Men in Fundraising: We have a problem. And it’s you.

Only a few years ago a senior UK fundraiser was quoted in an article about staff development. He talked of getting his female staff mentors, to help them behave in a more ‘feminine’ way in their relationships at work and with donors. I’ve always remembered it, because I remember my jaw literally dropping.

Women in Fundraising

Have things moved on? Not much, if the Men and Women’s Survey published last week by the UK’s Fundraising Magazine is anything to go by. It’s subscriber-only content, but here are the headlines.

Thirty-eight per cent of women respondents reported experiencing sexual harassment at work. (15% of men, too). There’s a pay gap. There’s a seniority gap. In a sector comprising 74% women, women have just 44 of the top 100 fundraising director jobs. Just a third of the UK’s polled ’50 most influential fundraisers’ are women. 41% of women fundraisers think women are adequately represented at a senior level. A full 71% of men think that’s the case. Is this any better in other countries?

Men identified just one major barrier to women progressing in fundraising, and that was women having to balance work and family. This was also the biggest barrier for women too, but they identified others as well – being perceived as less committed to work because of family, organisational culture, lacking confidence, being less ambitious, differences in personal style, and lacking senior female role models. There’s an irony.

As Lizzi Hollis says in this commentary, “the men have no idea”. She quotes this saying too: “When you’re used to privilege, equality feels like oppression.”

Sexism Persists in our Sector

It’s tricky. Is it ‘mansplaining’ for me as a bloke to weigh in on this issue? If I don’t, am I complicit with the 71% of men in fundraising who apparently don’t think we have a problem? I expect any comments to this piece will help me find out. So, checking my ‘unearned privilege’ as a white, straight, middle-class man (thanks to Simone Joyaux for that phrase, from her work on power), let’s carry on.

We can share a knowing laugh at the casual sexism of the 60s and 70s through the ironic lens of TV series like Mad Men and Good Girls Revolt. It’s less funny when women still experience casual sexism today, and indeed, sexual harassment.

I spent my first fourteen years of work at Oxfam, and I realised soon after I left how much attention Oxfam had given to diversity, gender and multiculturalism, and in understanding unconscious bias. Obviously, that was aligned with the values of its mission. In my next job I was stunned, in my naiveté, to find that progressive values were not universal in the sector. Sexism was open and rife. And of course it lingers throughout non-profits, from Boards downwards.

Imposter Syndrome

Something that seems to afflict mostly women, and perhaps hinders their career progression, is Imposter Syndrome. More people are talking about it, which is a good thing. Here are two great blogs by Cerian Jenkins and Lizzi Hollis. Amanda Palmer spoke at the International Fundraising Congress of ‘the Fraud Police’ constantly on her shoulder. This 2011 speech of hers gives you a flavour (there’s a great joke about a brain surgeon.)

Judging from the many women I have managed and coached over the years, it seems horribly common, and combines with a higher incidence of burnout, as high-achieving women feel they have to prove themselves even more. I tend to think not many men suffer from it – but what do I know? Men don’t talk about their vulnerabilities, so maybe we all do and are just better bull-shitters.

But I have it. And I’m a consultant, I coach people and I write these blogs. Who the hell am I to offer anyone insight, advice or an opinion? I get over it with a bit of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, challenging negative feelings by looking at the evidence.

Winning a job in the US several years ago, for example. “I’ve no idea what Matthew does,” my aunt said to my mum, “but I suppose he must be good at it.” A Brit in America? My imposter syndrome went through the roof. But yes, the evidence suggested I was.

More people talking about it can help others feel better about their own insecurities. But they don’t go away. As my mum told me, when I asked her when she started to feel properly grown up, confident and in control of life: “Never.”

Tall Poppy Syndrome

More insidious, is Tall Poppy Syndrome, that irrepressible urge some people have to put others in their place and cut them down to size, (to lop off the head of the tall poppy, rising above the weeds).

It’s what goes on in social media. Belittling personal abuse of strangers. Cutting put-downs. Being told you’re a ‘snowflake’ if you can’t handle the banter. Amanda Palmer spoke of the abuse she’d get from strangers as a street performance artist, people shouting at her to get a proper job. And worse.

A young fundraiser told me at the IFC of being taken to task, not once, but by several more senior fundraisers, for not having earned her profile, or the right to express the ideas she blogged and presented on. Two other women in charities have told me of similar experiences. “Get back in your box”, one was told by her male boss. Isolated cases?

Judging people’s performance is one thing. Thinking they are not worthy is another. But feeling, and acting on, the need to share that to someone’s face is on another level. It might be insecurity at work, people puffing themselves up by diminishing others they feel threatened by. But it’s also called bullying.

In a sector about doing good, a sector dominated by women but led mostly by men, such unkindness has no place. Who are you to cut people down to size? Check your privilege. Check your attitude. Check your bias. Check your insecurity. If you can’t say anything nice, think about whether to say nothing at all.

Step Forward, Step Back, Step Up

We do have a job to do, as a sector, to nurture talent and the stars of the future. Given most fundraisers are women, most stars of the future should be too. If it’s true that more women suffer Imposter Syndrome, what a double-whammy to then have to contend with bullying put-downs (not always from men, it should be said). So we have a problem. And we all have a role to play in addressing that.

Women need to step forward, but may need encouragement to overcome issues of confidence, bias and organisational culture. Men need to step back. Not because it’s your space to graciously give, just to check yourself from being a dick. More importantly, men need to step up, be aware of your privilege and help push forward women’s progression. The Lean In website has some tips just for men. After all, it’s 2016.

And everyone, can you just make sure you’re a bit kinder to others?

P.S. I leave you with the inspiring words of Marianne Williamson. Words many people think are Nelson Mandela’s, after he quoted them. Typical, eh?

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