Could volunteering help close the gender gap?

The last couple of weeks have seen a lot written about women’s right to equal pay or how the ‘old boys network’ is still stymieing women in the top companies in our country.

And then we read that in our own sector, the charity world, where 73% of employees are women, only 32% are chief executives.

It makes you wonder what we can do to give women the confidence and self-belief to put themselves forward for senior management roles. Last week I read that men will go for a job even if they feel only 60% qualified to do it whereas women will only go for it if they think they are 100% qualified and how many of us ever feel 100% qualified for our next role? By definition it’s going to involve things you haven’t done before in ways you haven’t done them with people you’ve never worked with – taking the next step up the ladder is always scary but I ask myself why we, as a sex, are less able or willing to take those risks?

I’ve thought long and hard about this and I’ve been wondering if volunteering might just be the answer to giving us the confidence to take that next step into senior management or the chief executive role of a larger organisation. Allow me to explain:  employee volunteering has also been much in the news with the Prime Minister’s pledge to give all public sector workers three days volunteering each year. Now the pros and cons of that announcement can be debated elsewhere (my synopsis:  great idea but where’s the money to make it happen? Volunteering isn’t free!) But if companies and our public sector are to take volunteering seriously and have the budget to make sure they do so, then surely we can use it as a tool to support women as they develop in their careers.

The benefits of employee volunteering are much documented:  team building, morale and confidence boosting, leadership skills, time management and much more. So just for a moment suspend your belief that it’s all about environmental opportunities, getting down and dirty and clearing out a bog, and think about mentoring - think about using your skills to support someone else in their career journey by mentoring a leader in the third sector where your business skills or mind-set might just make a difference to the way they approach the challenges facing charities right now.

Our Leaders Together programme, which recruits volunteer mentors to offer their business skills to small charities and social enterprises, could be adapted to suit companies’ needs. Who and what do you want to develop? Could  the women in your middle management benefit from the confidence that mentoring someone in a different sector can give them? I know I come away from sessions with people I mentor having learnt as much as I have given, feeling happy and confident that I had skills I had forgotten or didn’t know I had that were useful to someone climbing up the ladder behind me.

So here’s my call to action this Spring as you look at new budgets and new training needs and the desire to support people in your company– think about a bespoke mentoring programme. By supporting charities with mentoring  you could have  a phenomenal effect not only on that charity and its beneficiaries but throughout the voluntary sector at a time when it is facing cuts in funding and increased demand for its services. You could help us to do more with less while developing your staff team with new skills, new confidence and self-belief.  And maybe have the added bonus of encouraging more women to take a punt on that next role that’s just a little bit outside their own perceived skill set … it’s a win-win for everyone.