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Last updated November 30, 2017

The issue of gender in the workplace has become a political hot potato and a talking point whichever sector you work in. Traditionally, the non-profit sector has been heavily represented by women in both volunteer and managerial roles. But as gender stereotypes are being busted left, right and centre, it’s time to explore why there are less men than women volunteering, and consider how we can get more men on board.

What’s the Status Quo?
According to 2012 census data, 31.7% of females took part in volunteering compared to 29.5% of males (NZ General Social Survey). However, in comparison to 2010, the number of males volunteering reduced more significantly than females (Statistics NZ).

So, do we need to encourage more men to volunteer? We’re about even-stevens, right? Yes and No. When you look more closely at the types of volunteering, you will see gender differences that could have a real impact on the outcomes of services.

One example of volunteer gender impacting service provision comes from Australia. This year, National Volunteer Week in Australia saw the ‘Time to Bro Up’ campaign by Camp Quality. This campaign was an effort to attract more male volunteers to the cause.

Camp Quality provides support to hundreds of children with cancer, of whom the gender split is around 50:50. Comparatively, their Camp Quality Volunteers are less than 30% men.  As Camp Quality has a policy to pair children with mentors of the same gender, this meant children were going without mentors. For Camp Quality, having an even gender split means supporting more children through cancer.

However, the statistics can swing the other way. The YMCA in the US states around 70% of its sports coaches are men, whereas other volunteer roles are mostly filled by women.

Why Should More Men Volunteer?
Perhaps the question should be, why should more men volunteer in Social Service roles? It is acknowledged that one reason young men do not engage in social services is because of a lack of visibility of men within these services (Johal, Shelupanov & Norman, 2012). Getting men to volunteer in your organisation could help break down that barrier to engagement with high risk young men, and therefore help you reach more people and make more impactful change.

Having a team of volunteers that includes men, also demonstrates that solutions to social problems are not solely a women’s issue or a men’s issue, but one for everyone to solve together. Intuitively, if your team consists of men and women, your ideas, feedback, solutions and actions will be more diverse and more representative of the people you are trying to support.

Why Don’t Men Volunteer as Much?
There is no single reason why men are volunteering less than women, but the following points are things to consider.

They just haven’t thought of it.
There is a general over-representation of women in the field of volunteering (in particular in social services) and as such, the concept is less likely to connect with men. While men are often happy to help-out, the term volunteering is not necessarily something that resonates with them. As society shifts towards a more balanced gender model, hopefully this perception will change.

They’ve tried, but it was too hard to get started.
When I was trying to encourage a male family member to volunteer after retiring, his response was that he had tried contacting a few places, but they hadn’t returned his call. Gender aside, if this is how you treat prospective volunteers, your organisation is going to seriously struggle to get new recruits.

It is unhelpful and inaccurate to say that men would be more likely than women to give up after an unsuccessful attempt, but given that less men are even considering volunteering, dare you risk losing anyone?

They tend to prioritise work.
Many studies suggest that women are more likely to volunteer because ‘generally speaking’ they work less hours, and have more time to commit to community activities. As times have changed, so has this pattern. Make the most of more stay at home dads, and work-from-home and flexi-time options.

They don’t think they’ve got anything to offer.
Men tend to have pre-conceived ideas of what a man can offer to a programme. This comes in part to what they experience. If a male comes to your office and all the volunteers are women, it tells a story. If all your recruitment material has photos and testimonials from women, it compounds the message. Make sure you give great examples of the diverse volunteers already supporting your organisation, and if you want more men, get your existing male volunteers to spread the word.

What Can You Do?
It’s easy to over-complicate things and assume you need a special strategy to attract male volunteers. However, that’s not necessarily the case. You may just need to be more conscious of the effort you’re making.

Ask more men.
Do you unconsciously ask more women than men to volunteer? Start taking note of who you approach when looking for support, and make a conscious effort to even up the ask.

Make men more visible.
Make sure you use men in your promotional material recruiting volunteers. Do a media release or Facebook post with volunteer profiles, and include male volunteers as well as women. If you have a stand at a volunteer recruitment event, make sure you have both men and women there to represent you.

Recruit where men are.
Where are you currently looking for volunteers? Are these places frequented by men? Do they read the newsletters or emails you’re sending? Is there another way to get in touch?

Make men feel welcome.
Have you unconsciously created an environment that caters for women, but leaves men feeling uncomfortable? A basket of sanitary pads in the bathroom might work if you’re an all women crew, but if you have men involved, you might need to be a little more discrete (true story!). What message does your environment send to males looking to volunteer?

Share the knowledge.
If you have developed an engagement strategy that works or you are seeing the benefits of increased male volunteers, share your knowledge with other groups. Everyone stands to benefit.

Create a culture of inclusion and diversity.
Most importantly, your whole organisation should be one where people of any gender, culture, sexuality and ability feel welcomed, valued, appreciated and recognised. Make sure all your processes around volunteer management are open, supportive and regularly reviewed.

Why Does This Conversation Matter?
Just having the conversation about men in volunteering goes a long way to breaking down stereotypes and shows that the volunteer sector is leading the way in discussions. There is a responsibility for the volunteer sector to lead by example and help break down barriers for men, young and old, to seek help. The following quote sums it up perfectly.

“But whenever there is a lack of balance between the genders, there is a problem. ‘We’ is stronger than ‘Me.’ You’re a better family when you’re thinking about more than yourself. We’re a better society when we’re focused on more than ourselves.” Scott Eastman, YMCA Leader, The Ford Family Foundation, 2013.

We are all in this together.

Rosie Julou
Rosie is the General Manager at Exult and everyday fields enquiries on all sorts of topics. Recently she has been asked a lot about encouraging men to volunteer, so she took some time out to explore it further. If you have run a successful campaign attracting male volunteers to social service roles, please feel free to drop her a line at rosie@exult.co.nz

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