Women 'still face voluntary sector glass ceiling'

Study by former Clore social fellow Rowena Lewis highlights discrimination, under-representation and sexual harassment

Rowena Lewis
Rowena Lewis

Women in the voluntary sector face a "reinforced" glass ceiling, according to new research by the former Clore social fellow Rowena Lewis.

The report, Close to Parity: challenging the voluntary sector to smash the glass ceiling, says previous research found that 68 per cent of the voluntary sector workforce is female, but Lewis's own survey of 1,106 charities found that only 43 per cent of charities were led by female chief executives or chairs. Separate research has shown that in charities with turnovers of £10m or more, only 27 per cent are led by women, according to the report.

It says that although the numbers of female leaders compares favourably with the public and private sectors, woman were not "making it up the ranks in the numbers we would expect".

"The voluntary sector prides itself on its commitment to pur­suing social justice and tackling inequality, but it is failing its women," says Close to Parity.

"It is scandalous that women of the voluntary sector still face discrimination, pay inequity and a reinforced glass ceiling and that little or no action is being taken to tackle this."

The study says women are best represented in playgroup and nursery organisations, where 97 per cent of leaders are female. And they are particularly under-represented in religious organisations, where 15 per cent of leaders are women.

Lewis also interviewed 22 female voluntary sector leaders, including Debra Allcock Tyler, chief executive of the Directory of Social Change, Emma-Jane Cross, chief executive of Beatbullying, and Dame Mary Marsh, director of the Clore Social Leadership Programme

The research came across examples of women who felt undermined, stereotyped and sexually harassed at work.

"The voluntary sector, and in particular those insti­tutions that represent and support the sector and its people, must break the silence on the issue of sexual harassment and support those who are sub­jected to such damaging behaviours," the report says.

The report calls on the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, Acevo and other bodies to do more to champion women’s equality, and for more research to be carried out into understanding women’s experiences in the voluntary sector.

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