Women have had it tough in the workplace for many years. Struggling to be heard or taking a significant role in the boardroom are a daily reality, pay equality is still some way off, and the charity sphere – along with many other sectors – still has an outdated view of women’s professional worth.
Experience shows that closing the pay gap is a minefield, with Britain having one of the worst pay gaps in Europe – women’s salaries are on average 79 per cent those of men. There are more women than men working full-time and part-time in the charity sector, but when it comes to pay the odds are still weighted against them. This is not to say we are still in the dark era of the suffragettes’ struggle for women’s rights; things have moved on immensely since then.
Career breaks for maternity leave and childcare are often cited as reasons for women hitting the glass ceiling - the phenomenon of reaching a certain level of seniority in an organisation, but finding it impossible to move any higher. Although many women feel they need to choose between a successful career and a family, the recent economic turn of events has meant that it is even more challenging for women to ‘have it all’ than ever before.
The time women take off to have children means they have less time to climb the corporate ladder, allowing their male counterparts the opportunity to overtake them in terms of promotions and status and, because of this, women are often seen as a risk to many employers.
Because of the nature of the charity sector, some female charity employees are reserved about asking for more money and are often willing to sacrifice the option of higher pay for the psychological rewards of working for a good cause.
There is no doubt that considerable progress has been made over the years to level the playing field between the sexes when it comes to a fair day’s pay for a fair day’s work. However, fears about job security – added to the removal of working tax credits for people earning more than £40,000 a year – means there are even more prohibitive factors to women hitting the high earning roles.
Women are all too frequently denying their ‘femaleness’ and trying to override their natural tendencies to be emotionally intuitive; instead they are trying to match the tough-skinned manner of many of their male equivalents.
Attempting to mask natural feelings cannot be sustained for extensive periods and if women aren’t true to themselves, they are undermining what they really are, which in turn makes them easy to undermine.
For female charity employees to be successful and compete with their male counterparts, they need to perform well – perhaps even better than men – to prove their value to the employer and reassure them that, although they may take a career break at some point in order to have a family, they are talented and committed to their role.
In order to be successful in the charity sector, women should embrace their emotional, ‘female’ side so they can truly thrive in the workplace in senior positions. They can not only thrive, but do so without becoming a cliché or undermining themselves.
A lack of diversity on charity boards often results in a limited outlook and a shortage in skills that could hinder performance. Diverse boards are known to perform better and make more informed decisions and this is why charities need to work harder to bridge the gender pay gap.
Jo Ellen Grzyb is a psychotherapist and co-founding director of the training firm Impact Factory