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The Influence of Organizational

Culture in Women Participation and
Inclusion in Voluntary Organizations
in Italy

Article in International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations December 2010

DOI: 10.1007/s11266-010-9143-7


5 20

2 authors, including:

Daniela Acquadro Maran

Universit degli Studi di Torino


All in-text references underlined in blue are linked to publications on ResearchGate, Available from: Daniela Acquadro Maran
letting you access and read them immediately. Retrieved on: 29 September 2016
Women in Voluntary Organization 1


The Influence of Organizational Culture in Women Participation and

Inclusion in Voluntary Organizations in Italy.

VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit

Organizations: Volume 21, Issue 4 (2010), Page 481.

DOI: 10.1007/s11266-010-9143-7
Women in Voluntary Organization 2

Since the Eighties, the symbolic paradigm of culture has

informed our understanding of the complex of beliefs, values, explicit

and implicit rules, behaviors and shared meanings that enable people

to adapt to the group, convey a feeling of organizational identity,

support a sense of belonging, and determine the rules of interaction

(Hatch, 1997; Schein, 1992). Scholars have identified both the factors

that describe the type of organizational culture, and the phenomena

that perpetuate it. These factors include the potential latitude for

individual action (Golden, 1992), decision-making processes

(Chatman, Polzer, Barsade & Neale, 1998), reward systems (Kerr &

Slocum, 2005), tolerance of conflict, diversity and innovation

(Gordon, 1991), and control and leadership style (Schein, 1992; 1996).

The phenomena are associated with the ceremonies used to celebrate

particular moments, the organizations rites and rituals (Trice & Beyer,

1984), its myths, legends and stories (Martin, Feldman, Hatch, &

Sitkin, 1983), and its values, symbols and language (Hatch, 1993).

Scholars have suggested that the organizational culture construct is

strictly linked with leadership (Jaskyte, 2004; Schein, 1985): a leader

permits to perpetuate or to change the sets of assumptions, values,

norms, rules, that characterize the organization and the way in which

members live in it (Schein, 1992). Through mechanisms such as

training model, reward system, recruitment, selection, promotion, a

leader can transmit and embed an organizational culture (Jaskyte,

2004). At the same time, the organizational culture forms from the
Women in Voluntary Organization 3

start influence the characteristics (including the gender characteristics)

selected for a leader (Schein, 1992), as well as how subordinates

perceive the leaders performance (Denison & Mishra, 1995).

As regards the links between organizational culture and gender,

studies have focused on the factors that can help or hinder women in

achieving key roles in the organization (Davidson & Cooper, 1992;

Morrison, White, & Van Velsor, 1987). Authors as Newman (1995)

describe the means of beliefs, values, practices in different

organizational cultures and their implication for womens presence in

organizations, what kind of behavioral organizations are expected

from them and how women leaders are perceived .

Investigations that have addressed the influence of role on the

behavior and on the gender- and role-based expectations of

organizational actors have shown that expectations often do not match.

In a given organization, subordinates may expect those who occupy a

position of power to show goal- and task-oriented behavior, whereas

studies indicate that women show interpersonally oriented behavior.

As Eagly has described (Diekman & Eagly, 2000; Eagly, Wood, &

Diekman, 2000), the perceived incongruity between the feminine

gender role and typical leader roles tends to create prejudice that takes

two forms:

1) Less favorable evaluation of womens (than mens) potential for

leadership because leadership ability is more stereotypic of men than

women, and
Women in Voluntary Organization 4

2) Less favorable evaluation of the actual leadership behavior of

women than men because agentic behavior is perceived as less

desirable in women than men.

The first type of prejudice stems from the descriptive norms of

gender roles that is, the activation of descriptive beliefs about

womens characteristics and the consequent ascription of female-

stereotypic qualities to them, which are unlike the qualities expected

and desired in leaders. The second type of prejudice stems from the

injunctive (or prescriptive) norms of gender roles that is, the

activation of beliefs about how women ought to behave. If female

leaders violate these prescriptive beliefs by fulfilling the agentic

requirements of leader roles and failing to exhibit the communal,

supportive behaviors that are preferred in women, they can be

negatively evaluated for these violations (Carli & Eagly, 2001; Eagly

& Carli, 2007), even while they may also receive some positive

evaluation for their fulfillment of the leader role.

The role congruity analysis thus suggests that female leaders

choices are constrained by threats from two directions. Conforming to

their gender role can produce a failure to meet the requirements of

their leader role, and conforming to their leader role can produce a

failure to meet the requirements of their gender role. Particularly

consequential for leadership style would be the second form of

prejudice that is, the negative reactions [which can affect future

choices and behaviors] that women may experience when they behave
Women in Voluntary Organization 5

in a clearly agentic style, especially if that style entails exerting control

and dominance over others.

