Appoin­ting boards of trustees

How do we achieve diversity?

How to break down gender roles, stereo­ty­pes and patterns of perception 

Many chari­ties would like to have more women on their manage­ment commit­tees. The value of ‘diver­sity’ is incre­asingly well known. But how to find the right new candidate?

Based on our expe­ri­ence in appoin­ting and support­ing members of boards of trus­tees and execu­tive boards, below is an analy­sis of what we have lear­ned to date, along with speci­fic advice on how to approach much-deba­ted issues.

Are women less confident?

We know from socia­li­sa­tion rese­arch conduc­ted in the 1990s (by Mari­anne Horstk­em­per1, among others) that gender-speci­fic roles are estab­lished at school. For young women, these are often asso­cia­ted with lower self-confi­dence – even when they perform just as well as their male coun­ter­parts. It is precis­ely these women who grew up in the ’90s who are now approa­ching middle age and repre­sent the pool of poten­tial candi­da­tes for acting on chari­ta­ble boards. We would ther­e­fore do well to actively encou­rage quali­fied female candi­da­tes. In an inter­view context, we also recom­mend compa­ring their own self-assess­ment with objec­tive proofs of perfor­mance and third-party evalua­tions (e.g. refe­ren­ces) to coun­ter­ba­lance any understatements. 

Are female candi­da­tes asses­sed more harshly?

In our expe­ri­ence, female candi­da­tes and their appli­ca­ti­ons are not neces­s­a­rily asses­sed more harshly, but they are subject to diffe­rent assump­ti­ons. Socio­lo­gist Pierre Bour­dieu2 descri­bed the way in which we cate­go­rise the social world on the basis of our patterns of thought and percep­tion. The cultu­rally estab­lished gender binary often finds its way into our ever­y­day judge­ments. Speci­fi­cally, this means we assign people certain traits based on their gender. We do this to both men and women3

We have had female candi­da­tes asked whether they will bring ‘femi­nine skills’ to the board, and we have also seen female candi­da­tes rejec­ted because they ‘didn’t bring enough female quali­ties’ to the table.

We recom­mend sitting down with your selec­tion commit­tee and consciously addres­sing your inter­na­li­sed concep­ti­ons of gender roles. Clarify the expec­ta­ti­ons you have of both male and female board members. It makes a diffe­rence whether you are looking for a female candi­date on the basis of ‘diver­sity’ (selec­tion based on sex) or are seeking someone with the kind of quali­ties women have typi­cally been socia­li­sed to have, such as empa­thy (selec­tion based on gender cate­go­ries). The latter is a skill set that can be found – or can be lack­ing – in both men and women. A first helpful step can be to anony­mise people’s appli­ca­ti­ons: sepa­rate someone’s gender from their CV, for exam­ple, by presen­ting candi­da­tes to the selec­tion commit­tee without their names or pictures.

Do women in leader­ship posi­ti­ons need to become more like men?

Our typi­cal image of a mana­ger is asso­cia­ted with stereo­ty­pi­cal mascu­line traits: asser­ti­ve­ness, decisi­ve­ness and self-confidence.Many women who work as mana­gers today have years of expe­ri­ence feeling like a ‘double devi­ant’. This term was used by the socio­lo­gist Daniela Rastet­ter4 to describe the 

expe­ri­ence of not being conside­red either a ‘real woman’ or a ‘proper leader’. The former is based on the fact that they occupy a role chiefly perfor­med by men, and the second occurs if they exhi­bit quali­ties other than those asso­cia­ted with stereo­ty­pi­cally male mana­gers. Fort­u­na­tely, we are begin­ning to see a change in this prescrip­tive view of mana­gers. This will allow orga­ni­sa­ti­ons to deve­lop much more diverse skills profiles, inde­pen­dent of people’s gender. ‘Soft skills’, such as the ability to take an inclu­sive approach, are incre­asingly in demand on boards of trus­tees, for example.We recom­mend rethin­king your desi­red skills profile for members of your board of trus­tees. Does it always need to be the same set of – stereo­ty­pi­cally male – requi­re­ments? What other quali­ties would streng­then your board of trus­tees and make it better able to face future challenges?


Horstk­em­per, M. (1995). School, gender and self-confi­dence. A longi­tu­di­nal study of female socia­li­sa­tion at school. Juventa Verlag.


Bour­dieu, P. (2005). Mascu­line Domi­na­tion. Stan­ford Univer­sity Press.


We are deli­bera­tely not inclu­ding non-binary gender iden­ti­ties here, as we are concen­t­ra­ting on the soci­ally cons­truc­ted gender binary.


Rastet­ter, D. (2013). Sexua­lity and domi­nance in orga­ni­sa­ti­ons. A gender compa­ri­son analy­sis (Vol. 33). Springer-Verlag.

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