Women and the Nonprofit Sector: A Drastic Need to Rewrite the Narrative

I would like to give a shout out to all of the women in the nonprofit sector. I want to pay tribute to those women working to end the world’s greatest atrocities and work to advocate for the most marginalized populations and issues that the rest of the world ignores. I want to tell you that I love these women.

Courtesy of  Changing Our World

Courtesy of Changing Our World

As Sheryl Sandberg herself reminds us, “even in the nonprofit world, a world we sometimes think of as being led by more women, women at the top [positions]: 20%.” So, not only is the nonprofit sector already underfunded, but in addition, women are still not in the positions that pay the higher salaries. Is it any wonder then that the majority earning minimum wage are adult women?

As Dan Pallotta points out, “We have a visceral reaction to the idea that anyone would make very much money helping other people. Interesting that we don’t have a visceral reaction to the notion that people would make a lot of money NOT helping other people.”

So, let me get this straight, women in the nonprofit sector are supposed to fix the world for very little money or, better yet, for FREE (i.e. volunteering)?! Yea… because that makes sense.

My supervisor from when I worked as a Graduate Research Assistant for the Gender and Women’s Study program explained to me upon hiring me as her GA that because it was “just” (insert flinch) a minor at the university, she was not actually paid to coordinate it. I remember her saying stoically, “I figure it’s my feminist duty to coordinate the minor. I am passionate about these issues, and if I don’t do it, who will?” I look back on that now and think: I cannot believe she was expected to do something as important as that for free!

But we see it all the time in the nonprofit sector.

I remember this other time I was talking with one of my friends who’s an engineer and I was explaining to him how frustrated I was that there is so little money in the nonprofit sector and how these organizations are forced to compete over the same small pool of funding. As I am working to break into this sector myself by creating Women Winning In the Nation, this is an issue that is deeply important to me. So I asked this friend of mine: So why is your work as an engineer more monetarily valued over my work to advance leadership and decision making opportunities for women? His answer: well, as an engineer I am producing a tangible product. And I thought: well, so am I. The work I do produces a sustainable workforce.

What good is a product if there is no one with the agency to use it? Since when did human capital become so irrelevant? Since when did people become less important than products?

While it is absolutely fantastic that we have begun to normalize this conversation surrounding increasing women in the corporate, for-profit sector, – especially at the c-suite level – I want to probe this conversation further and ask: so, what about the women in the nonprofit sector? What about the women dedicating their lives towards solving the deep-rooted structural problems of society: poverty, world hunger, homelessness, women’s leadership parity?

I want to celebrate those women. I want to see an increase in the number of women in seniority level positions within the nonprofit sector. But more importantly, I want nonprofit work to be truly recognized as essential to the betterment of humanity and therefore monetarily valued for being a crucial component towards advancing as a collective society.

Kaitlin writes about current events, pop culture, and innovative ways to promote gender equality through online advocacy. Read more of Kaitlin’s posts here.


About the Author

Kaitlin Rattiganis a recent graduate with an M.A. in International Peace and Conflict Resolution with a concentration in Gender and Peacebuilding. She is a firm believer in social media as an effective and meaningful tool to promote positive societal change. Never underestimate the power of 140 characters. Kaitlin is a voice for the Millennials, a constructive disruptionist, an advocate for women’s leadership, and is a believer in challenging and expanding the definitions of what it means to be a feminist. For gender-analytical fem-tastic commentary on current events, follow Kaitlin@KaitlinRattigan. Do you have an issue you want highlighted on The Movement Blog? Is there an area within women’s leadership that you feel passionate about and want to share with a wide audience? Feel free to send Kaitlin a DM or Tweet to@KaitlinRattiganwith the hashtag #Women2025 and let’s keep the conversation going and work together to propel women into their equal share of leadership positions by 2025