Clare Laxton: We are still a sector of women, led by men

I often hear that the sector employs mostly women so we've 'done' gender equality. That's not the case

Clare Laxton
Clare Laxton

It won’t have escaped your notice that there is lots of discussion about diversity within the charity sector at the moment, sparked not least by Third Sector’s recent front cover feature. And rightly so. We shouldn’t forget that we are still overly led by older white men on boards and have an appalling lack of diversity throughout all layers of organisations.

I’ve been looking at the recent debate through the lens of gender equality and from my own experiences. I totally acknowledge my privilege here as a white woman in the sector. There are so many other voices that need to be heard in this debate.

The recent Third Sector cover feature was hailing an important success – the fact that most charity sector representative bodies such as Acevo and Navca are led by women, not something you would have seen a few years ago. We also know that more than 60 per cent of the charity sector workforce is female, which is frequently hailed as another equality success. I so often hear that because we employ mostly women we've "done" gender equality. Bossed it. Double tick. Let's move on.

But I’m going to take umbrage with that viewpoint. Although it is brilliant that the sector employs so many women and many of our representative bodies now have female leaders, we are nowhere near achieving true gender equality.

Statistics from the Charity Commission show that 71 per cent of chairs and 68 per cent of charity treasurers are men. Separate studies have found that 71 of the chief executives at the largest 100 charities are men and our gender pay gap is 8 per cent in favour of men. So, on closer inspection, rather than a sector that uplifts women into leadership positions we are – in proportion to the gender split of our workforce – a sector of women, led by men.

Obviously, there’s more to the story than the facts and figures. I've been in the charity sector for more than a decade and have worked in a proudly feminist charity. At some points in my career I have felt demeaned, intimidated and powerless – all by men who have more power than me. And, to be honest, I still experience mansplaining, regardless of my role or job title. That’s why the gender and diversity imbalance at the top of the sector is an issue.

I have worked with some amazing people in the sector – both men and women – but I am where I am now because of a few female charity chief executives who encouraged, supported and pushed me. It’s true when they say that we stand on the shoulders of those that came before us.

There is no silver bullet to eradicate gender inequality. But there are some things we can all do. We can take a step back and understand our unconscious bias – what are the experiences that shape how we view the world and how are they different to those we work with and lead? What are the barriers to equality that we need to tackle? I don’t know what it’s like to be a man working in the charity sector but would be interested in reading about it.

At Clic Sargent, we know we can do better on diversity and inclusion. Our staff are currently leading the way in discussing BAME representation, understanding what it’s like to be LGBT in the workplace and how to be more inclusive as an organisation for working parents.

I take encouragement from this and know that we can achieve gender equality in the sector – but until we accept that gender inequality is still rife, we cannot progress.

Clare Laxton is associate director for policy and influencing at CLIC Sargent, chair of The Kids Network and a trustee of the National Children's Bureau. @ladylaxton

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