NEWS IN FOCUS: Women yet to break glass ceiling in climb to the top


Women are still earning less and find it hard to reach the top jobs in big charities. Mathew Little looks at the reasons for the inequality.

Compared to the slippery poles of career enhancement in the commercial sector, charities are an exemplar of equality between the sexes. While FTSE-100 companies can muster a solitary female chief executive between them, 45 per cent of voluntary organisations have a woman at the helm, according to an ACEVO survey due to be published later this month.

But headline figures can be deceptive. Men still predominate at the top of the larger charities, with ACEVO recording 57 male chief executives in charities with income of £5 million and above, compared with 26 women.

Male chief executives earn an average of £47,700, compared with £41,730 for women. The gap has narrowed since last year, however, and women chief executives in charities with income above £25 million actually earn more than their male equivalents.

For the first time, ACEVO has also looked at the gender pay gap at senior management level in charities and a similar pattern emerges. At deputy chief executive level, women earn on average around £10,000 less than men and are concentrated in organisations with income below £5 million.

There is not a single female finance director in charities in the £15 million to £25 million income bracket and women finance directors earn, on average, £5,000 less than men.

The glass ceiling, if not double-glazed as in the private sector, has yet to be shattered in the voluntary sector.

"The voluntary sector should be leading on equality issues,

says ACEVO's chief executive Stephen Bubb. "It should be putting its money where its mouth is. Something needs to happen quickly. If a higher proportion of women are in small and medium-sized organisations, then why aren't they represented higher up? There should be a progression upwards. Recruitment policies need be looked at and larger organisations should examine if there is a gender bias."

In May, a group of 30 female charity chief executives attended the launch of Yellow Brick Road, a networking organisation which aims to encourage women to progress to senior positions in the voluntary sector. Co-founder and chief executive of Guide Dogs for the Blind, Geraldine Peacock, believes the pay gap in the sector can be explained by the failure of enough women to reach top positions in the larger, and hence better paying charities, rather than by direct pay discrimination.

"My gut feeling is that progress is being made. More women are getting into senior positions in bigger charities. But there are far more women with smaller salaries in lower income charities. When you average out salaries, this creates a distortion,

she says.

One factor in the relative scarcity of senior women in the top charities, Peacock suggests, is a simple lack of confidence. "Women don't put themselves forward for the bigger jobs,

she says, "despite the fact that women's qualities in management - emotional intelligence, multi-tasking and coaching rather than directing - are particularly suited to charities.

Guide Dogs has appointed a female finance director, but she was one of only two women among 68 men who applied.

But there are other institutional factors that may explain why men still dominate the higher echelons of the sector. Senior managers and chief executives are appointed by trustee boards which, in the larger charities, remain dominated by older men. According to NCVO's 2001 survey on trends in charity governance and trusteeship, 68 per cent of trustees in charities with income above £10 million are male and 88 per cent are more than 45 years of age.

There is also the perception among trustees in larger charities, says Peacock, that the size of the organisation means that someone with "business acumen

- usually male and from the private sector - is needed at chief executive level. The means that female chief executives of medium-sized charities are not making the progression to the big players.

Head-hunters, which are responsible for bringing together the talent pool from which trustees select chief executives, are also predominantly male. "If head-hunters employ more women and trustee boards change their composition, then we might see more women at the top,

says Peacock.

But there are other very practical ways which the voluntary sector is perhaps alienating women who could become future leaders. According to the ACEVO survey, only 24 per cent of charities have a policy that promotes a work-life balance. Only 12 per cent offered more than the statutory minimum maternity leave, while less than 1 per cent had a workplace creche or holiday childcare. While around 4 per cent offered financial assistance for childcare.

There may be conflicting impulses for charities naturally committed to spending as much money as possible on the cause, but Bubb asserts: "We are lagging behind some of best practice in the public and private sectors. For a sector which places such a high value on diversity and equality, this is not good news."

Here perhaps lies the particular imperative for charities to set an example on equality issues. For it is invariably on issues of fairness, equality and access to life chances that it campaigns for change in the world at large. "As things stand, distribution of power and influence is too similar to the for-profit sector,

says Chris Ball voluntary-sector secretary of trade union Amicus. "If the sector cannot be leading edge and distinguish itself, it will be seen as a puny lightweight when it comes to squaring up to business on equality issues."

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