First-ever Gender Audit shows Community Sector leading the way in leadership roles for women

12 September 2012

The first ever study of gender diversity in Australia’s community welfare sector shows the participation of women on boards and senior management positions is higher than in other sectors, but still has some way to go to achieve true gender equality, especially in organisations with larger turnovers. 

The landmark gender audit of Australia’s not-for-profit community sector – a collaboration between YWCA Australia, the Australian Council of Social Service and Women on Boards – found women occupy 51% of all board director roles and 60% of senior management positions. 

“Clearly there is a good news story here. Our sector is doing much better than others. However, this shouldn’t be surprising given that women actually make up about 85% of the community sector’s workforce,” said Dr Caroline Lambert, Executive Director, YWCA Australia. 

“With such an overwhelming female presence, it’s reasonable to expect that the sector should in fact be doing a lot better in terms of women in leadership positions – for example, only 31% of the organisations reported female Treasurers. It’s also concerning that women are over represented on the boards of smaller organisations but overtaken by men in organisations with turnovers of $30 million or more. 

“This may be linked to the under-representation of women on boards generally – women may be less likely to consider moving to boards of organisations with higher turnovers in other sectors. It shows that larger organisations still have some work to do in the area of gender equality,” Dr Lambert said. 

Dr Cassandra Goldie, CEO, ACOSS, said, ‘It is extremely pleasing to see our sector leading the way in gender equity in leadership roles in Australia. The number of women on boards is particularly high among younger age groups, which shows the cultural shift that’s taking place at the highest levels of our workplace. 

“For instance, 76% of board roles held by people aged 18-30 are occupied by women, who also hold 80% of all senior management positions in the same age group. That number is almost as high for those aged 31-40 but then drops off and reverses for those aged over 65, where men occupy 67% of board roles and 55% of senior management positions. 

“However, it is important to remember that most of this contribution is unpaid, in stark contrast to often highly remunerated non-executive director roles in the for profit sector.

“Our findings highlight the need for a consistent effort and strategies to improve gender diversity in the workplace beyond what’s already happening, because clearly there’s still much work to be done,” Dr Goldie said. 

Ruth Medd, Chair, Women on Boards, said, ‘Senior roles are not only where the big decisions are made but also where the biggest salaries are earned, and it’s clear that even in the most female dominated sector, these roles are still predominantly held by men in larger organisations with greater revenue. 

“As well as having consequences for women’s economic security later in life, the bottom line of organisations may also be affected, with previous research showing organisations with women directors deliver an average return on investment over three years 10.7% higher than those without. 

“We need continued effort led by governments and organisations to make gender diversity a key priority. This is highlighted by our finding that the greatest number of respondents never consider gender in their hiring decision, either for Board (30%) or for Senior Management positions (39%). It is also alarming that only 24% of organisations with 101-200 staff reported to the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), despite their obligations here. This strengthens the case for the beefing up of the EOWA to increase reporting,” Ms Medd said. 

Dr Lambert, Executive Director, YWCA Australia concluded, “In preparing this study we have been struck by the lack of data on gender diversity in the leadership of the community sector. With the establishment of the Australian Charities and NFP Commission there is an opportunity to address the gender inequality in the sector and gather more data on these factors. This survey has allowed us to shine a light on the issue, and hopefully create a springboard for further change.”

Media Contact: Fernando de Freitas 0419 626 155 


About the survey 
The survey was distributed electronically via YWCA Australia, ACOSS and WOB networks. All survey data was collected between 16 November 2011 and 12 December 2011. We received a total of 746 responses from organisations across the country – 662 identified as NFPs, 77 from non-NFP organisations, and 7 gave no response to the question. The majority of respondents work in the sectors of health (29%), education (24%), youth work (24%), women (23%) and disability (19%).