Women play a pivotal role in the nonprofit sector. Numerous studies have found women to be more public spirited than men, they volunteer more and give a larger share of their income to nonprofits. Women also make up more than half of employees in the nonprofit sector in the United States.
Despite the critical role of women, nonprofit theory has largely neglected the influence of women on the nonprofit sector. I read an article by Nuno Themudo in the August 2009 Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly that develops a gender theory for the nonprofit sector based on an examination of the relationship between women's empowerment and nonprofit sector size. By focusing on the influence women have on nonprofit sector size, Themudo recognizes the importance gender plays on nonprofit sector development.
Themudo's research finds that nonprofit sector size is positively associated with women's empowerment. In other words, the more power and influence women have in society, the larger the nonprofit sector will be.
So why does this matter? Well, understanding the critical influence and importance gender plays in the nonprofit sector has key policy implications. For example, despite women's critical contributions to the nonprofit sector, men have most of the leadership control in nonprofit organizations. Women earn lower wages at all organizational levels and are proportionally underrepresented in upper management. This fact has Themudo asking, "What is the impact of male overrepresentation in nonprofit leadership positions for women's participation in nonprofits, nonprofit sector development, and gender impact?"
On a more positive note, if women's empowerment contributes to a stronger nonprofit sector, then as women exercise greater control over resources and greater representation in public life, the nonprofit sector should grow. Also, increasing support to the nonprofit sector will address gender inequality and may therefore promote a more inclusive democracy.