Women in fundraising - it's not up to you to make a change, it's up to us

19 September 2018
LeadershipEquality, Diversity and InclusionEthics
Standard Content

I was both shocked and inspired by the debate when I convened a panel discussion about Women in Fundraising at this year’s Fundraising Convention.

From presidents to producers, it seems those who abuse their power are starting to be called out. The #metoo movement has shown us that speaking up and speaking out can have an impact and a collective voice can rebalance power.

In fundraising, there is an emerging #metoo trend shown through a number awful stories: from eye watering gender pay gaps, to unacceptable behaviours by powerful donors, and even high profile resignations.

We learned from our panel that there are some distinct challenges faced by women who are working in fundraising and in non-profit organisations:

Inequality and a lack of pathways to leadership

There is a lack of women in senior positions, which is sadly a near-universal truth. Frustratingly, this is the case in our sector despite a majority of fundraisers being women (nearly 70 per cent).

This has little to do with the availability of talented women ready to step up, Lucy Edwards (Chief Operating Officer, Open Creates) pointed out. Rather, structural bias has created this upside-down position, where there are lots of talented women in fundraising, but few in leadership.

Not enough organisations are proactive in checking their unconscious bias in recruitment, performance management, demands on working time, learning and development, and policy frameworks, Paul Marvell (Interim Director of Fundraising, Battersea) explained. This is further compounded when we look at the challenges faced by women of colour, non-heterosexual women, women with disabilities and women in different age clusters.

Little moments

Bias manifests itself in lots of seemingly small ways too, from expecting women to make the drinks and take the notes, to complimenting female colleagues on their dress or appearance in a way that would be wholly unusual with a male colleague.

This kind of behaviour creates an internal voice in women that ultimately undermines their confidence and can halt career progression, Kath Abrahams (Director of Engagement and Fundraising at Diabetes UK and Vice Chair of the Institute of Fundraising) said as she shared her experiences.

Power positions

Fundraisers are often put in difficult or dangerous positions where power imbalances leave people vulnerable and unsure what to do. Whether it is being groped at an office do, propositioned in a one-to-one meeting or sexually harassed at events.

A lack of confidence and assertiveness can leave people feeling utterly alone and unable to ask for help or report the issue, especially where there is no guidance on what to do in these situations, Ruby Bayley-Pratt (Fundraiser, Trustee of Bloody Good Period) explained.

So, is it really that bad, or are we blowing it out of proportion? Are there many more incidences of sexism and sexual harassment being left unreported than organisations realise?

Many leaders may not have a grip on the extent of the problem – we asked our audience what they thought:

The conclusion our panel reached was that the fundraising #metoo movement needs to be followed by a proactive #notok movement. Our panel laid out what needs to be done:

1. Get your house in order

Policies need to be in place. But that is not all. Having a zero-tolerance policy needs to be supported by a zero-tolerance culture. Paul explained that having organisational values around fairness, diversity and equality is not enough, leaders need to live by and demonstrate these values.

He advised all those in management and leadership roles take time to proactively talk about their values and to model their own zero-tolerance in their behaviour.

2. Build your confidence

Many fundraisers fear reporting can be career ending, and the internal voice can be very harmful in telling you to “leave it, let it go, just be helpful, say yes”. Ruby explained that this voice further erodes confidence, creating a downward spiral.  

She advised not letting the little things go, not allowing yourself to be pushed to take notes, make drinks or run errands. These behaviours act as a gateway for the more serious challenges to come through. She has learned to push back, be assertive and grow her self-belief. Building confidence builds further confidence – create an upward spiral.

3. Get help

Speak to a trusted colleague, a senior manager or even seek external support. Lucy shared her experiences of mentoring, and the powerful impact this has had on her own career.

If you do report the experience, and it falls on deaf ears ask yourself this: if your organisation is really condoning the wrong thing in order to get donations, or achieve impact, are they the ethical organisation you want to work for? Reach out to organisations like @Is3rdSectSexist and your personal network for support.

4. Don't stop

Pushing the equality agenda can be met with sighing and eye-rolling. 

Ruby told our audience not to accept this behaviour. Kath advised tenacity: believe that your career success will be based on your ability to do your job well, and this includes standing up for what is right. Again and again.

Ultimately leaders need to both respond to the need for help and support, and to proactively challenge unacceptable behaviour. This means talking to your staff – not just having an open door but walking out of your office and seeing what is happening.

Everyone, in every role, in every organisation needs to play a part.

I hope to see you all again at Convention 2019. Keep talking.

Yvette Gyles, is the convenor of the Women in Fundraising panel at Fundraising Convention 2018

Yvette Gyles
Yvette Gyles
Assistant Director at The Management Centre
Members Only Content