This website uses cookies for anonymised analytics and for account authentication. See our privacy and cookies policies for more information.

The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Gender imbalance is holding back the charity sector

This news post is 7 months old

While women account for more than two-thirds of the workforce, it is men who dominate the most influential decision-making positions

Male-dominated decision making is holding the UK charity sector back, a new report claims.

It reveals a huge and damaging gender imbalance at the top of major organisations.

This results in a failure to fairly represent the make-up of the sector’s workforce and service users, according to then Pro Bono Economic (PBE) report, Women And The Charity Sector (see below for full report).

PBE is calling on sector leaders, charity boards and funders to lead the way in addressing an “under-discussed gender imbalance”.

Its report finds that while women account for more than two-thirds (68%) of the UK sector’s workforce – and contributed £19 billion to the economy through the sector in 2019 – it is men who dominate the most influential decision-making positions.

Less than a third (32) of the top 100 UK charities by income are led by women, according to the report – which notes the “outsized role” of the largest charities in the sector in terms of financial firepower and influence. The 64 “super-major” charities in the UK make up just 0.04% of all charitable organisations, but receive 22% of the income.

The report also finds men outnumber women by a ratio of two to one overall as trustees on the boards of charities in England and Wales – with less than a third of women occupying the most influential roles of chair (29%) and treasurer (32%). No figures were available for Scotland.

The dominance of men among the UK’s major philanthropists is also identified as a cause for concern in the report, which cites this year’s Giving List by The Sunday Times, featuring just seven independent female philanthropists, compared to 69 men. This imbalance has negative repercussions, according to the report, such as women’s and girls’ charities being too often deprioritised and chronically underfunded.

In 2021, £4.1bn was awarded in grants to the charity sector, yet just 1.8% of these funds went to organisations focusing on women and girls, and a third of all grants designated for women’s and girls’ activities went to organisations with no specific focus on women and girls.

This is a particular concern given the significant number of organisations in the sector established to provide targeted support to women. There are an estimated 9,900 charities which identify women as a specific beneficiary group and 4,600 charities which have girls as a specific beneficiary group, according to the report.

Drawing on interviews with 35 female leaders of charities, community groups and sector infrastructure bodies in the UK, the report recognises there has been “some improvement” in the sector’s gender imbalance in recent years, but insists “it has not been fast enough”.

The interviews revealed many personal stories from female sector leaders of the casual sexism they have experienced during their careers in the charity sector, including comments about their appearance, being assumed to be the note-taker in the room, having their ambition perceived as a negative trait and being mocked for demonstrating emotion, among much else.

The sector’s gender imbalance is also reflected in pay, according to the report, which notes that, on average, women in the charity sector are paid 4.1% less per hour than men. Research shows that the gender pay gap in the sector jumps at the peak of the years women tend to spend raising children, described in the report as a “wage penalty” women experience for child rearing.

Among its recommendations, the report calls for more consistent support for current and future female leaders in the sector, especially around confidence and network-building – pointing out that infrastructure bodies need to get better at reaching women unaware of their support services.

The report also calls on charity boards to play a more “proactive” role in raising issues affecting women, such as fair pay and caring responsibilities, as well as urging boards to continue to make progress in recruiting more diverse trustees.

Among its key findings, the report found:

  • The charity sector has created an additional 120,000 jobs for women over the past decade, to become the source of one in every 25 jobs filled by women in 2022,
  • women contribute an estimated 64% of the hours worked in civil society, compared to men’s 36%,
  • women in the charity sector contributed £19bn to the economy in 2019 – this includes a contribution of £9.9bn through volunteering and £9.2bn through their work as employees in the charity sector,
  • women make up between 56%-63% of the sector’s CEOs overall - that falls to 35% of the CEOs of the largest charities and 46% of the CEOs of the oldest charities.
  • and in 2022, 72% of women gave money to charitable causes in the previous month, compared to 61% of men.

Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics, said: “This research shines a light on the profound gender imbalance which runs through the charity sector in the UK, but is rarely acknowledged. Women are drivers of so much of the good done by the nation’s charities, comprising two-thirds of the sector’s workforce. And they are critical consumers of that good too, with more than 10,000 organisations dedicated to women’s and girls’ issues.

“However, many of the levers of decision-making power in the sector reside predominantly in male hands, whether that be on the boards of charity trustees, among the CEOs of the UK’s biggest and most influential charities, or within the list of the country’s most generous philanthropists.

“Things are improving, but not quickly enough. Charity leaders, boards and funders must play a proactive role in addressing these issues. Driving greater gender balance in the charity sector will help to create a sector that is more reflective of its workforce and users and, ultimately, more effective.”

Vicky Pryce, PBE patron and economist, added: “As a patron and trustee of a number of women’s charities, the evidence presented in this Pro Bono Economics report is a powerful reminder of the gender imbalance that exists in the charity sector today.

“Progress in addressing this imbalance in recent years has been welcome, but, as the report shows, there is still much to do to achieve a charity sector that is more reflective of its workforce and users.

“The drive to achieve this is essential not only for a fairer charity sector, but also a more effective one, along with the wider and significant societal benefits that will follow.”