The not-for-profit sector is often perceived to be the domain of women.

The perception is buttressed by the fact that many large foundations and non-profits are headed by the wives and daughters of billionaires or the founders of business empires. So, it is assumed that women dominate all areas related to charity and social work.

However, a survey of 328 not-for-profits in 2015 by Dasra, a philanthropy foundation, suggests this is not true. There are, in fact, far too few women in the sector, and those present are not always in a position to make a significant impact. “It is not just about hiring more women in the sector. We need to make sure that they stay and that we have more women in leadership and board positions," said Smarinita Shetty, a director at Dasra.

The survey found that as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) become larger, the chances that they will be led by a man double. For NGOs with annual budget of 5 crore or less, only 20% are led by men, while of organizations with budgets of 5 crore and above, over 38% are led by men. In comparison, women-led non-profits account for 19% of the below 5 crore category and 20% of the above 5 crore category. The rest have both women and men in their leadership teams.

Another disparity that emerged in the Dasra survey was in the ratio of men to women on the boards of Indian non-profits: 13 of the 74 organizations headed by men had no women on their board.

Traditionally, the social sector has attracted more women, said Vidya Shah, chief executive of Edelgive Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Edelweiss group. But “more women are required in senior positions because they bring more empathy and a natural understanding of communities and the strong need to work with all participants to bring about social change," said Shah, who is vocal about the need for greater representation for women in the social sector.

“There are women in the sector, but the real problem is that too few of these women become leaders of their organizations," said Gayle Peterson, co-founder and senior managing director of Pfc Social Impact Advisors.

The Dasra survey shows that women comprise close to 53% of employees across designations in all the not-for-profits it surveyed, but only 34% of them are in managerial positions. Interestingly, the percentage of women across the surveyed organizations in managerial or higher-ranked positions varies based on which gender heads the NGO. In women-led organizations, 75% of female employees have managerial roles, whereas only 15% of female employees have managerial roles in men-led organizations.

An international study reflects a similar reality at the global level as well. Guide Star’s 2015 Nonprofit Compensation Report studied over 1,000 organizations and showed that the share of women among non-profit CEOs is 43%, with greater inequality in numbers and compensation at larger and wealthier organizations. Only 18% of the largest non-profits have female CEOs.

The report also pointed out that female CEOs at organizations with budgets of $2.5-5 million earn 23% less than their male peers. “This is sadly true almost everywhere, and is not unique to the non-profit sector," added Peterson. Voicing similar sentiments, Kshama Fernandes, CEO of IFMR Capital, which works in microfinance, said the under-representation of women (in top slots) in the non-profit sector only reflects the typical patriarchal hierarchies prevalent in all sectors.

In 2014, the World Economic Forum predicted that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. And in 2015, they estimated that the economic slowdown meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133. This should ring alarm bells in all sectors, and more so in the not-for-profit sector, which is in the forefront of all struggles for equality.

Close