The women working in the sector are awesome. They bring with them a variety of skills and experiences, and come from various academic backgrounds, building organizations in the sector from the ground up. They are strong leaders adapting to changing political and social climates, and they fervently advocate for their communities, clients, peers and staff. Their passion for their work is irreplaceable.
However, the non-profit sector’s labour market had never been examined through a gender lens at the provincial or federal level. No one has ever asked women how they are faring in the sector – are they experiencing a gender wage gap? Have they encountered a glass ceiling? Do they have access to benefits?
For this reason, the Ontario Nonprofit Network’s decent work movement is being built through a gender-based intersectional lens. We’re finding out how women workers are doing in the sector – and trying to do something about it. In other words, we’re attempting to both ask and answer: what does decent work for women in non-profits look like?
We’re not just thinking about women as a homogenous group, but are particularly paying attention to how diverse women in the sector are doing. That is across identities, geographies, subsectors, age groups and position levels. That is because a dominant sector narrative is that all non-profit work is care work, and thus is not only thought of as women’s work but that of racialized and immigrant women. Moreover, we know that marginalized women experience compounded barriers in the broader labour market, that there is a difference between the urban and rural work experience, and that different barriers manifest for women based on what life stage they are in and which position level they occupy. That’s why hearing from, centring and amplifying the voices of women that are often not heard from is a priority.
Experiences of sexism in a feminized sector
Our exploration began by hearing from women workers directly. Recently, 730 women shared with us what it was like to work in the non-profit sector and provided recommendations for change. Their stories are reflected in our Women’s Voices report. What we found is reflective of their experiences, observances and perspectives. While the themes have been informally discussed by many women, we’ve been the first ones to formally document them.
We’ve documented that the sector is feminized, both in being women-majority and by having traditional stereotypes of femininity mapped onto it that result in sector devaluation, patriarchal relationships, low wages/burnout and lack of benefits for workers. Also, that within a feminized sector, women experience sexism and other forms of discrimination. Ageism and racism emerged as two common forms of discrimination.
A glass ceiling, the gender wage gap and harassment do exist; they just manifest differently for different women workers given the non-profit sector’s unique characteristics, challenges, trends and opportunities.
Moreover, because identities are intersectional and complex, discrimination is experienced in multiple ways. That is, some women experience discrimination primarily based on gender, some at the intersection of gender and another part of their identity, such as ability or age, and others primarily because of one part of their identity that is not gender, such as race.
Moving from conversation to action
I know that the outlook seems gloomy. But there is much that can be done to better women’s work experiences in the sector.
ONN has started some of the work already by co-creating a decent work for women agenda with our ONN team, advisory council and the 730 women we’ve convened. It consists of issues and solutions across the seven indicators of decent work at the organizational, network and systemic levels. For example, many said that fair wages can be offered by organizations if they examine their pay structures through a gender lens (i.e equal pay for equal work).
Those in the career development field have a role to play in activating this agenda at all three levels. Here is how you can start:
- Think about and discuss how gender informs:
- Broader labour market patterns
- Particular industries and positions
- Women’s lived experiences
- Ask yourself the following questions:
- Which women are accessing career development services and which are not?
- What industries and positions are they selecting or being streamed into? Why?
- What are their experiences as a woman in those industries and positions?
- What gender dynamics manifest in career development?
- What systems, policies, and processes do you have in place that can capture these gender dynamics?
- Do you have any women-specific (and for other equity seeking groups) career development strategies and programs?
- Start applying the gender-based intersectional lens to your work. Gender equality is only possible when women are offered decent work.
In this spirit, we look forward to working with you all to create a sector that leads gender equity in the workplace.