Tea, cake and equality

Tea, cake and equality

Guest Bloggers | 6 August 2018

As a recent convert to the charity sector, I have been intrigued to observe the differences this sector brings in comparison to the commercial companies I have previously worked for – the abundance of cake, endless jargon and the inspirational can-do mentality from the people around me. However, one of the biggest surprises I’ve found is the predominance of women who work in this sector.

Whether women are more prone to charitable work, or whether we’re simply more attracted by all the free cake is a question for researchers to explore one day. And yet, despite such a high proportion of women working for charities, it comes as quite a shock to see that we are still struggling to achieve equality in our organisations.

The statistics speak for themselves, with three out of four charitable organisations paying their female employees less than men as well as only 28 per cent of charities having a female CEO, it’s clear that we still have a way to go to achieving equality in the sector. So, at Fundraising Convention last month, I was eager to hear from an industry panel discussing women in fundraising.

The speakers Paul Marvell, Lucy Edwards, Kath Abrahams and Ruby Bayley-Pratt all came from varying backgrounds within fundraising, allowing for a diverse perspective on the issues discussed. Limited to an hour, they didn’t find the golden ticket to solve inequality for good, but they did manage to delve into the challenges that exist and explore pathways to success for women and men in this industry.

On a broader level, they highlighted the institutional and cultural barriers that still exist across organisations. It’s clear that this is not limited to the non-profit sector, and is a challenge that resonates throughout the workplace. There is obviously a need for more women in senior management positions, however, as Lucy Edwards pointed out, there is a culture of judgement towards those women who do reach the top, being seen as “not very nice people” – the Howard and Heidi case study proving a prime example of this.

But it’s not just about getting more women to the top. Paul Marvell made an interesting comment around stereotypes that still exist in the sector, highlighting the need to challenge our preconceptions around maternity and gender roles.

While it’s very easy to lament on the state of the world, Yvette Gyles, the mediator of the panel, was very good at keeping discussions on track by steering the panel towards solutions rather than recounting horror stories.

From a personal level, the speakers offered advice for women to push the limits and put themselves in uncomfortable situations. Kath Abrahams recounted how she had to force herself not to immediately make the tea for other senior colleagues when in meetings, so that she wouldn’t position herself as the caregiver for the men on the table. On an institutional level however, Paul Marvell flagged the need for organisations to have structures in place that allow for flexible working.

Coming out of the session, I was left in two minds on equality within the charity sector. On one hand, I was encouraged to hear from the speakers acknowledging the need for change. It goes to show how far we have come that 10 or 20 years ago many women would shrug off inappropriate comments from colleagues, and now we are openly discussing discrimination and calling out the bad players, with panels such as these. On the other hand, I was contemplating how much further we still have left to go even in 2018. There was an overall feeling of support and solidarity in the room, but this was overshadowed by a message to “hang in there” for change to come. It’s clear that we’ve come on in leaps and bounds as an industry, but our work is not yet done.


Rosanna Hansford, Supporter Giving and Engagement Officer at The Children’s Society


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