Analysis of Gender Diversity in the Australian Community Sector’s Leadership

Executive Summary 

Our landmark survey of gender diversity in the leadership of the community sector is both a good news and a bad news story.
In a sector where women comprise up to 85% of the workforce, women make up 51.4% of the board directors among organisations who responded to the survey. This compares favourably against the gender composition of both public and the private sector boards. However, women are less likely to be in the formal office bearer positions than men – the percentage never rises above 50%, meaning that over half of all formal positions reported are still held by men (only 44% of boards surveyed had a woman as a President; 37% as a Vice President; 31% as Treasurer; and 35% as Secretary).

It is an even more complicated story when factors such as financial turnover are introduced. Our groundbreaking Gender Disparity Index of Community Sector Boards shows that men are more likely than women to be on the boards of organisations with financial turnovers greater than $30 million, and women are more likely than men to be on boards of organisations with a financial turnover of less than $1 million. In our view, this may be linked to the under-representation of women on public and private sector boards – if women have experience in organisations with smaller financial turnover they may be reluctant to transfer to a board with a higher turnover, more likely in the private and government sector.

Interestingly, our research demonstrated that there is a strong positive trend between women‟s participation on boards and the percentage of an organisation‟s income being derived from government sources. As the level of income from government increases, women become more represented in the boardroom (see Figure 25). In this context, where Board members are more likely to be cognisant of the requirements associated with meeting government regulatory requirements, there is an interesting opportunity to explore how to strengthen the pathways from community sector to Government Boards.

While 85% of the community sector workers are reported to be women, senior management teams were reported as having a composition of 60% women and 40% men. This compares favourably with ABS data which shows 34.9% of management roles being held by women.1 So at one level good news, but the same ABS data set showed that the health care and social assistance sector, which includes the community sector, had the largest gender pay gap in Australia, at 32.6%.2 So, women are doing well in senior management in a sector that underpays them.

Alarmingly, we found very low levels of reporting among respondents with 101-200 equivalent fulltime staff positions to the Equal Opportunity in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), the agency tasked with supporting organisations to achieve gender equality in the workplace. With proposed amendments to the EOWA legislation before Parliament that would see more effective and consistent application of bans for non-compliant organisations doing business with government, possible consequences in relation to Commonwealth grants and financial assistance, and increased mechanisms to identify organisations that ought to report but are not, this has serious implications for the sector.

YWCA Australia, the Australian Council of Social Service and Women on Boards offer the findings of this report as a mechanism for generating increased awareness among community sector boards and senior management teams of the gender inequity currently facing women in the sector. It is our hope that in generating this awareness the community sector will strive to transform their gender bias and better harness the skills of women managers and board members.

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