HR Toolkit

Diversity at Work

Gender Equity

The nonprofit sector is somewhat unique in that it is female-dominated so gender equity in our sector is not about strategies for encouraging more equal representation of women. It's not even focused on increasing representation of women in managerial ranks. According to the Canadian Policy Research Network's (CPRN) series on human resources in the nonprofit sector:

  • 74.3% of employees in the nonprofit sector are female as compared to 47.5% in the for-profit sector
  • 68% of managers in the nonprofit sector are women in contrast with 36% in the for-profit sector

However, the high percentage of women in the sector's workforce and managerial ranks means that employers need to be very aware of how best to support and retain their female employees. In addition, the lower level of wages in a female-dominated sector is an issue that needs to be addressed.


Practical and supportive practices

To understand how to best support female employees means understanding what female employees value and expect in a workplace. CPRN's research on human resources in the nonprofit sector indicates that the following practices are important:


Work-life balance

Almost 20% of all paid employees in the sector are women with at least one child under 12 years of age at home (compared to 14.2% in the for-profit sector). The 2001 National Work-Life Conflict study determined that women are more likely to feel stressed by the combined demands of work and family responsibilities. Therefore, offering a flexible and family-friendly workplace is important and workplace policies need to reflect the needs of female employees.


Support advancement

Women in the sector are far less likely than those in the for-profit sector to say that they have received a promotion (26 percent and 39 percent respectively). Therefore, creating professional development plans and mentoring female employees are important strategies.


Healthy communication and relationships

There are important gender differences in what people value at work, especially between university-educated men and women. The sector's workforce is generally more well-educated than in the for-profit sector.

Generally, university-educated value communication, respect, and from workplace relationships. Therefore, the key to retaining university-educated women will be based on consulting with female staff and building these elements into the workplace.



In addition, pay inequity between male and female employees needs to be addressed in the sector. For instance, a 2005 report by the Calgary Centre for Non-Profit Management entitled Addressing the Leadership Challenge found that:

"Salaries follow a differing pattern depending upon whether the executive is male or female. Female executive salaries tend to be skewed toward the lower end of the distribution and males to the upper end. Thirty four percent of female executives report salaries under $50,000 compared to 15% of males. Forty two percent of males report earning over $75,000 versus 20% of females."

Links and Resources

Motivations at the Margins: Gender Issues in the Canadian Voluntary Sector

Report outlining some of the challenges women volunteers and paid staff in the voluntary and community sector face as well as identifies both gaps in research and recommends how to move toward gender equity in the voluntary sector.

Women's Executive Network

A Canadian organization dedicated to the advancement and recognition of executive-minded women in the workplace. They provide professional development and mentoring opportunities for women, including women in the voluntary and non-profit workforce.