Charity boards that are short on women are missing out

13 March 2024

How many women do you have on your board or senior leadership team? The answer for most charities is, not enough. A recent report by Pro Bono Economics found that, while women make up 68% of employees in the UK charity sector, only 1 in 3 of the UK’s largest charities have a female CEO and men outnumber women on boards at a ratio of 2:1. The authors of the report claim that the sector is being held back by “male-dominated decision making”.

Exactly what lies behind this disparity is not clear, but as a woman who has held a C-suite role in a major international NGO, and as a current board member of a UK charity which has an exemplary gender balance, I can testify to the benefits that women bring to the top table.

In addition, as a Christian, I am inspired by the example of the many female biblical leaders that have gone before: Deborah the Judge, Queen Esther, Lydia and Priscilla, to name but a few. These prominent women embodied many of the traits and attributes required to ensure effective leadership and governance. For example:

  • Deborah, one of the most prominent female leaders in the Bible, served as a judge and a prophetess during a time of enormous political upheaval (Judges 4-5) and demonstrated enormous wisdom, discernment and courage as she led her people – perennial leadership attributes.
  • Esther’s story is marked by strategic thinking, foresight and careful decision making as she devised a plan to save her people; approaching the king at exactly the right moment with the right message. And her commitment to her Jewish identity and values, and bravery in terms of advocating for the marginalised, exemplifies the kind of ethical integrity and values-based leadership needed at the top table in charities.
  • Mary Magdalene, while not a leader in the same vein as Deborah or Esther, embodies the deep faith and spiritual insight needed on the boards and SMTs of Christian not-for-profits. And as the first witness to the risen Christ, she played a crucial role in communicating his message – something which continues to be a priority for Christian organisations today.
  • Lydia, a successful merchant of Philippi, who responded to the message of Christ, played host to Paul (Act 16:14-15) and became one of the early church leaders, also had the kind of entrepreneurial spirit and financial acumen necessary to enable the growth of the early church – the kind of spirit and acumen critical to growing support bases in a difficult economic climate.
  • And another businesswoman, Priscillla, who taught the young leader Apollos, demonstrated the kind of mentorship and leadership development needed at a senior level in charities today – especially when it comes to bringing on women leaders.

Proverbs 11:14 says, “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counsellors there is safety.” Diverse perspectives are key to charity success. The fact that women make up 50% of our demographic is reason alone for charities to aim for board and senior leadership teams that are representative of the population, but women also give more.

The Pro Bono Economics report also found that 72% of women give to charity versus 61% of men. So in the wake of International Women’s Day, take a long, hard look at your organisation and ask yourself whether you could benefit from an injection of female energy and wisdom.

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