Interview with Juniper Glass – Gender-Lens Philanthropy: A practical guide for Canadian foundations

Par Andrea Kovacs-Sykes , Ontario Hub Coordinator
15 January 2020

With equality between genders being more relevant today than ever before, Canadian foundations are beginning to take notice, making it more important to acknowledge the implementation of a gender-lens to allow for positive social change. As a result, Philanthropic Foundations Canada recently published a guide by Juniper Glass, a PhiLab member, on gender-lens philanthropy. The guide is meant as a tool for foundations, presenting various methods of working towards greater gender equity. Her approach when developing the guide was to create a menu of options for foundations.


Gender-Lens Philanthropy

Interview by Andrea Kovacs Sykes, PhiLab Ontario Hub Coordinator

Andrea Kovacs Sykes (AKS): What made you interested in the topic of gender-lens philanthropy?

Juniper Glass (JG): I have worked in gender equity focused nonprofit organizations for much of my career. For the past five years, I have been working with foundations as a consultant, and I saw this as an opportunity to bring those two interests together.

AKS: What is behind the women’s philanthropy movement in Canada?          

JG: There is a lack of significant development of a women’s philanthropy movement in Canada. Women who are coming into wealth are wanting to play a greater role in making a difference through their donations. This has led to more women-focused initiatives within nonprofits, to improve their engagement with women donors. Another study I am completing now explores this topic, and there is a lot that could be done to make the most of women’s interest in supporting social change through their giving.

However, “women’s philanthropy” is different from gender equity focused philanthropy and grant-making. A number of grant-making foundations are acknowledging the call to action over the last two or three years, prompted by the #MeToo Movement, which has shed more light on gender inequity in general. In many different sectors, organizations are coming to realize that gender equity has not been achieved yet, and that they have a role to play. With more Canadian foundations realizing that they can do their part in advancing gender equality, there has also been an increase in awareness that gender is not just a binary, and that we need to be inclusive of all gender identities.

Gender-Lens PhilanthropyAKS: Of the four main practices that foundations can engage in, that you cover in the guide – granting to women and gender equity initiatives, applying a gender analysis to all granting areas, improving internal operations and governance, and using a gender-lens in investing the endowment – which have the biggest impact in supporting gender equity?

JG: I cannot say which of the identified practices would have the greatest impact. However, studying gender-lens philanthropy and grantmaking led me to many of the same principles that are important within any kind of social justice grantmaking, for example supporting organizations led by people with lived experience, offering flexible and operating grants, and walking the talk – meaning, addressing equity and inclusion within the foundation as well as funding this work among grantees.

It is also important to realize that there is a gender aspect to any issue, whether we are aware of it or not. For example, a foundation that focuses on the environment wants to mitigate climate change by offering grants for technologies, innovations and new green businesses. That foundation should be thinking of gender too; in fact, it may be especially important with the green economy. Why? Because projections are showing that the new jobs created in clean energy will reinforce the gender division of labour and pay inequity that already exists in the trades, technology and utility sectors. This explains why conducting a gender analysis to examine a social or environmental issue being addressed by a foundation is important. Maybe the foundation could prioritize funding climate action initiatives led by women and which take into account the impact on gender equity. That way the new economy could be greener as well as more equitable.

AKS: Once a foundation starts looking into implementing a gender-lens, how long does it take to start seeing positive results or making a difference?

JG: The guide addresses several concerns, such as the fact that many foundations are quite small, have very few staff, and have a limited capacity to change their internal workings. However, at the same time, we need to remember that foundations are only accountable to their board of directors and so can actually move quickly in changing their practices, quicker than many other types of organization. This is why we presented options that even smaller foundations can do.

What I have seen in the Canadian sector is that often foundations work together to take action. This is partly because they want to mitigate any perceived risk for themselves when trying something new, a finding that stems from my past research with PhiLab on how foundations collaborate. Collaboration also takes place to create a greater impact, due to having more resources and influence available. One of the suggestions for smaller foundations is to build a network with those who are already active in gender equity. Often it will be a women’s foundation because they are the leaders in applying a gender equity lens to their work and building relationships with the grassroots. For smaller foundations, collaborating with either small or large women organizations in their local communities also offers a great opportunity to learn about the issues and the ecosystem working towards gender equity.

