OPINION: Women are not soft touches in the boardroom

Geraldine Peacock, a charity commissioner and a civil service commissioner

Have you noticed the recent and welcome interest from journalists in the trend for women to be appointed to top jobs in the voluntary sector?

They all want to know why. Is it because women's skills are particularly suited to managing this kind of organisation? You know, the softer, intuitive style of management, the ability to multitask - those sorts of things.

After all, aren't charities about people - caring and nurturing?

This attitude irritates me and I feel like saying, "If that's the case, God and Father Christmas must be women - how else could the world have been created in seven days and, each Christmas Eve, every child throughout the world simultaneously receive a present?" There's usually a pause in the conversation then.

There are differences, though, in management styles between men and women in all sectors. On the face of it, the fact that there are more women working in the sector than men might suggest that they have found a management niche, but have they?

Are women better suited to voluntary organisations, or are men less attracted to it because of perceived low status, profile and pay? Do women make 'lifestyle', as opposed to 'career' choices? Are women more likely to doubt they have the right experience, or are men more confident - or better at bullshitting - in similar situations? Although more women than men work in the third sector, this is not reflected in senior management figures.

Is this because more trustees - and headhunters - are men?

The past ten years has seen a growth in opportunities for women in the sector, where their management style has been described as "transformational", men's "transactional." There is also evidence of a different approach from women. They tend to encourage others, not by leading the charge but by painting a picture of the future and encouraging employees to believe in and go for it.

Perhaps it's the kind of savvy best illustrated by the six men and a woman hanging onto a rope over a gorge. One had to let go because the rope was about to break. No one could decide who should do it until the woman gave a touching speech on how she would sacrifice her life to save the others, because women were used to giving things up for their families.

All the men started clapping...

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