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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.

Smashing the glass ceiling together

This opinion piece is almost 8 years old

Pat Armstrong explains why Acosvo is creating a Scottish women leaders network to counter inequality of the sexes in the third sector

The front page of Third Force News on 22 April featured three women leaders and an article on Women leading the way. Edel Harris, Louise Macdonald and Jen Paice are all women I admire greatly and I was delighted to see the very well deserved recognition of these the inspiring women. It was a good reminder of how important it is to have positive role models, and was perfect timing for the launch of a new Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations’ (Acosvo) women’s network.

I’ve been in post for rather a long time now as chief executive Acosvo working with over 400 of Scotland’s third sector leaders. The question of whether we should have a women’s network of third sector leaders has been one I have considered a number of times.

I have wavered between thinking we shouldn’t need a separate network in this time of equality to believing that of course we do in order to counter all the inequality still around. As part of a presentation I was asked to give last year at an event to raise awareness of the new Sustainable Development Goals for Gender Equality, I asked some of the Acosvo team what their views were as young women in the sector.

In my mind, we’ve always been equal just not living in a society that adequately reflects that.

Kirsten, our programme officer, said: “Lately, I’ve heard a lot about how women are not assertive enough in the workplace. Personally, I think that’s BS, if anything I think men should learn to sit back, listen and have a bit more humility in the workplace. That way we could get a lot more done with a lot less resistance.”

Emily, our development officer, said: “Only 32% of charity chief executives in the UK are women and for every £1 earned by a man in the voluntary sector, a woman will earn 83p.

“This inequality at the top means that women’s voices and experiences are not equally represented at the tables where the decisions are made. The reasons for this is not women’s lack of interest or abilty.”

In my first third sector post with a women’s organisation in north Edinburgh, I experience first-hand what it means to have a supportive network around me, to be able to access peer support, good practice sharing and leadership development. All of this underpins the ethos of Acosvo. But, do we need a separate forum just for women? Well, in recent months, the scales have been weighed and the answer from the sector is a resounding yes.

An initial meeting with interested women sector leaders discussed the potential for a network. Attendees exchanged their experiences as women leaders in the sector and agreed that while the third sector is often perceived as the “nice sector”, systemic and cultural issues are at work which create barriers to women’s progression and success in it too. Experiences of sexism and statistics around pay inequality in the sector were shared. There was strong appetite from attendees to form a network to support women in leadership positions in the third sector and to nurture the pipeline of women aspiring to become chief officers.

So there you have it – women leaders in Scotland are coming together to support each other, support aspiring young women leaders and ensure equality for all.

Philosophers on the Age of Aquarius have stated it is the age when the woman will be equal to the man. In my mind, we’ve always been equal just not living in a society that adequately reflects that.

The launch of the ACOSVO women’s network takes place on 9 June in Edinburgh. It is open to women chief officers of Scottish voluntary organisations whether they are members of Acosvo or not.