We are thus dealing here with a fully-fledged problem of

organizational culture. Both the data and the literature clearly indicate

that it is the context that sets the requirements for the players in the

organization, and the more they adapt to the expectations for their role,

the greater will be their chances for success in the organization:

congruity or incongruity with corporate norms, values and goals, as

well as with gender roles, can elicit a positive or negative evaluation,

with all of the consequences that this entails (i.e., advancement to a

higher-level position, or a stalled career) (Eagly & Johannesen-

Schmidt, 2001). Consequently, women and men who do not conform

to the expectations produced by the organizational culture may not be

asked to take leadership roles.

The purpose of the study presented in this article was to

investigate the influence of organizational culture in inclusion and

participation in the process of Voluntary Organizations (VOs). The

study focused on organizational culture because of its suggested

potential for fostering inclusion and participation for women in VOs:

as suggested by Pearce, VOs need to adopt the practice to build new

member commitment to the organizations mission. The

characteristics of volunteers activity is the gift, receiving no payment

or compensation, and volunteers spend their time in order to carry out

a project to change society (i.e. in search of a third way, as described

Women in Voluntary Organization 6

by Salomon, Sokolowski & List, 2003), to contribute in building a

civil society (as suggested by Dekker & van der Broek, 2004, people

involved in voluntary associations are conducive of social cohesion

and democracy), and derive enormous satisfaction (serving others

could have great value, as described by Brown, 1999).

As shown, previous research in Italy as was found in other

studies of the motivations for volunteer work (Pearce, 1993) - the

attraction of VOs is that they have rules and patterns of organizational

behavior which differ from those of the for-profit groups with which

they are familiar, and thus provide them with an opportunity to bring

skills and know-how into play which would otherwise be unable to


Not surprisingly, national data indicate that women

participation to volunteerism have increased year by year, and actually

women who are active in voluntary work account for 50.8% of Italys

volunteer population. Moreover, 30% of these women are in

leadership roles, and in 70% of all cases these roles are performed in

Voluntary Organizations with a predominantly female membership

(i.e., at least 60%). Out of all VOs, 30.2% are made up largely or

entirely of women, while 40.5% have an all-male membership. Of the

VOs with both male and female members, 37.7% have between 0 and

33% women, while 32.2% have a female membership of between 34

and 66%. As for the characteristics of the women who provide

volunteer service in largely female VOs, 56.3% are over 45 years of

Women in Voluntary Organization 7

age (in the predominantly male VOs, this percentage is 40.9%), and

63% are women who turn to voluntary activities at the end of their

working life (i.e., after retirement) or do not have jobs (students,

housewives) (Brisance, 2001; STAT, 2005). So, the presence of

women in VOs is due to rules, values and norms which accept, hold

and include all members and take into account the needs of


For us, the response to this question is in accordance to the

literature (Pearce, 1993), so the hypotheses were as follows:

Hypothesis 1. The organizational culture that governs VOs is

necessarily oriented towards values and norms that promote

acceptance and involvement, towards encouraging men and women to

participate in all roles, including management and leadership roles,


Hypothesis 2. Values, rules and setting must be orientated

towards flexibility and inclusiveness in order to enable the VO to

survive; if VOs do not embrace flexibility, the volunteers will leave

and the organization risks failure.


The methodology was based on 91 semi-structured individual

interviews. Questions were asked concerning the type of values, norms

and rules proposed and cultural elements that characterize the Italian

VO, thus:
Women in Voluntary Organization 8

- The manifestation of organizational culture, as described by

Avalon (), such as ways of celebrating important events and

rewarding successes, forms of recognition/awards for volunteers;

processes for making decisions and choosing leaders and managers,

distribution of assignments between men and women (hypothesis 1);

- Inclusion and participation rules (Pearce, 1993), in particular

for people with problems (time, skills, etc.) (hypothesis 2).

The items were as follow:

- In your VO, how many volunteers are men? And women?

- Who is the leader? In which way have you selected

him/her? And about managers?

- Which competences, knowledge, skills has the leader? And

the managers?

- Are there the same opportunities for men and women to

became leaders? And managers?

- How do you take decisions about VO? And about

volunteers roles?

- Are there ceremonies to celebrate VO success?

- Are there forms of rewards?

- Who is the person representing your VO better than others?

Why? What competences, skills, knowledge and him/her?

