Do women leaders of nonprofit public service organisations help to reduce the gender pay gap?

By Rhys Andrews

It is often assumed that female leaders are motivated to actively represent other women within the organisations that they lead by helping them to achieve promotions, pay rises and improved working conditions. In the public sector, such leaders are thought to act as ‘femocrats’ advancing gender equality through their deeds and decisions. However, surprisingly little attention has been paid to the potential for women leaders to actively represent female employees in the nonprofit organisations that are now responsible for many public services in the UK and elsewhere. In my recent article in Policy & Politics , I examine the role that women leaders might play in reducing the gender pay gap in Welsh housing associations – nonprofit public service organisations that provide most of the social housing in Wales, and which have a strong commitment to gender equality.

In many countries, the nonprofit sector has a mixed reputation on gender issues in the workplace, even though, as in the UK, women make up the majority of the workforce. Drawing on representative bureaucracy theories, public administration scholars have long suggested that women who work for public service organisations will actively represent the interests of other women within the organisation because of their broader commitment to promoting the welfare of women. My analysis of the period 2017-2020 suggests that Welsh housing associations with a female CEO have a lower mean and median pay gap than those with a male CEO, and those with a female chairperson also have a lower mean pay gap. Substantively the presence of a woman CEO or chairperson was associated, on average, with a range between 4-7% decrease in the gender pay gap during the study period. However, it seems that the representation of women in the upper echelons of housing associations did not narrow the gender pay gap.

Overall, my study suggests that nonprofit service providers led by women in the most senior organisational positions may be more likely to have a lower gender pay gap, though questions about whether a glass ceiling may be present remain. Policy-makers and practitioners working in the gender equality field would benefit greatly from more in-depth, multi-method research which systematically evaluates how female leaders actively represent women’s interests in the myriad organisations that now provide public services. This is particularly important given a renewed period of austerity in the public sector, which, as in the past, may threaten further progress on equality for those women who provide and receive public services.

You can read the original research in Policy & Politics:

Andrews, R. (2023). Do women leaders of nonprofit public service organisations help to reduce the gender pay gap?, Policy & Politics51(2), 206-230 from

The views and opinions expressed on this blog site are solely those of the original blog post authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of Policy & Politics, the Policy Press and/or any/all contributors to this site.

If you enjoyed this blog post, you may also be interested to read:

Cairney, P., St Denny, E., Kippin, S., & Mitchell, H. (2022). Lessons from policy theories for the pursuit of equity in health, education and gender policy, Policy & Politics50(3), 362-383 from

Lombardo, E., & Meier, P. (2022). Challenging boundaries to expand frontiers in gender and policy studies, Policy & Politics50(1), 99-115 from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s