Open your eyes to gender inequality


Shulah Allan, convener of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and former chief executive of Edinburgh Voluntary Organisations' Council, is one of the third sector's most prominent female leaders. 

Susan Smith says the third sector is guilty of unconscious sexism 

Susan Smith's photo

9th March 2016 by Susan Smith 0 Comments

The Scotsman’s pithy rebrand to the Scotswoman for International Woman’s Day this week tied in with its own research revealing one in four Scots have witnessed gender discrimination in the workplace. Is that all?

If only one in four people are seeing gender discrimination in a society in which workplaces are predominantly run by men, where are the other three-quarters looking? In its 200-year history, the Scotsman itself has only had one female editor, whose year-long stint at the turn of the 21st century ended pretty ingloriously. Our country's national newspaper though is not the only organisation to boast so few female leaders, the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is just one prominent voluntary organisation that has had no female chiefs. 

Celebrities backed International Women’s Day around the world to highlight that globally, gender discrimination is often deadly.

While 64% of third sector staff are women, a quick glance around indicates this gender balance is not reflected in the top jobs in our sector

In many countries, being born poor and female means a life sentence of inequality, oppression and poverty. A child born in Nigeria is more than 41 times more likely to die before their fifth birthday than a child born in Norway, globally 62 million girls are denied education, only 50% of women work compared to 77% of men and 93% of girls who are not enrolled in school in Mali will never attend.

The key point of the report, plastered across its cover, is that: “Nowhere on earth do women have as many opportunities as men. Nowhere.”

That includes Scotland.

So, what has this to do with the third sector? Firstly, we can ensure that our eyes are open to the truth. While we may be protected in our workplaces from the harsh reality of sexism in the developing world or even the worst elements of it in our own society, that doesn’t mean that unconscious sexism isn’t affecting the working environments of men and women.

While 64% of third sector staff are women, a quick glance around (it’s been a while since proper analysis of senior roles was carried out) indicates this gender balance is not reflected in the top jobs in our sector. 

Scotland's third sector is world leading and responsible for championing many of the hard-hitting social justice campaigns that ensure our society gets better and fairer all the time. That raison d'etre should not be focused on service users at all costs. There is an opportunity for the third sector to reflect the makeup of its workforce and lead in creating women-friendly workplaces and organisations here and now.

While, SCVO has never had a female chief executive, it has had a number of female conveners, including Shulah Allan, its current convener and former chief executive of Edinburgh Voluntary Organisation's Council. It would be wonderful to see more Shulah's working there way up, so that in ten years time 64% of Scottish voluntary organisations were lead by women.