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43% of Spanish NGOs are now led by women, according to a report by ESADE and PwC

Among social leaders, there is a lack of digital natives with the ability to mobilize: one third have no Twitter profile and only 47% have more than 300 followers on the network

Women represent a clear majority across NGO technical teams, and 43% of these organisations are now led by women. This proportion varies according to the entity’s size: 57% in small entities, compared to 25% in larger ones. While it is true that the gender gap in NGOs is smaller than that found in the business world, there is still some way to go. In this sense, NGOs could be viewed as a benchmark for other sectors in terms of diversity. This is one of the conclusions of the report “Where is social leadership heading? Emerging trends and skills”, developed as part of the 11th edition of the ESADE-PwC Social Leadership Programme, a joint initiative of the ESADE Institute for Social Innovation and the PwC Foundation. 

The study, which is based on a survey of more than 200 heads of Spanish NGOs, points out that the sector must invest more actively in diversity, not only promoting a greater incorporation of women in positions of responsibility (management and governance), but also establishing mechanisms to enhance their teams. To this end, 84% of those surveyed agree that the incorporation of women into senior management adds value to leadership because it generates diversity in decision-making. 68% of respondents consider this contribution to be positive due to the distinctive characteristics and attributes of female leadership.

For Ignasi Carreras, director of the ESADE-PwC Social Leadership Programme and co-author of the report, “the increase in NGO leadership represents significant progress compared to years past, but for a sector in which 70% are women, there should be more female NGO directors-general”. In this regard, “the transformation of the sector since the incorporation of women into managerial positions is extraordinary, as it provides new collaborative, emotional intelligence and influence skills,” he explains.

For Santiago Barrenechea, president of the PwC Foundation, “to lead in environments as complex as today’s is no easy task”. Thus, in the global framework of the ‘2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’ of the United Nations General Assembly and its goals (SDGs), Barrenechea points out that “NGOs can and should actively take a leading role inside and outside their entities to contribute to the achievement of these overall goals, largely in alignment with their own missions”.

Innovative leaders and talent management

In addition to the issue of diversity, the report also highlights the need to create more innovative cultures within NGOs. At present, leaders of Third Sector organisations are not perceived as being highly entrepreneurial or innovative. Only 18% of the sector believe that their leaders stand out for these qualities, while 30% describe them as capable of generating change and adapting to new environments. Encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation is therefore essential, not only because of the complexity of the social challenges faced by NGOs, but also as a means of diversifying their sources of income and dealing with financial constraints.

Another challenge lies in the field of talent development and management. According to the survey, despite the fact that among the attributes and skills that are most widely recognised in sector leaders, those related to emotional intelligence stand out; only 24% describe them as team developers or talent managers, and another 24% believe that they lead their teams by empowering and delegating. “There are leaders who are very action-oriented, but they need to strengthen their dedication and skills in order to develop their team members,” says Ignasi Carreras. 

To this end, the study recommends implementing specific actions to facilitate the development of the professional careers of people working in the sector, to develop their own skills, thereby creating more innovative cultures and leaders. All this has to be done in collaboration with other stakeholders, public or private, with whom we can combine skills in order to innovate. 

Digital native leaders

It is also key for the sector to harness the new digital reality. The survey data show that 100% of Spanish NGOs have a Twitter profile, 90% have a Facebook page, 76% have a YouTube channel and 56% have a presence on Instagram. However, digital presence for the leaders of these organisations is much lower: a third do not have a profile on Twitter and only 47% have more than 300 followers on the network (the average for leaders is 2,000 followers, compared to 43,500 for their respective NGOs).

This lack of leaders of social organisations with a digital native profile, in many cases, is a result of a lack of training and because they do not share the same “natural” culture as other people from younger generations. The report points out that leaders of the sector have an opportunity in this area to become influencers and points of reference for raising awareness and mobilizing new audiences towards their causes through these channels. 

The report examines the eight key elements for future social leadership: (1) vision and results orientation, (2) intra-entrepreneurship and social innovation, (3) leadership development, (4) social leadership and gender diversity, (5) reputational leadership, (6) digital leadership, (7) systemic leadership, and (8) collaborative and alliance-building leadership.