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Where Did All The Men Go?

I was listening to a panel discussion on career change when it hit me for the first time. All five panelists were women. In my AmeriCorps cohort, there were five men to the 35 women in the room. This was the first time that I had really taken notice that the nonprofit world had a greater number of women than men in the field. While this may be obvious to some of you, when I asked the panelists about it, they hadn’t even realized it. So if you’ll bear with me, I’d like to talk briefly about the where all the nonprofit men went.

I don’t wish for this blog entry to in any way diminish the struggles that women are facing in the working world. I recognize the problems of the gender wage gap, the barrier that glass ceilings pose and that real discrimination and harassment still occur at workplaces all over the country. However, I also believe that there’s room for multiple conversations around gender without resorting to “mansplaining.” 

So where did the men go? Naomi Levine, executive director of the Heyman Center, has said that women make up 82 percent of workers at small organizations, 74 percent at medium sized groups, and 59 percent at the largest workplaces.  I’ve had conversations before with event programmers about how they struggle to get men to attend their events. As the Programming Chair of YNPN Twin Cities, I’ve noticed a similar pattern in regards to our own attendance. In fact, the structure of YNPN Twin Cities bears this as well. I was very conscious that when I was being voted in as Programming Chair there was thirteen ladies in the room and I was the only fella. I wouldn’t say that it makes me uncomfortable, but it’s definitely something that I’m conscious of.

So why is it that the sector has come to be dominated by women, as high as 66% in some years? Kerry Hannan, writing in Forbes, thinks it’s these five reasons

  1. Flexible schedules are common.
  2. There’s opportunity.
  3. Decision-making is collaborative.
  4. Egos are tamer.
  5. Lower pay is not a deal-breaker.

I think that several of these reasons speak to much broader trends. Despite the fact that there are fewer men working in nonprofits, they dominate a disproportionate share of the leadership roles. Also, because of the gender wage gap, working in the nonprofit sector doesn’t seem to be as much as a pay cut from the for profit sector as it is for men. As much as these reasons may seem as positive attractions for women, they are related to bigger problems in the working world that push women away from the for profit sector.

So how do we get more men involved in the nonprofit world? Sorry, I don’t have the answers to that. But guys, perhaps the best thing you can do, would be to support the women in your office. While there are more of them than you, they still face more barriers in the workplace than you. Attend events highlighting these issues, advocate for more women in leadership roles and the easiest thing would just to be aware of it.


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