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Division on Philanthropy’s Gender Bias

28 October 2014 at 10:25 am
Xavier Smerdon
Barriers for women in philanthropy remain despite generational change de-emphasising traditional gender roles, prominent philanthropists have told a Melbourne summit.

Xavier Smerdon | 28 October 2014 at 10:25 am


Division on Philanthropy’s Gender Bias
28 October 2014 at 10:25 am

Barriers for women in philanthropy remain despite generational change de-emphasising traditional gender roles, prominent philanthropists have told a Melbourne summit.

The Nexus Youth Summit plenary panel discussion, Multi-generational perspectives of engaged philanthropists, was facilitated by impact investor Danny Almagor and featured a discussion of gender issues by some of Australia’s philanthropic figureheads, including:

  • Martyn Myer AO, Chairman, The Myer Family Investments Pty Ltd

  • Gemma Salteri, Advisor, CAGES Foundation

  • Alan Schwartz AM, Managing Director, Trawalla Group

  • Betty Amsden AO, Governor, Arts Centre Melbourne Foundation

Alan Schwartz said gender in philanthropy was “really a microcosm of gender in the world” – one that was improving too slowly.

“One of my observations, particularly in terms of what we see transferred from one generation to the next, is that I still see a gender issue in regards to philanthropy where the business gets passed onto the son, and then the foundation, the philanthropy, gets passed onto the daughters,” Almagor said.  

“Whether that’s changing in our generation or not, particularly in the generation before, that seemed to be a trend.”

Gemma Salteri said she had seen that in her own family.

“In my family, my dad and uncle went into the family business and my aunties went into the foundation,” she said. “So there was definitely that gender stereotype there. In my generation…the gender issue isn’t there so much.

“But I do see it across the spectrum.

“It possibly could be that it’s because it’s a little bit more flexible working in the philanthropic sector if you have a family…there’s probably that side of things. But across business and philanthropy, I think there’s still an issue where women are not valued as much, they’re not reaching the same levels of management.

“Until it equalises in the business world, I think you’ll probably see it in the philanthropic world as well,” she said.

Both Alan Schwartz and Martyn Myer said that their own families were gender neutral in assigning roles to family members.

“I’m completely gender blind, always have been. I don’t understand it at all. It’s obviously cultural, it’s not an issue in our family,” Schwartz said.

“There certainly was [an issue] a generation ago,” Myer added. “I remember my older sister complaining bitterly when she hadn’t be invited onto the foundation board, but times have changed completely.”

“We include anyone in the family who wants to be involved in the philanthropic work…the business is merit-based, philanthropy can be much more inclusive,” he said.

Self-made philanthropist Betty Amsden, 88, received the loudest rounds of applause as a vocal supporter of women more actively stepping into the business and philanthropic spheres.  

“I think that actually, women needn’t be afraid. They can go forward and take the risks. Women are as important as men in this world.

“When you go into that board, you’re as equal as the male that’s sitting at the table. Because you’re a person. You’re an individual. Never forget that. Gender doesn’t come into it – it’s what you can offer as an individual that makes the world go round.

“You’ve got to make it happen by putting yourself forward.

“[In the past], women were treated with respect…I think women today should still be respected as they were then, but they’ve lost it because they wanted their independence. Now to find that back – you’ve to be respected as a female, and you’ve got to earn the respect of others – and that’s not easy.

“We are really losing the art of caring for one another,” she said.

A gender lens was the theme of this year’s summit, which brings together social entrepreneurs, young philanthropists and changemakers to tackle global social, economic and environmental issues.

The Nexus movement began in New York four years ago, with the inaugural Nexus Youth Summit held in Sydney last year.

Xavier Smerdon  |  Journalist  |  @XavierSmerdon

Xavier Smerdon is a journalist specialising in the Not for Profit sector. He writes breaking and investigative news articles.

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