- When do you meet? Who takes decision about meeting

(time and place)?

Women in Voluntary Organization 9

All interviews were recorded, transcribed and subjected to

statistical analysis.


To obtain data which would provide the fullest possible

description of the Italian VOs organizational culture, we decided to

include both men and women in investigation. Thanks to the

cooperation of IdeaSolidale, a Voluntary Service Association which

maintains a nationwide database of registered VOs, participants were

selected at random from the members of a balanced set of types of VO

(13 persons for each types of VOs: organizations engaged in social

work, support for cooperation and development projects, cultural

promotion, emergency services, environmental protection,

safeguarding human and civil rights, and health care). Personnel from

the Voluntary Service Association contacted the volunteers and

explained them the aim of investigation. For those who agreed to

participate, the association provided us the information needed in order

to contact them personally. Participants in interviews included 42.86%

men, ages ranged from 16 to 73, and the median was 45 (N=91). As

shown in international research (Hodginson & Weitzman, 1996), most

part of volunteers have a high school diploma (52.75%; 35.16%

women), 30.76% have a bachelors degree (16.48% women). 59.34%

spend less than 10 hours per week in volunteerism (30.76% women),

23.07% spend 10/20 hours per week (17.59% women), 17.59% (same

% of women and men). 38.46% of participants are volunteers from 1-5

Women in Voluntary Organization 10

years (24.17% women), 21.98% from 5-10 years (same % of women

and men), 35.17% from over 10 years (same % of women and men),

4.39% from less than 1 year (same % of women and men).

Instrument and Analysis

The Content Analysis methodology was used (Ghiglione,

1980). We chose to use a statistical program to analyze the text

obtained. The program is Alceste 4.6 (Analyze de Lexmes

Cooccurrents dans les Enoncs Simples dun Texte - by Reinert,

1986), a software for the qualitative analysis largely used in

investigation on the human science field. This software permits to

analyze text collected from individuals or groups (i.e. interviews, focus

group discussions), from documents and reports (i.e. articles), political

discourses, biographies, and so on. The goal of the procedure used

through the software is to analyze the words and find the internal

organization of the discourse. It permits also to better understand the

content of the text corpus through a descending hierarchical analysis.

This classification is similar to the cluster analysis carried out on

numerical data, as it decomposes the statements making up the corpus

into increasingly smaller and increasingly homogeneous classes

(Reinert, 1993). The finding obtained is a dendogram of the stable

classes, in which it is possible to see the organization of the classes by

the affinity of the content. The program makes it possible to identify

the most characteristic words in textual units or chunks, as well as the

frequency of both entire words and their reduced forms (the words
Women in Voluntary Organization 11

root) (Matteucci & Tomasetto, 2002). In the second stage, the 2 test is

performed on the association between words and classes. These classes

represent the lexical worlds (as called by Reinert, 1993): the

statistical analysis divides the context units into classes based on a

distribution of similar words; this procedure permits to identify the

specific vocabulary of each classes, composed of simple forms more

frequently in a class than in the rest of the corpus (the measure is the 2

association between words and classes). The program also indicates

the unique words, the hapax legomena that occur only once. The use

of specific words depends on the conceptual context of the discourse

of which they are a part and the situation in which they are

pronounced. Thus, if a specific word is used frequently, this means

that a particular importance is assigned to the concept underlying it;

conversely, the fact that a term is under-used may mean that it is not

relevant to that type of discourse, or even that the speaker is not

predisposed towards that word. The classes obtained by the program

are lists of words with the corresponding 2 to which researchers give

an interpretation of content mean. Each of us then worked

independently on the findings of the analysis. Subsequently, the work

done was distributed and revised by each, as suggested by Annese and

Mininni (2003), and discussed so that we could agree on the results

obtained. In cases of doubt or disagreement, we asked a third person to

contribute an independent opinion. Consistency was thus guaranteed

by its reproducibility (or inter-code reliability).

Women in Voluntary Organization 12


Analysis of the text corpus shows a total of 24030 occurrences,

with 3011 distinct forms. Average frequency of occurrence of each

form was 8, and there were 1568 hapaxes. Of the 619 elementary

context units or ECUs that were classified, the program analyzed 413,

or 66.72%. On the basis of co-occurrence of forms and context units,

the statements making up the corpus are divided by means of a

descending hierarchical classification into three classes (or lexical

worlds, as Reinert, 1993, calls them). Figure 1 shows the dendogram

of stable classes which makes it possible to determine the classes

homogeneity and diversity. For each class, the first ten words

(presented in reduced form1) are identified and ranked by 2

association (Table 1).

