The gender question

It’s a tricky issue, the imbalance between men and women in fundraising. Leaving aside the fact that most articles I’ve read on this exclude non-binary identities, the main question being asked seems to be “why aren’t more men professional fundraisers?”

Interesting question, and one that two recent articles try to address. The first, badly timed and with an overall tone of whinge, comes from the Association of Fundraising Professionals in the USA.

In it, the AFP asks why it’s so difficult to recruit men into fundraising, citing issues such as how “intimidating” a team full of women can be, and that the dominance of women on hiring panels biases recruitment processes.

The fact that the AFP managed to send this post out on International Women’s Day naturally caused some consternation on Twitter. Not only was the article’s content patronising to anyone of any gender working in the sector, the timing really could not have been worse. (Seriously? On International Women’s Day? SMH.)

Having seen the Twitter reaction to the AFP article, I was intrigued to see Bruce Tait of BTA recruitment agency addressing the same issue of gender imbalance in an article of his own.

While not condescending like the AFP’s offering, this article still has a slightly whiny tone to it which adds nothing to the debate. Asking why there isn’t “a male equivalent” approach to attracting men into fundraising after starting a family misses the point (to say nothing of perpetuating the stereotype that only women can and do take time off to have family).

Yes, there is an imbalance of gender in fundraising roles. Yes, more women occupy middle management positions than men, and more men than women are at the very top of the tree. Yes, this is something that could and should be addressed across the sector; being more aware of unconscious gender bias in recruitment can only be a good thing.

But this is not a problem that’s isolated from the rest of the working world. The systemic issues; such as the perception of fundraising as a more feminine industry, for instance; the fact that while the charity sector is doing better at attracting outside of itself, most of the highest level posts are still filled by men rather than women with a corporate background; these things are wider than just the fundraising world.

That’s not to say that we shouldn’t consider them a problem – far from it. But what I think would be more helpful is to hear more of the voices of those at the sharp end. I want to read blog posts and articles from young men in fundraising, talking about their integration into teams of women (is it intimidating, how can we look to change that?). I want to hear women at senior management level talking about progressing through the ranks (the glass ceiling there being a whole other problem all on its own). And I want us as fundraisers to think about how we start making the changes to our own industry that can hopefully ripple out to other sectors too.

There’s never going to be a perfect solution. But we can start working towards something better and more representative of all of us if we listen to colleagues actually experiencing these things, as well as the opinions of those at the top.




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