Not-for-Profit Sector Can Be Leading Light for Leadership Equality

Read the Conclusions That Emerged from Our Seminar On Gender Diversity and Let Us Know If You’re Interested in Taking the Next Step Too

We read with interest this morning that the Government has set up a task force to promote gender equality in Higher Education. The establishment of the task force follows the publication last year of a national third level gender review, which found that women in that sector faced barriers to progression that were not experienced to the same degree by men.

This lack of balance in the higher education sector was mirrored in our own topline research on gender equality.  Across the eight not-for-profit sectors we looked at, we found that organisations working in and for the education sector came out bottom of the list when it came to representation of women at board level and as CEOs.

Out of the 12 education foundations and trusts we examined (with annual incomes from over €8 million to a quarter of a million) we found that there was just one CEO in place.  And of the 136 board members for those organisations, there were just 35 women represented – or 26% of the total.  Remarkably, one Foundation had no women on its board at all.

These figures fare well below the average of 38% for women on boards and 37% representation of women at CEO level across the sector in general.

But it’s important to remember that women make up 72% of the non-profit sector in Ireland.  So, in reality, even amongst the more gender progressive of organisations, women are still only half as likely to reach leadership level within their careers.

Despite the relative inequality evident in the current figures, there was general optimism amongst those attending our gender diversity seminar a week ago.  One of the points consistently made was that the non-profit sector can, and should be, a leading example to other sectors.  It has a great chance to be the sector that removes, in practice, the barriers that make it harder for women to progress to leadership.


Next Steps – 5 Key Conclusions

Participants concluded that there were five things that could begin to progress a push towards greater diversity at leadership level in our sector.

1. Review the formation of boards first – look who’s doing the hiring and examine the criteria they are using to make decisions on CEOs. Applying traditional corporate criteria for selection may not benefit women and may not actually be the most impactful for the sector.
2. Continue to push as a sector for key infrastructural and policy changes that act as barriers to women across all sectors – maternity leave and childcare for example – and consider the benefits of quotas.  They already exist, for example, in the area of sport.
3. Initiate and explore funding for more robust research required.

4. Build a “constituency” of people interested in specifically championing and progressing greater leadeship in the sector for women.

5. Value the sector more and the role of women as professionals within the sector – talk, as a sector, about the skills and skill levels required for impact, push back on the pervasive culture that determines that work and leadership commitment within the sector should be valued and paid less than that within the corporate and commercial sector.

Let us know if you’re interested in joining the constituency to champion greater leadership for women in our sector.   We’ll keep you up to date on any follow-up meetings or activities planned.