Mar 4 | Helene Wolf

More Women in Leadership Positions

Two years ago, when we started examining women’s leadership in international civil society organisations (ICSOs), we didn’t have a very clear idea of what to expect. The role of women was discussed, but mostly on a very weak basis of data and often only in the context of the #MeToo debate or the series of sexual misconduct scandals in the sector. The very few studies we found suggested that 70% of staff in the sector are women, but only 30% of leaders were women. We decided to dig deeper and started collecting reliable data and setting up a system for regular monitoring to hold organisations accountable to gender equality within their own organisations. We also called on all organisations to commit to achieving a FAIR SHARE of women leaders by 2030, as most organisations work within the framework of the SDG Agenda which clearly puts gender equality front and centre with Goal No. 5. A FAIR SHARE means that an organisation has at least 50% women leaders, or a higher, in order to match the percentage of women in their staff. With the publication of our international FAIR SHARE Monitor, we are starting to see progress as well as new action areas towards our objectives.

Two out of three ICSOs increase the number of women leaders

Over the past 12 months, women leaders have strengthened their foothold in the leadership of organisations such as Amnesty International, Pact, Plan International and Transparency International. Today, nearly half (48.4%) of the reviewed organisations have a FAIR SHARE of women leaders. Compared to 2019 this is an increase of 16.3%. Other indicators are also positive: 58.1% of the organisations have committed to achieving a FAIR SHARE of women leaders by 2030 at the latest – an increase of 18.8%, and 83.9% have supported FAIR SHARE with the collection of data – an increase of 19.6%. This shows that, in the wake of MeToo and a number of sexual abuse scandals in the sector, many organisations are systematically promoting women’s leadership as a lever of change.

Women are recruited into senior leadership teams – but Boards lag behind

On closer examination, this positive trend seems to occur mainly on the management side of leadership: Today, women are a majority in 41.9% of Senior Management Teams. This signals an increase of 9.8%. At the same time, the composition of boards has not changed much, and governance is still dominated by men. Only 29% of Boards (+4%) have a majority of women. This may be partly due to the fact that Boards are only elected every few years, thus change takes longer. On the other hand, there may also be a lack of clear policies that promote women into key governance positions. Currently, many women CEOs are overseen by male dominated boards.

More than half of ICSOs still need to achieve a FAIR SHARE of women leaders

Of the 16 organisations (51.6% of the total) that still need to achieve a FAIR SHARE of women leaders, 6 have made significant progress, 3 moderate progress, 5 stagnated, while 2 even decreased their share of women leaders. This means, 7 (22.6%) out of 31 reviewed organisations are doing far too little to secure a FAIR SHARE of women leaders. With our Monitor, we want to point these organisations’ attention to their deficits and encourage their partners, donors, and staff to raise the issue of women’s rights internally.

Men are still nearly three times more likely to make it to the top

Across all of the reviewed organisations men, on average, continue to have better career opportunities than women. Today, a talented young man is still 2.7 times more likely to rise to the top of an ICSO than an equally talented young woman. This means, while the overall trend is positive, the sector still has a long way to go to provide fair and equal opportunities to the women on their staff.

Culture change needed to sustain and increase progress

To ensure women leaders will thrive, that will have longevity, and that they don’t get pushed over the “glass cliff”, organisations will have to develop an organisational- and leadership­­– culture that values representation, diversity and collective decision-making. Embracing feminist leadership principles will be a crucial aspect of this change agenda as for example AB Albrectsen and Malayah Harper point out. Only when organisations manage to live up to these values will they be legitimate and effective agents of change for women’s and girls’ rights in their programming and advocacy.

Deficits at national level

With our international Monitor we are looking at the international secretariats (IS) and, where available, the global organisations (GO) of large ICSOs. However, as many of the ICSOs are organised as federations of national affiliates and large decision-making power lies at these levels, we aim to collect national data as well. We have been able to start this together with CARE, Greenpeace and Plan International. Oxfam started the process a few months ago. The first data sets suggest that while their international structures or cross-organisational averages fulfil the FAIR SHARE criteria, some of their national affiliates lag behind and need to undertake considerable efforts to secure a FAIR SHARE of women leaders. These data sets have proved to us that we need to look more closely at the situation at the national level.

First national Monitor in Germany with disappointing results

On 03 March 2020 we have been launching our first national Monitor in Germany.

Only 9.6% of the leading German CSOs and foundations fulfil the FAIR SHARE criteria (compared to 48.4% internationally) and only 8.4% (compared to 58.1%) were willing to sign a commitment to reach a FAIR SHARE of women leaders by 2030 at the latest. Furthermore, a man is nearly six times more likely than a woman to rise to the top of a German organisation. In short, discrimination of women at the workplace is sweeping and the awareness of the situation and the preparedness to act on it is very low.

While we see a trend towards gender parity at the international level, we are confronted with an enormous task in Germany. We fear the situation in Germany is not unique and that we will face similar situations in a number of the other countries we plan to review over the coming years.