor representing a new generation of giving.

So if 71 per cent of the voluntary sector workforce is female, where did all the high profile women go? Well, they never got there in the first place. The voluntary sector is as much party to gender inequality as the private and public sectors. Last month’s found that male fundraising directors earn 11.5 per cent more than women in the role.

Also ACEVO’s 2009 salary survey shows that female CEOs are paid on average £7,550 less than their male counterparts, and that men are twice as likely to be chairs. Pregnancy discrimination and sexual harassment are as much part of the experience of fundraising professionals as for other professions both within and outside our sector.

The difference is the absence of a progressive debate on these issues in the voluntary sector. The sector has limited engagement with what is now a fervent debate around workplace equality as the Equality Bill moves through Parliament. A dialogue between leaders from the public and private sectors and Westminster policy makers is currently shaping the future of equality legislation which will ultimately impact on the voluntary sector. But where is our voice in this debate?

I am proud to be part of an incredibly diverse sector championing social justice. But I lament the absence of a vibrant debate on workplace equality. We have a responsibility to share our experiences, to challenge current thinking, so that the sector and our profession are not only informing the refining of workplace equality legislation, but are leading by example with workplace practices that are the envy of the private and public sectors alike.

Promoting inclusive workplaces may seem low on the priority list for those of us adapting to a new and challenging economic climate. Leave it to HR you may think. But so long as fundraisers form the bridge between the movement for social justice and those who contribute to its impact and sustainability through voluntary giving, we have an acute understanding of the importance of accountability, and a responsibility to ensure that our sector lives and breathes the values of diversity and inclusion.

So think again about the ten female fundraisers you most admire, and ask yourself why they don’t have greater profile. Think about your experiences, male or female, as a fundraiser. Do you feel there is more that can be done to progress our sector and our profession as examples of equal opportunities in practice? As living, breathing case studies of best practice in translating social justice into workplace equality?

Rowena Lewis is head of fundraising and development for the Fawcett Society 

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