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Where did all the women go?

01 Feb 2010 Voices

So we learn that the typical director of fundraising in the top 100 charities by income is a 45-year-old man. But 47 per cent of fundraising directors in the top 100 are women. That doesn't mean, however, there is gender parity in civil society organisations.

So we learn from the January edition of Fundraising magazine that the typical director of fundraising in the top 100 charities by income is a 45-year-old man. But the typical director is only male by a whisker. And I’m not talking facial hair. The reveals that 47 per cent of fundraising directors in the top 100 are women. The gender split is described as "refreshingly equal".

On face value, ours is one of the most gender-equal professions in the UK. Just as well, given that the voluntary sector champions social justice, and in this context it would be inconsistent to the point of discrediting the sector should we find that women are dramatically under-represented.

But hang on a minute, how does 47 per cent really match up?

Thanks to research from NCVO we know that the voluntary sector is predominantly female - a whopping 71 per cent of employees are women. Meanwhile the membership of the Institute of Fundraising is 68 per cent female. So why the drop-off in female representation at the upper echelons of our profession? And does it really matter?

I’d say yes, it does. It shows that there is a disparity between those that people our profession and those that lead our people. Something is standing in the way of women and men being equally represented at every level of our profession. Assuming the Institute’s membership figures are fully representative of fundraising professionals – what happens to 21 per cent of the women when it comes to the top jobs?

It’s a catch-22 scenario. A growing body of research evidences the fact that an absence of ‘visible’ female role models in the top jobs creates an inhibitor to women progressing their careers in any given industry. On the other hand, where women are highly visible at the top they inspire (and act as enablers) for others to follow suit.

So would you say the 47 per cent of fundraising directors are ‘visible’ enough? Take a moment to list your top ten figureheads of the fundraising profession (without referring to the January edition of Fundraising. No cheating now!) Who are the fundraisers that most inspire you? Do they feature prominently as leaders of our profession?

Now ask yourself how many of these figureheads are women. This is not an idle question. Whenever I ask my peers to name ten high-profile female fundraisers, they come unstuck.

My intention is not to undermine the achievements or the standing of any fundraiser, male or female. I can’t think of anything duller than to follow the well-trodden track of pitting male against female, plodding into the predictable arena of gender stereotyping. But I am curious why we can’t reel off the names of ten high-profile women fundraisers despite the fact that 47 per cent of fundraisers at the top are women.

In my opinion it’s Fundraising magazine’s insight into gender in their recent survey that’s really "refreshing". But should we be shouting from the rooftops now we know that 47 per cent of fundraising directors are female? Or is it a sign that something’s gone wrong for gender parity in the sector?