AKS: Do you think there is pressure from Boards to implement a gender-lens?

JG: No, I don’t! It has been challenging to identify Canadian foundations that are already applying a gender-lens. One rare example is a private foundation focused on international development, which supports grassroots organizations to improve health, well-being, and the economy in their local community. Given that the foundation is from the international development sector, where gender mainstreaming and gender analysis is more common, it was natural for them to incorporate gender analysis. This was achieved by ensuring leadership in their grantee organizations represented local women. They would ask grantees how this project would affect various demographics, including girls and boys, women and men.

Another example is a Canadian corporate foundation that decided to do an audit based on gender and the Indigenous perspective and experience of their granting process. A consultant was hired to look at every stage of the granting process through the eyes of different groups such as women’s organizations, and Indigenous-led initiatives. I found this to be quite rare, but a useful practice, and hope they share their experience with others.

There are many barriers for feminist organizations, which are usually extremely limited on resources, making it difficult for them to find new sources of funding. Challenges include relationship-building with foundations (they don’t usually have the personal connections that are often needed), and the entire grant application process which can be onerous, as most of their resources are going towards direct services rather than fundraising.

In fact, the application of a gender-lens not being a widespread practice among grantmakers in this country was what motivated Philanthropic Foundations Canada to publish this guide.

AKS: Have you witnessed any generational as well as gender differences in foundation teams? Any marked differences in management style between women and male philanthropists?

JG: We know that women are over-represented among staff in both the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. However, the majority of board members of foundations continue to be men, according to a recent survey by PFC. We also know that men are under-represented in nonprofits, until we reach the top executive positions of the largest organizations, where the salaries are higher. It is at this level that we start to see a high portion of men working in the sector.

I do know that one of the things that is important when applying a gender-lens is that it becomes part of the organization’s culture, not just a box to be checked.  We need to create a collaborative, communicative, transparent organizational culture when aiming for an organization that cares about equity issues. More and more, I see women leaders and people working in all roles in foundations, including the younger generation, people of colour and Indigenous people, who want to foster an organizational work culture that values each person who works there, along with grantees and donors, and to shift from a transactional to a relational approach. We hear the same message from our Indigenous partners and collaborators, who prefer to participate in philanthropy when it is meaningful and allows for relationship building, which can lead to deeper transformation of people’s outlook on the world.

AKS: Has there been an increase in the number of grassroots philanthropic organizations working on gender equity?

JG: When advancing gender equity it is important to pay attention to who is working to improve justice and equity at the grassroots level. In terms of philanthropy, I have not seen many examples of grassroots initiatives in Canada besides informal ones and one-time fundraising activities. For example, in British Columbia, a grassroots mobilization has been having citizens host fundraisers and generate donations as part of a campaign to support Indigenous organizations who are taking governments and companies to court to preserve the integrity of their lands, waters and rights. There is also the whole community foundation movement in Canada, which includes around 200 community foundations. Community philanthropy sometimes embodies a grassroots sentiment, but not always. Some community foundations are quite elitist and still focused on the needs of upper-class donors, while others are trying to expand their donation base to include the middle-class as well as support community ground-up initiatives. A connection to gender-lens philanthropy is that Community Foundations of Canada (CFC) was selected to be a partner in the new Equality Fund, announced in summer 2019. The Equality Fund includes a significant contribution from the federal government but is led by a feminist grantmaking organization, the former MATCH International Women’s Fund. CFC is to be one of the partners distributing funds within Canada. The Equality Fund is supporting feminist action at the domestic and international levels, to advance justice and equality. This is leading more Canadian community foundations to begin thinking about gender equity and about gender-based analysis. I am hopeful that this guide will be a useful tool for them.

AKS: Thank you for taking the time to complete this interview and for the many insights into applying a gender-lens to philanthropy.