Jan 25, 2021 | Sophia Seawell

Productive discomfort: why we built the FAIR SHARE Monitor

All around the world, social impact organisations are working alongside grassroots movements towards equality and justice. But when we look at their management teams and Board, this commitment to equality is often missing. A man in the social impact sector is almost three times more likely to reach a formal leadership position than a woman – despite the staff of social impact organisations being made up of 70% women.

The current under-representation of women in leadership positions in our sector isn’t only an issue of credibility: practising what we preach and working towards gender equality in our own backyards is crucial for the sector to be a truly effective actor for social change.

So how do we close this gap between values and practise? While there are many different angles from which to approach the issue, we hope to contribute to the solution with the FAIR SHARE Monitor.

What is the FAIR SHARE Monitor?

The FAIR SHARE Monitor measures the proportion of women in leadership in the social impact sector on an annual basis. We call upon international civil society organisations to share data with us on the overall number of women on their staff and the number of women in leadership positions. This year, as a first step towards taking a more intersectional approach, we are also collecting data on the number of Black, Brown, and Indigenous women and women of colour on staff and in leadership.

We then analyse the data and publish the results, which indicate how close each organisation is to achieving a FAIR SHARE of women leaders in their leadership. We define a FAIR SHARE as at least 50% women leaders in senior management and the Board or a correspondingly higher proportion of women in leadership positions if there are more than 50% women in the workforce.

While organisations we do not reach out to directly can contact us and ask to be included in the Monitor, the reverse is not true: organisations cannot choose to be removed from the Monitor. More on why that is below.

Why did we take this approach?

The FAIR SHARE Monitor achieves a few things that we believe are important for the process of change needed in our sector.

First, to address a problem, we need to be able to identify it. The FAIR SHARE Monitor provides a way to measure and thus demonstrate the extent of that inequality, generating data about the lack of equal representation in leadership. With this data, we can make the case for committing to change.

So, what happens after we establish that there is room – and need – for improvement? That’s where accountability comes in. Accountability is the process of holding others and oneself to collectively agreed upon standards or expectations. Put another way: have I done what I said I would do? Am I acting in accordance with the values we share? Am I taking responsibility for how my actions affect others?

Accountability is about walking the talk and applying principles around gender equality to one’s own organisation, and not only the outside world. While many social impact organisations advocate for gender equality, running girls’ rights or women’s rights programmes, their internal structures tell a different story. As a public resource, the FAIR SHARE Monitor gives the sector an extra incentive to hold themselves accountable to the values they espouse.

Some may find that uncomfortable, but we believe that a bit of discomfort can be a good thing! These ‘growing pains’ are a sign that we are operating outside of our comfort zone, and that’s precisely where change happens.

One tool in the toolbox

The FAIR SHARE Monitor on its own cannot do all of the work necessary to create a more inclusive and equitable sector. (And there are many other organisations and individuals doing similar or complementary work, such as the Racial Equity Index).

But this kind of data plays an important role in fostering awareness around gender equality in our sector, and the Monitor gives organisations an entry point into a structural, long-term process of growth. Organisations who want to take the next step on that journey can make the FAIR SHARE Commitment, pledging to achieve a FAIR SHARE of women in their leadership by 2030.

We also recognise that the kind of change our sector needs will require not only more women in leadership positions, but a broader cultural change. That’s we also advocate for Feminist Leadership, which leaders (in formal positions or not) of all genders can adopt and practice.

Would your organisation like to participate in the next FAIR SHARE Monitor? Get in touch via monitor@fairsharewl.org!

Read more about a step we took towards making the Monitor more intersectional.

You can also visit our Frequently Asked Questions page for more detailed information about the Monitor.