Opinion: Third Voice - The noisy minority - why the male mafia still rules

Beth Breeze, deputy director of the Institute for Philanthropy

One of the things I love most about the Institute of Fundraising's annual convention is that it's the only female-dominated professional event I ever attend. Looking at the delegates milling around the sessions and bars, it's refreshing to get a sense of what it must be like to be a man at work, constantly surrounded by your own kind.

This makes it all the more surprising that a list of "the most influential people in fundraising", published on the final day of the convention, was so dramatically dominated by men. No fewer than 39 of the 50 named influencers come from the minority gender of our profession. Of the 11 women, the highest placed came in 10th and only three others made the top half.

Why? It might be that fundraising is like other female-dominated professions in which the smaller proportion of men hog the top jobs - such as primary schools that have male heads and an entire staff of female teachers. There are many successful female directors of fundraising, but the high-profile 'sector leadership' roles at the Institute of Fundraising, the NCVO and Acevo are all filled by men.

Three more intangible barriers might also be in place. The first and most obvious is ego. Men seem willing to embrace pompous titles such as 'guru'. The daily convention newsletter invited readers to text-vote for their favourite fundraising guru - unsurprisingly, all ten candidates were male.

Second, men seem more relaxed about seeking and receiving praise from their contemporaries. The day before the 'top 50' poll was announced, one of the subsequently highly placed names told me he'd entered into Eurovision Song Contest-style pacts with fellow male candidates, each promising to vote for the other on the basis that they'd return the favour. Although these pledges might have been made in jest, the subject never came up between any of the women that I speak with regularly.

This may be because, third, the perception of women's influence lags behind the reality because we spend less time managing our image than male colleagues. We're too busy getting on with the job to discuss how well we might be doing it.

The 'influencers list', like most polls, is a bit of harmless fun. In future, however, let's hope it more accurately represents the reality of women's place and prominence in our profession.

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