Policy, campaigns & research

Women and the Charity Sector: revisiting the Pro Bono Economics report

DSC Researcher, Kalli Jayasuriya, revisits the Women and the Charity Sector report by Pro Bono Economics.

Pro Bono Economics (PBE) published its Women and the Charity Sector report in early November 2023. It comes hot on the heels of NCVO’s Almanac 2023, which touched on the demographics of the voluntary sector’s workforce. This report from PBE goes more into depth about gender in the sector. Here are a few key insights from a report that shouldn’t be forgotten: 

The charity sector ‘feels’ female

Charities provide vital services to women and girls. According to PBE, women are more likely to receive statutory benefits and are more likely to experience poverty. Thus, women are more likely to depend on charities. For example, the report features data from Citizens Advice that reveals 60% of food bank referrals are women. 

Furthermore, the Almanac 2023 shows that 67% of the sector’s workforce is female! For reference, 64% of the public and 41% of the private sectors’ workforce are female. Within the past ten years, the voluntary sector has recruited 120,000 women. However, PBE highlights that diversity is only part of gender equity.  

Men are in the minority but dominate the sector’s decision-making

Although women and girls are more likely to rely on charities, and even though just over two-thirds of the voluntary sector workforce are women, men disproportionately occupy decision-making roles.  

Six years ago, Reuters reported that men outnumber women by two to one on charities’ boards”. In the previous year’s report (2023), PBE’s stated that men continued to outnumber women by two to one in leadership positions. This gender disparity becomes more severe the larger the charity. According to Inclusive Boards, only 13% of the UK’s largest 500 charities have gender parity on their boards. Furthermore, 51% of the nation’s largest 500charities do not have a Global Majority woman on their board. 

Likewise, PBE reveals that only 34% of the financially largest UK charities have a female CEO. Interestingly, charities that were established before 1945 have 21% less women CEOs than charities established after 2000. The report attributes the lack of female leadership to recruitment practices that have not been updated.  

Gender inequity has consequences

The PBE report discusses a range of problems that male dominance in decision-making causes.  

Respondents involved in PBE’s report testify to dealing with behaviours ranging from ‘casual’ sexism, such as comments on their appearance, to sexual harassment. A separate report, conducted in 2022, by Third Sectorrevealed that one group that disproportionately experiences sexual harassment is junior-level fundraisers, who are mostly women. Third Sector’s survey showed that 69%  of intervieweeshad experienced sexual harassment.  

As men predominantly represent senior levels of charities and also CEOs of large charities, there is a gender pay-gap. PBE states that the voluntary sector’s pay gap is better than the public and private sectors, but that women are still paid 4.1% less on average due to a range of socio-economic factors. One of the factors that the report identifies is caring responsibilities. The pay gap becomes more prominent from the ages of 30 onwards, which is when women are most likely to raise children. PBE explains that “gendered expectations” that women are the carers affects women’s careers in the sector.  

The sector has made progress, but a long path is ahead of us

Women interviewees involved in PBE’s report wanted to emphasise that despite the gender inequality issues that the sector faces, it is a good sector to work in. One major advantage is the flexibility that the voluntary sector offers its employees that other sectors do not. Around one third of the sector’s jobs are part-time. This matters because women are three times more likely to work part-time, mostly due to caring responsibilities.  

And there are signs that gender equity is improving. One interviewee said that the sector is “becoming more aware […] of the need to have diverse voices around the table”. Parts of the sector are making active and conscious efforts to increase diversity, with several large UK charities recently announcing new female CEOs. For example, in September 2023, World Vision UK announced that Fola Komolafe would be its first female CEO. Some charities have been progressive by including more women in decision-making positions, such as POhWER, whose executive team is now all female after it appointed Vicky Hilpert as Director of Finance and Resources in June 2023. 

The report recommends that charities should prioritise getting women into decision-making roles, particularly as trustees. Not only may this mean that gendered issues such as caring responsibilities and flexible working are represented on behalf of female staff, but female leadership could also inspire other women.  

This important PBE report highlights the gender imbalance across the sector and makes a strong case for focusing on diversity and inclusion. Men in the sector dominate decision-making, which in turn has consequences for the largely female workforce who are often excluded from this arena. An important recommendation from PBE is getting more women into decision-making roles, including leadership and trusteeship.Improvements have been made in this direction, which is a cause for optimism and celebration. There is a long way to go, of course. If you would like to read the report, you can download it here.