NEW IDEAS: Gender Issues in Fundraising – a roadmap for structural change

We all know we need to make changes. But the question is how do we make those changes. Ian MacQuillin describes how Rogare aims to identify structural changes that will level the playing field for all female fundraisers, not just those who will benefit from current initiative and projects.

This blog is part of the Gender Issues In Fundraising Project run by Rogare – The Fundraising Think Tank.

In July 2018 I was sitting in a panel session at the IoF National Convention that was looking at the issue of women in fundraising. As I recall this had been a fairly late addition to the programme. I’d already decided that Rogare needed to turn our attention to the question of gender in the fundraising profession. The spur to this has been Beth Upton’s 2017 blog on UK Fundraisingabout her experiences of being a woman in the charity sector, in which she described cases of sexual harassment and impropriety.

By the end of 2017 Rogare had started pulling together the brief for this project, assembling the team and collating the literature and reading lists. One of the key papers was by Seattle University’s Elizabeth Dale, published in the International Journal of Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Marketing in December 2017. Titled ‘Fundraising as women’s work? Examining the profession with a gender lens’, Dale’s paper was both timely (the Presidents Club scandal kicked off the month after it was published, providing fresh impetus to gender issues in fundraising) and a must read for anyone with any serious interest in these issues and challenges.

“At Rogare, we don’t simply want to ameliorate the effects of the patriarchy to make it easier for women to get ahead in fundraising. Our goal is not to improve the lot of female fundraisers by providing them with special assistance so they can compete on an equal footing with their male counterparts, but to level the playing field so that no such special assistance is needed in the first place.”

And so in July 2018 I watching the IoF’s panel debate. 

That session left me feeling dissatisfied, though not with the panellists, who all said things that no-one could disagree with. Men should call out bad behaviour when they encounter it. They should. Women should be paid the same rates for the same job as men to reduce the gender pay gap. They should.

How, though, were we to achieve these things? Let’s just consider one issue out of the many – the gender pay gap.

It’s all very well saying we need to reduce the gender pay gap. The question is how do we reduce it – it clearly isn’t as simple as ‘just paying women the same as men’; if it were we’d have fixed it years ago. To find an answer for the gender pay gap issue, we need to know exactly what it is and what it represents or indicates. These are possibly different things in the UK and in the US, since their respective equal pay legislation is different: the US legislation allows for unequal pay based on merit, seniority and performance in a way the UK law does not (though I am no HR or employment law expert and stand to be corrected in this interpretation).

In both countries, the gender pay gap could signal that there is significant law-breaking going on; or it could suggest that there’s a hierarchical stratification in roles, with women predominantly occupying more junior, lower-paid roles. 

But in the US, perhaps the pay gap is exacerbated by more leeway in the jobs market that allows men do better than women at negotiating better salaries and benefits packages – based on their perceived or alleged seniority or merit –  which further reinforces this stratification? There’s some evidence for this. A study into the gender pay gap in fundraising commissioned this year by the Association of Fundraising Professionals reported that 61.5 per cent of fundraisers had negotiated their salaries in 2018. Of those, 69 per cent of male fundraisers reported that they had negotiated their salaries “effectively”, compared to 58 per cent of women (you can also check out the press release here). 

Sixty-nine per cent of male US fundraisers effectively negotiated their salaries last year, compared to 58 per cent of women. Does this suggest we need to help women become better at negotiating their salaries, or we should change the way that salaries are set and awarded to that negotiations play a less prominent part in the process?

Elizabeth Dale describes one possible explanation. This is the process of ‘feminization’, which happens when women enter what have previously been male-dominated professions. Men then move out of the more junior roles – which are downgraded in status as a result – reserving for themselves the more prestigious, and more highly paid, senior positions. This process of feminization has happened in clerical workbanking, teaching, healthcare, and social work. And so if the process of feminization is one of the causal factors of the gender pay gap, we have an indication of where and how to direct our interventions in order to close the gap.

A Google Image search for ‘teacher’. Most of the images depict a woman, perhaps because teaching is one of those professions that has undergone a process of ‘feminization’.

The first part of Rogare’s project to explore Gender Issues in Fundraising has been to lay out some of some of the wealth of knowledge and ideas that have already been devised, so that we do not reinvent the wheel or exclude something really important, and that we are armed with the actual knowledge we need to make change.

In a series of blogs on Critical Fundraising, we have provided a basic grounding in various terms and concepts, and looked at sexual harassment and violencecareer progression,  and leadership  as they pertain to and affect female fundraisers.

This fill gaps about what knowledge we need to effect change. But it leaves questions about how we now use this knowledge.

Gender and Critical Realism

I regularly get accused of ‘overthinking’ things, and if you’re one of those who levels such criticism, you’re really not going to like the next few paragraphs.

All academics and researchers work within a methodological paradigm that informs how and why they carry out the research the way they do. At Rogare our methodological approach is something called critical realism (CR).

Critical realism considers that there is an independent social reality, and that things are not simply constructs we have invented, as various forms of interpretivism would have it – gross simplification klaxon! Critical realism therefore considers that certain things really exist in the real world. The role of CR is to identify the mechanisms, often hidden or unactivated, that explain/cause these real world phenomena. These mechanisms operate hierarchically at different levels, with deeper mechanisms explaining the mechanisms and observed events at higher levels. CR aims to develop what are called ‘causal-explanatory accounts’ of events. The purpose of CR is to explain, but not predict, as is the case with positivist science. So critical realism is the halfway house between positivism and interpretivism.

Although I’ve never been very explicit about this approach, it underpins everything we’ve done in ethics, regulation, public perception and relationship fundraising.

