Gender balance in the governance of social enterprise

Working paper 107 - August 2013

There are high expectations placed on social enterprises in local economies, and they are often seen to tackle inequality and promote diversity. But little is known about how they are governed, and specifically the representation of women on their governing boards.

This research draws on a survey of 825 social enterprises. It found greater gender equality in social enterprises than in the private sector. Overall, 41% of social enterprise board members are women, compared with 12.5% of directorships in UK FTSE100 companies. However, women are still under-represented compared to the proportion of the population, and compared to the overall proportion of women employed in social enterprises.

There is a strong relationship between women’s involvement and both sector and organisational size. Female dominated boards were more common in sectors that have traditionally had a highly feminised workforce (such as youth/childcare/counselling, and health and social care). Over half of board members in these sectors were women. Female board members were also more likely to be found in locally focused organisations, particularly those with smaller turnovers. There are a smaller proportion of women on boards of larger organisations.

Social enterprises are being looked on to deliver more public services, and have the potential to encourage greater representation of women in the governance of local economies. While social enterprises are more representative than the private sector, there is still room for greater equality.

Research contacts:
Fergus Lyon and Anne Humbert