Gender Diversity and Pay in the Charity Sector—A Narrowing Gap?

Issues of gender in the workplace have never been so topical. One hundred years after women in the UK won the right to vote, we’re mired in discussions around how gender affects day-to-day life at work, as well as career development.

Hollywood and the entertainment sector grabbed the headlines first in 2017, with the Harvey Weinstein scandal unleashing a seismic shock to that industry that’s since been felt around the world, and across all employment sectors. And what’s emerged since then about sexual harassment in some parts of the charity sector shocked many of us to the core. Alongside these developments, there’s ongoing debate about the gender pay gap across all employment sectors.

So what is the latest data? Are things improving when it comes to gender diversity and the pay gap? And how does the charity sector compare to other sectors in this regard?

A narrowing gender pay gap

Fortunately, there has been some positive cross-sector news on the subject of gender diversity and the pay gap. The ONS recently published UK-wide data which showed that:

  • Among full-time employees the gender pay gap shrunk from 9.0% in April 2019 to 7.4% in April 2020.
  • The gender pay gap among all employees shrunk from 17.4% in 2019 to 15.5% in 2020.
  • The gender pay gap remained close to zero for full-time employees aged under 40 years but was over 10% for older age groups.

This trend is also visible in our sector. Towards the end of last year, the NCVO published data which showed that it’s median gender pay gap shrunk from 12% last year to 8% this year.

Gender diversity at the top 

Our sector is female dominated. According to the most recent NCVO Almanac women make up 68% of the charity workforce. But is this also the case at leadership level?

Third Sector’s 2020 Diversity Survey also had tentative good news when it came to gender diversity in the sector at senior level. Three years on from their previous survey, it showed a stuttering but upward trend. It found that women represent 54% of senior leaders, up just 5 percentage points from 2017 – while female representation among trustees has remained at 41%.

There has been more promising movement on the gender equality front when it came to CEOs, with the proportion of female chief executives jumping to 40% from 30%. But looking at these figures in the context of the overall gender split, it’s fair to say that women are still significantly underrepresented in charity leadership.

are your interview processes fair

Does gender have an impact on your career?

Data from our most recent candidate survey shows that 52% of candidates thought gender would have an impact on their career. But of those, men were much less likely to think it’d have an impact than women: 27% compared to 56%. It seems safe to assume that’s a negative impact.

We then asked candidates if they’d ever felt discriminated against at work. As much as 26% said they’d experienced gender discrimination – less than for age discrimination but a significant number nonetheless.

We also asked if they could tell us more about their experience of gender diversity and the pay gap in the charity sector. Over 250 people did, taking the time to give us their first hand experiences. Here’s what they had to say:

“ Men are more likely to be given the management roles in an office. A male was given the job over me without any prior experience managing - and I had already managed the team and they did not make me team leader. I felt this was discrimination. ”

“ Male trustee boards can treat you like “the little women. ”

“ I have been in organisations where men are promoted ahead of more qualified and experienced women. Men’s ability to talk themselves up is valued more than a woman’s proven ability to deliver. ”

What is it like for men in the charity sector?

But we also received many replies from men in non-senior roles who felt that being a man could be a disadvantage in our female-dominated sector. There’s an impression that men often don’t feel welcome or that they don’t “fit” in the charity sector when applying for—or employed in—non senior roles.

“ I do believe that the charity sector, in particular, is weighted towards the recruitment of women and that the charity sector is becoming more female orientated. I do believe as well that women now have more career prospects even at the top level. ”

“ Borderline bullying: the organisation I work at has recruited a high number of young females, some of whom are terribly cliquey. I found it difficult to break through as a middle aged black male. ”

“ Discovered male colleague on a higher salary. When challenged, the organisation did increase mine to the same level. This was 20 years ago, working in a national children’s charity. ”

Family and caring responsibilities

So, why is there a disproportionate number of men in leadership roles? Their high salaries exacerbate the gender diversity and pay gap for the sector overall.

There isn’t one single reason and it’s a complex issue. But we can look only at the experiences of the candidates who replied to our survey. It’s clear that many women feel that family and caring responsibilities fall largely to them and this has an impact on their career progression within the sector. It also means they’re often in part-time roles which pay less and allow less scope for career progression.

We had many comments from women who felt that family and caring commitments meant their career (and salary) was held back.

“ Consider better paid part time for experienced mums returning to work rather than salaries for college leavers. ”

“ I was part time after I had my children and they tried to make me redundant when there was another alternative. ”

Gender plus age: the perfect storm

The number one cause of discrimination for candidates (who completed our survey) was age. This surprised us. It came above gender and ethnic discrimination. What’s more, our survey results showed that being older AND a woman, was a double handicap when it came to getting a job in the sector, or moving up in your career.

It was clear from their comments that many older women candidates (over 40) feel discriminated against on account of both age and gender.

“ At 52 I feel some companies see that as a woman you are past the age of being fit. In this day and age this is not the case. ”

“ I am 56, I have genuine hands-on experience, knowledge and skills, excellent references, recommendations, etc. Yet people fail to truly understand the full value and benefit that I can bring to the workplace. When applying for a job the goal used to invited for interview—now the goal is to keep your fingers crossed in the hope that the person “skimming” through your CV is bring enough to recognise the worth of the experience detailed. ”

Gender diversity—an ongoing conversation

It’s great to see that there has been movement in the right direction when it comes to a narrowing gender pay gap and the proportion of female leaders in our sector.

However our survey showed us that it’s not equal pay that’s the problem so much as career progression—and a lack of representation in leadership/senior management roles. Their comments show that women’s careers and salaries are stalled by caring responsibilities. Requirements for flexible working and part time hours are hampering their ability to progress.

The pandemic has highlighted that its time for us to look properly at how we can improve prospects for people who need to work flexibly. That way we can make the most of the talented, experienced workforce that’s attracted to our sector. And we must recognise that a better gender mix at all levels is a fairer representation of society. It also produces a healthier working environment, less vulnerable to accusations of cliques and bullying.


Tags: charity sector, diversity, gender gap, pay gap

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About the author

Jean Merrylees

Jean Merrylees is a freelance content writer and editor who has previously written for the BBC. Jean is now taking her first steps into the charity sector after spending some time writing for both Diabetes UK & CharityJob.