What is the Fair Share of Women Leaders commitment? 

Fair Share is a campaign launched in 20181 calling on civil society organisations to secure a FAIR SHARE of female leaders in senior management and boards. The campaign envisages that civil society organisations will achieve a minimum of 50% women leadership by 2030, or at organisations where women make up more than 50% of staff, the percentage of women leaders is on par with the proportion of women staff across the organisation. This call is based on the analysis that although women make up nearly 70% of the civil society workforce, they hold less than 30% of the top leadership positions. The lack of diverse voices making key decisions undermines the ability of CSOs to fully safeguard their workforce and beneficiaries from sexual or power abuse, and any contributions towards achieving SDG 5 on gender equality. 

How is the Fair Share measured?  

One of the key activities of the networks is the management of the FAIR SHARE Monitor index, which collects and publishes data on the ratio of women in the workforce to women in leadership within CSOs. The Fair Share Monitor is updated annually to measure women’s representation in CSOs, hold individual organisations accountable and track progress of the CSO sector towards gender equality. Participating organisations submit a Fair Share report in January each year, indicating the status of women staff across the organisation and how this compares with the percentage of women in leadership positions with a focus on women of colour.  

How is CIVICUS approaching the Fair Share commitment? 

CIVICUS signed up for the Fair Share commitment in March 2019. The decision was made taking into consideration staff and Board feedback on the initiative. One of the main motivations for CIVICUS’s endorsement was the opportunity to address visibly disproportionate levels of female leadership within the organisation at the time. Internal data for the period 2017-18 indicated that 84% of all female staff in CIVICUS were in non-managerial positions, i.e., only 16% held management and leadership level positions. 

Staff feedback for the initiative included a high level of enthusiasm, along with a push to meet and expand the commitments required before 2030, and an emphasis on promoting intersectional leadership, with a focus on women of colour.  In this regard, our Fair Share commitment represents an important part of an action-oriented racial and gender justice framework for the organisation, which responds directly to pain points flagged by some members of staff in both formal and informal settings.

How has CIVICUS progressed so far?  

CIVICUS has reported on the Fair Share commitment each year since joining the campaign in 2019. As the table below shows, CIVICUS has made progress toward ensuring an increased representation of women leaders in the organisation between 2020 to 2022. 

Year of Publication*  Women as a % of CIVICUS staff  Women in Leadership  

(Board & Senior Leadership) 

2020  78%  67%** 
2021  76%  76% 
2022  77%  75% 
* reflects organisational data for the previous year 

** 54% representation in the CIVICUS Board and 76% in Senior Leadership 

But there is of course a story behind these numbers. These incremental gains can be attributed to several deliberate efforts to attract and retain women leaders. These initiatives have included a heightened focus on equity in the workplace, including in relation to gender in the recruitment process, proactively providing women with leadership and professional development opportunities, and addressing any existing gender pay gaps. We have also introduced a hybrid of flexible work arrangements (women leaders suffer from burnout more than their male counterparts) so that women leaders are able to better manage family and non-work responsibilities.

Whilst receiving organisation-wide support, these interventions have nonetheless been accompanied by the challenges associated with changing ways of working, recognising unconscious bias, and implementing an intentional diversity, equity, and inclusion agenda. What’s more, our interpretation with the Fair Share commitment will need to be more nuanced to successfully integrate and progress other essential dimensions of diversity and inclusion. This includes reflecting how we can be more explicit about the inclusion of women from under-represented racial and ethnic groups and proactively adopt policies and practices that encourage non-binary notions of gender in our workplaces. But this is a journey CIVICUS is fully committed to and will endeavor to share both our progress and lessons learned along the way. 

by Lysa John, CIVICUS Secretary General


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