For equitable chances and gender diversity – let’s change the rules!


Anke Pätsch


How do I explain to my seven year old daughter why experts in TV and radio are primarily men – 80% in journalism, 70% in non-fictional programs? How should we deal with the fact that 9 of 10 characters in animation films are male?

These numbers are some of the shocking results of the Audiovisual diversity? (2017) study on gender representation in Film and TV supported by the MaLisa Foundation, which was founded 2016 by the German actress Maria Furtwängler and her daughter Elisabeth.

The Swedish-German AllBright Foundation discovered how rarely women are represented in the German economy as board members or chairs. To ‘achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’ by 2030 was agreed by the community of states as Sustainable Development Goal Number 5.

Are more foundations considering this representation a priority?

Over the last 15 years, I have observed some slow-growing engagement and continuous ignorance in the fast-growing philanthropic sector. Very few of the 22,000 German foundations are focusing on female-led issues. Exceptions include Filia.die Frauenstiftung, Helga Stödter Foundation or maecenia Frankfurt Foundation. In developing co-operations grants, they do go predominantly to women. Women are increasingly involved as founders. They are also more successful in crowdfunding than men as studies show.

For many aspects we don’t have exact data yet. I assume scholarships to students are distributed more or less balanced. Research grants to senior academics and awards in my perception are more often given to men. Most foundations probably don’t count the data.

Some years ago I thought they are right and that they should just focus on their work. Today I see, if we don’t count, nothing will change.

Counting is part of the job and belongs to professional evaluation and impact measuring.

The Association of German Foundations is gathering data regularly through its Online StiftungsPanel of more than 500 German foundations.

That is why we know that 25 per cent of the questioned foundations with paid staff took diversity management on their HR agenda. Only about a quarter of German foundations has paid staff and 41 per cent of these jobs are part time.

The big majority, more than 70 per cent, of paid staff working in foundations are women yet they are under-represented at senior levels.

I counted recently how many men and women serve as CEO’s or in board positions of the top 35 German foundations by endowment and/or spending. Only three foundations are led by a women in a CEO position.

Around 10 women are amongst 70 men in management board teams, who are in 18 cases, are made up of men-only boards. The boards of trustees – only 8 of 35 are led by a woman – suffer a lack of female representation in a ratio 3:1.

Foundations who want to be considered as innovative and attractive employers should not persist with old structures. They should progress diversity, offer equal chances to potential employees and set an example for modern leadership with respect to the different type of needs and competences.

What is our foundation association in Germany doing to progress these aspects? Together with our Working Group ‘Women & Foundations’, and some other masterminds, we foster the networking and advocacy work for gender equality and diversity in the Association and the foundation sector.

We are honoured to have Ise Bosch as the winner of Germany’s most notable award for philanthropy, for her extraordinary strategic philanthropy with focus on LGBTQI*, at our annual conference in Nuremberg in May. She will be recognised in front of around 2,000 expected participants.

Yet at this conference still less than 100 of 315 speakers are female. One of our first steps and goals should be to increase the number of women speaking at our events.

Also in our own board of directors only 2 of 7, and in the advisory board 6 of 16, members are women. There is a lot of work to be done. That’s why we should start immediately by taking a stand for balanced management teams, boards and speaker lists as well as for grant-making processes and equal wages.

This is what you – as a man or a woman – can do to support gender diversity:

  1. Do not accept ‘manels’ (=all-male panel), if you are asked to speak at one or to organize one.
  2. Encourage and recommend woman as speakers, authors, board members and employees.
  3. Fight for equal pay, if you are in the position and also if not.
  4. Never miss to act against discrimination, if you can help it.
  5. Do the same amount of care and homework hours as your (female or male) partner.

Iris Bohnet, a behavioural economist and professor of Harvard Kennedy School, says in her in-depth exploration of gender bias research: that it’s the rules of the game and not the women who have to change. Bohnet suggests we must change the organisations, and take bias out of our systems instead of trying to fix our mind-set.

Start with bias in foundations and organisations and let’s put the gender lenses on! Let’s change the rules!

Anke Pätsch works as Director of International Relations and is a member of the Management Board at the Association of German Foundations.

Click here for more content, written to celebrate International Women’s Day 2018.

Tagged in: #IWD2018

Comments (1)

Eva Rehse

Great article, Anke! The five steps are really helpful. The point about data and understanding your own behaviour as a funder is so important. I want to also acknowledge some of the recent funder conferences I attended who are actively working to reduce "manels", and how refreshing and enriching it is to be able to hear other voices at these events. If for nothing else, diversity helps us challenge our assumptions and explore new ideas. And who wouldn't want that?!

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