The Gender Gap in Volunteering

In 2015, the Office for National Statistics also found that 58% of students volunteered over the year for an average of 16.3 minutes per day, compared with 42% of those in paid work who volunteered for an average of 9.6 minutes per day.

Students are fantastic at volunteering, and we love empowering all kinds of students to get involved with volunteering however they can. However, current statistics show that female students are more likely to volunteer, and recently at Winchester Hub, we've been looking into how we can close the gender gap.

Crunching the Numbers

Nationally, more women spend time volunteering than men. In 2017, NCVO found that 40% of women regularly volunteer compared with 35% of men, and this is a trend that has still continued into 2019.

As well as this, the amount of time men and women spend regularly volunteering also differs. In 2015, the Office of National Statistics found that volunteering participation rates for women and men were broadly similar over the year (42% and 41% respectively). However, women who volunteered spent on average 15.7 minutes per day volunteering compared to 11.3 minutes for men.

In terms of Winchester Hub volunteers, we experienced a similar pattern. In 2018, we had a total of 35 male volunteers and 166 female - a ratio of 1:47. This gender gap is also apparent in our student committee - out of 16 members, only 4 are male.

As you can see from the above infographic, if all of the University of Winchester's student body is proportionally represented in our volunteering cohort, we would expect a quarter of our volunteers to be male. However, as male volunteers are slightly underrepresented in both our volunteering cohort and our student committee, we are looking at ways we can involve more male students in volunteering.

But why the gap?

I decided to open up this question to some of our male committee members to get their take on the issue. First I spoke to Aaron Lee, one of our student executives, who is currently working on a campaign to encourage more male students to volunteer. He's been studying our volunteering statistics and looking into possible improvements which can be made to our programmes.

He suggested that less men volunteer because of their career aspirations and misconceptions about volunteering roles. Often, volunteering or job roles with children and the elderly have been characterised as typically 'feminine,' so it's possible that potential volunteers are put off because of gender stereotypes.

Gray Yarn Skeins
Our Woolly Matters project is focused on knitting, a traditionally feminine hobby.

Sam Jenkins, our LinkAges coordinator, commented on the stereotype of voluntary roles only being suitable for women, and in particular, how our volunteering projects follow this trend:

'I think it echoes a wider problem not just in Winchester but also nationally about how certain aspects of social action appear more ‘feminine-based’ on the surface, when actually they can be done by anyone. For example, knitting, and working with children or the elderly are traditionally female-orientated activities. Its a stereotype that needs to change.' - Sam Jenkins, LinkAges coordinator

NVCO's Time Well Spent 2019 survey found that younger respondents were more likely to be encouraged to volunteer by the prospect of gaining skills or benefiting their career; particularly if they are aged 18–24. This means that because male students are discouraged from pursuing careers in care or teaching, they are also likely to be discouraged from volunteering in schools or care homes, as they don't see volunteering as being useful to furthering their careers. This has certainly been the experience of Kieran, one of our Schools+ coordinators:

It is absolutely true that gender divides unfortunately still exist within sectors of society and this was evident in the recruitment for Schools+ volunteers this semester. Negative pre-conceived ideas seem to put male volunteers off working with primary school children because they do not believe they could be ‘good enough’ in comparison to their female counterparts, who are seen as more caring and nurturing. - Kieran Morris, Schools+ coordinator

NCVO also found that people between the ages of 18-34 were more likely to volunteer if they could do so alongside their friends. The implication of this for male volunteers is that they are less likely to volunteer if their friends are disinterested in volunteering.

What can be done?

Aaron is currently planning a focus group with Southampton Hub for next semester, which will take an 'inter-sectional approach' to help bridge the gap. The end goal of this project is to remedy the gender bias in Student Hub's volunteering programmes, and challenge the misconception that volunteering is only for women.

This year, effort has been made in the LinkAges project to appeal to potential male volunteers through targeted social media campaigns. 

Our Schools+ coordinators have also been thinking about how to address the gap:

Charlotte and I have been exploring ways to reduce this negative stigma and encourage male volunteers to support younger children. These have included developing the Harestock Primary football club which is now led by two male volunteers as well as opening up more opportunities to work in less formal settings, such as libraries and homework clubs. We are also in discussion with one of our current partners to look at setting up a coding club to help develop young people’s IT skills beyond the basic curriculum, and will be encouraging male volunteers to take up this opportunity.' - Kieran Morris, Schools+ coordinator

Looking into the Future

In the years to come, we hope to be even more inclusive of all kinds of students. Currently, we offer a range of ongoing projects and one-off opportunities which, according to NCVO's statistics, should cater to the needs of male and female volunteers respectively.

However, we realise that we must do even more to close the gender gap and appeal to more male students in the future. If you've got an idea on how to make our volunteering programmes more inclusive, please email us at [email protected].