International Women’s Day 2024 – It’s time to invest in women

A group of women at a conference smiling
Written by Rachel Notley

Why recruiting women into senior posts matters.

I have never liked representation targets. Thinking my position was due to a quota rather than my merit has always been galling. But, as yet another set of reports reveals men outnumber women 2:1 in charity leadership (despite 68% of those working in the sector identifying as female), it’s clear we need to do more. I wonder, have we imposed our own glass ceiling?

When I hold a senior position, I bring more than my academic background and professional experience. I bring my own unique journey and perspective. The value of my viewpoint is that it is different to yours. When we lack diversity at the most senior level, we fail not just our staff, but our clients too. How can we possibly serve the needs of a community we don’t reflect or understand?

Find diverse candidates

Early on in my career, I thought we had figured out gender diversity. The past decade has shown me I was wrong. It’s time we asked the right questions of ourselves when we recruit. It’s time we looked for a voice unlike our own, alongside all the professional requirements we need when we appoint leaders. The excuse that only such and such candidates applied isn’t good enough: if the pool of applicants isn’t diverse, consider how and where you advertise.

Raise the glass ceiling

I have been supported by some incredible people who gave me the confidence to understand my strengths and the humility to note my flaws. They taught me to stand in the space I make for myself, and make room for others. If we have fought hard for our positions, we can be tempted to think others should do the same. But wouldn’t it be so much better if we removed the obstacles that prevent others from succeeding? Imagine what you could do if someone raised the glass ceiling for you.

Challenge the status quo

When I accepted my position at EF, a friend asked if I was worried about the male-dominated leadership. ‘I am hopeful’, I replied; ‘because I am the start of change’. I was right. When we welcome our new CEO Claire Bloor this month, our Executive team will be 50% female – a much better representation of the 56% of our staff and volunteers who are women.

We still have a long way to go to solve representation and I’m annoyed I even need to have this conversation in 2024, but hiring in your own image causes stagnation. So, step into the space where no one looks like you, recruit people who complement and challenge you and hold the door open for others.

None of us are perfect, but we can all be brave.