The critical realist approach is exemplified in the report we produced that looked at the barriers to relationship fundraising (this is not yet transferred into our new brand but will be available shortly). This report identifies barriers at different levels, with those at lower levels explaining/causing those above, e.g.:

  • A barrier to relationship fundraising is a failure to invest in long-term fundraising (insistence on short-term targets), which is explained/caused by…
  • …lack of understanding of professional fundraising, which is explained/caused by…
  • …lack of organisational culture of philanthropy, which is explained/caused by…
  • …fundraising not being seen as a profession, which is explained/caused by…
  • …many things, including the lack of a specified and required body of knowledge (and we have a separate line of enquiry that uses CR to uncover the mechanisms behind fundraising’s lack of professionhood and how they can be activated to lead to greater professionalisation).

This is the approach we aim to take with our gender project – to look for the factors that have causal powers to shape the patriarchy in fundraising, and to help identify where and how we can best intervene to redress the balance by activating or supressing certain causal powers.

Because what critical realism also tells us is that the patriarchy is real – literally real; it’s not just a social construct we have created, but something that exists independently of whatever we say or think about it.

Just as there are mechanisms that keep buildings standing, so there are mechanisms that keep the patriarchy standing. We uncover what those mechanisms are by asking realist questions about the thing the mechanism enables, be that the something physical such as the Empire State Building or something intangible but equally ‘real’ such as the laws of cricket, public trust in fundraising, or the patriarchy: why is it the way it is; could it be different; what else is needed for it to exist; what is it about the thing that enables it to do what it does?

So as you can now see, the discussion about the process of feminization in fundraising follows this approach by asking questions about the gender pay gap in fundraising: what is it, why is it the way it is, could it be different, what factors cause it to exist? 

Elizabeth Dale points out that there are many female leaders in the nonprofit sector, but that they tend to lead smaller organisations (that pay less than bigger ones). And the recently-published AFP study confirms the disparity between men and women in leadership positions at larger organisations, and the effect this has on salaries. In this case, it is not that men and women are being paid different rates to do the same job, as the male leaders of smaller organisations are (hopefully) being paid the same as their female counterparts. Instead, what the critical realist approach suggests is that the gender pay gap act – in some contexts – may be an emergent phenomenon of a different set of institutional biases, namely those barriers that stand in the way of women taking up leadership roles at bigger organisations.

Now we come to the question of how we connect a critical realist approach to genuine action for change. That bridging mechanism is supplied by Lean Out feminism, as discussed by Ruby Bayley-Pratt in her recent Critical Fundraising blog.

Next step – a critical realist, Lean Out road map for change

As Ruby explains in her blog, Lean In and Lean Out are two competing schools of feminist thought in how to tackle the patriarchy and its effects.

Lean In recommends women taking more action themselves to get ahead, such as negotiating salary and benefits, not taking time out of the workplace (on maternity leave, for example), or being ‘more assertive’. Lean In is therefore aiming to counteract the effects of the patriarchy, while leaving the structure largely intact.

Lean Out, by contrast, seeks to change the structure of the patriarchy so that the effects that both Lean Out and Lean In feminists are trying to ameliorate don’t come about in the first place. Lean Out recommends overarching interventions at the policy level – such as the provision of paternity leave and flexible working, and changes in organisational culture to promote better work-life balance.

Critical realism, as a research methodology, is compatible with both Lean In and Lean Out. Both schools of feminist thought seek to respond to real events, and their responses result in new mechanisms (on the part of Lean In, these are things such as ‘Lean In circles’, or the Association of Fundraising Professional’s Women’s Mentoring and Development Program – one component of which is upskilling women to be able to negotiate a better salary) that will become part of the complex causal web that impacts on the patriarchy in fundraising.

But for Rogare and the Gender Issues in Fundraising project team, we don’t simply want to ameliorate the effects of the patriarchy to make it easier for women to get ahead in fundraising – or easier to get ahead only those women with mentors or upskilled negotiating techniques. Our goal is not to improve the lot of female fundraisers by providing them with special assistance so they can compete on an equal footing with their male counterparts; it is to level the playing field so that no such special assistance is needed in the first place.

“The patriarchy is real – literally real – it’s not just a social construct we have created, but something that exists independently of whatever we say or think about it.”

A report by the APF this year put the gender pay gap in fundraising in the USA at 10 per cent.

The gender pay gap for fundraising in the USA is about 10 per cent after controlling for factors such as educational level, organisational budget and job position. Is the way to close this 10 per cent gap by doing something such as upskilling women to more effectively negotiate their salaries (Lean In)? Or is it to bring about structural changes to HR processes so that salary negotiations are not such an important factor because, for example, more jobs are offered at fixed salary bands with transparent seniority increments in salary (Lean Out)?

This is not a rhetorical question. Upskilling women’s negotiating positions may well be the best way to redress this balance (particularly in the USA), and/or it may have a significant contribution to make alongside other measures. 

Lean In, however, appears to be the approach that many initiatives looking at these challenges are currently taking. So to complement these, we are going to come at this from the Lean Out perspective.

The next stage in this project will be to produce a critical realist-informed Lean Out road map of what we need to do in order to tackle and redress gender issues in fundraising. We’ll aim to identify the core issues, what mechanisms are exerting causal powers on these issues, and how we might moderate or change those mechanisms or activate new mechanisms to make a difference. And we’ll base this in the best evidence available. By doing so we’re intending to turn slogans into outcomes.

We know this won’t have an immediate and direct impact on gender issues in fundraising, things such as the pay gap, in the way some Lean In initiatives might have. But we’ll be aiming to signpost those structural changes that can transform fundraising so that, hopefully, those Lean In initiatives won’t be needed in the future.

  • Ian MacQuillin is director of Rogare, the fundraising think tank.

Further reading

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