Is the third sector sexist?

Sheffield graduate Annie Gainsborough is our guest blogger this week. In this blog she tells us about a project that she, and some fellow graduate trainees on the Charityworks' non-profit graduate entry programme, have initiated in the wake of the debate about women's experience of working in the third sector. In further blog posts we hope to hear more from the team. 


It was for my Bronze Duke of Edinburgh Award I first got involved in the UK Third Sector as a volunteer at my local St Peter’s Hospice shop in Bristol. And before that, when living in Vietnam, I volunteered with Hanoi street children, 11 year olds like me, essentially just playing together, a luxury they didn’t always have.

I moved to Sheffield in 2012 for University, and I very quickly became involved with Sheffield University Singers’ Society (SingSoc) and was elected as their Volunteering and Charity Coordinator. I managed our community outreach programme, singing workshops for local schools, and performances in Sheffield nursing homes and hospitals. After Graduation, I spent a year as Trustee and Activities Officer at Sheffield Students’ Union, representing and campaigning on behalf of 27,000 students, and a year or so wondering which direction to take next. Through the University Careers Service, I applied to the Charityworks Graduate Scheme. Charityworks, a charity in itself, is a leadership programme aiming to create a network of non-profit organisations committed to achieving social change through leadership and collaboration. Charityworks trainees work a paid, full-time job at a charity, social enterprise or housing association for a year, alongside conferences, seminars and research projects on hot topics in the sector. I was placed at John Taylor Hospice in Birmingham where I’ve worked since September as General Manager in Corporate and Commercial Services, managing the housekeeping and kitchen teams, estates and facilities.

So in one way or other I’ve always been involved in the Third Sector. I’ve retained my links with Sheffield’s Third Sector too, being appointed as a trustee just last week at Mums in Need, who support women who’ve left emotionally abusive relationships. The Third Sector is a sector I deeply care about and a sector which does so much for so many, both in Sheffield and further afield.

But it is a sector which isn’t alien to oppression. And despite the work so many individuals and organisations put into fighting this discrimination, it is also a sector which can be the perpetrator of these actions.

But as a sector, it isn’t alone.

Since allegations of sexual harassment by Harvey Weinstein hit the headlines in October 2017 and kickstarted the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, we've seen sector after sector forced to have a reckoning with their own sexism. From Hollywood to Parliament to universities, revelations about sexism and sexual harassment have dominated the news cycles.

And then it was the third sector's turn.

The Presidents Charity Club was dissolved after events at their men's only gala came to light, and the UNICEF deputy resigned after allegations of inappropriate behaviour were revealed. The news of exploitation of sex workers by Oxfam workers in Haiti has got us thinking about how organisations respond to these kind of allegations.

I believe, though, we can only respond to these announcements with hope. Even as a younger entrant into the sector, I know these experiences aren’t new. But I don’t think they aren’t a reason to dismiss the work of an entire sector.

I see this moment as an opportunity to proactively work to tackle sexism and sexual harassment in a sector which cares about oppression, in a sector and a society which, for the moment, is listening.

This is why 7 Charityworks trainees came together to form "Is the third sector sexist?" and launch a research project on this topic. We formed this collective out of frustration and anger, yes, but also out of love and respect for the non-profit sector. Through the results from our survey, we want to gift a robust set of evidence to the sector, and to the people who give so much to it as staff members and volunteers.

This is a moment to push for change and we want to help push this change. It's not enough to say we know that these things are going on. Our survey not only asks about experiences of sexism and sexual harassment in the sector, but also about experiences of reporting (or not) and how organisations are responding. We want to gather best practise so that we can celebrate what the sector is doing well and encourage others to do more of it.

Last week, in celebration of International Women's Day, we started to share some preliminary results.

From a sample of 280 people:

  • 49% of respondents had personally experienced sexism in the third sector
  • 24% of respondents had personally experienced sexual harassment in the third sector
  • 70% of women surveyed had personally experienced sexism in the sector
  • 50% of people surveyed did not feel that their (third sector) organisations were well equipped to deal with allegations of sexism and sexual harassment.

These are only preliminary statistics, however, and we have now reached nearly 500 participants and hope to grow much further before we pull together our final report. And so, 100 years on from the UK's first women gaining the vote, we'd like to leave you with 3 requests:

1. Complete our survey -
2. Share our survey within your organisations and broader networks
3. Follow us on Twitter @Is3rdSectSexist

Thank you!
"Is the Third Sector Sexist" Team is made up of Annie Gainsborough, Clare Saltiel, Eleanor Covell, Hannah Kunzlik, Holly Smith, Kirsten Greenaway, Polly O'Callaghan. Please note that a version of this blog was originally released on International Women’s Day 2018 and again as a guest post for Charityworks.

Sophy Hallam