[Figure 1 here]

[Table 1 here]

We identified the most frequent words that characterize the

linguistic world to which the interviewees belong. Shown in Table 1,

these words are grouped in classes I and III, which as Figure 1

indicates, are more homogeneous than class II. Classes I and III refer

to distribution of assignments in the organization and its ability to

attract and retain members. Class II refers to the forms of recognition

and rewards for participating in volunteer work.

Women in Voluntary Organization 13

Distribution of assignments, attraction and retention of

members. Classes I and III contain the words that the interviewees use

to describe the process whereby tasks are distributed in their volunteer

organization. Cultural values and norms emerge that characterize

Italian society, and are often reflected in the VOs organizational


The men are very competitive and less willing to work together,
theyre highly focused on themselves. On the job, competitiveness
is linked to productivity, here in volunteer work other factors come
into play. But if theres a bit of competition they dont leave
room for them. (female, age 54)

In some VOs, there are rules and norms that would encourage

leadership and management by women, and when obstacles arise, it is

because of mentality or because roles are assigned on the basis of the

type of work, as describing by those interviewees:

Women have never really shown what theyre worth before now
women are beginning to wake up. Its the same in my VO, they
complain but when the time comes for deciding whos going to lead,
they dont step forward, theyve got sort of an old-fashioned
mentality, a different way of looking at things. (female, age 24)
How tasks are assigned depends on the kind of work involved. In
some services, its better for girls to be in charge, while in others
its better to have boys. For instance, I cant see a boy heading our
eldercare group, just as I dont see a girl for our football group, even
if shes kind of a tomboy. (male, age 19).

Some of the interviewees report that maternity is as much an

impediment to volunteer work as job responsibilities:

A woman has to show that shes at least ten times better than a man
to be given the same role, its always the same old story... its also
Women in Voluntary Organization 14

true that a woman has family obligations that a man doesnt have...
raising children, for instance, isnt as hard as it used to be now you
have a right to maternity leave and all the rest but it still has an
impact on your job, and even on volunteer work I mean, I can
hardly leave the baby alone for hours, can I? I stepped down as
president, because I just couldnt keep up with everything I had to
do. (female, age 35)

The interviewees complain of a general lack of help, inside and

outside the family:

My wife is a volunteer, too. Before the baby was born, we said wed
take turns for our volunteer work, but in the end we couldnt
manage for the moment, shes had to give up, and well just have
to see how it goes. (male, age 42)

For women who are mothers, support from their family

members is especially important in volunteer work. If such work is not

regarded as absolutely essential, it is not supported:

My family doesnt understand that I like what I do now I dont

have anyone that I have to look after, but Im sure that if I were to
have a baby, theyd tell me to forget about volunteer work: youre a
mother now (female, age 37).

From our standpoint, one of the most interesting words is

leadership, which the interviewees indicate as central to the

participation and decision-making process. The leader is required to

preside over the VOs values and rules, which may change over time.

In such cases, the leader must be able to adapt to the change and to the

volunteers needs:

The VO had a leader a man who was very strong, very effective,
hes the one who made it into an association, but since he was the
kind of person who works alone when he finally reached
Women in Voluntary Organization 15

burnout, they way everybody in volunteer work does sooner or later,

the association nearly fell apart. There were only three of us left, all
men, and we were able to keep things going. He was a very strong
figure, deeply committed, something of a father to us but also a my
way or the highway sort. Now that hes gone, were all more
involved, all the men and women whove joined since then. Now,
leadership is split among several people, its better than only one
because if somebody cant do it any more, the organization can still
keep on going, and it makes for better relationships, since youre
freer to voice your opinion if you dont agree with something. We
wanted to make things democratic and consensus-based, and we
succeeded. (male, age 42)

The capacity for inclusiveness does not depend on gender, but

on the ability to accept and accommodate the needs of the VOs


The group I belong to is led by a woman, but the tone is masculine,

because shes got a very aggressive way of doing things as I see
it, if a woman wants to reach the top, its right that she should be
able to do so, because its a question of making your own choices,
but that shouldnt mean that you necessarily have to have to model
yourself after a man, or that you have to run roughshod over people
to reach a certain level, thats an attitude thats not justifiable for
either men or women, but men have always had it. (female, age 24)

These factors would appear to be linked to the VOs ability to

attract and retain members: since volunteer work is, as the term

implies, something that individuals decide to do on their own initiative

and without pay, they look for organizations that reflect their own

desires and needs:

I found out about this VO through a friend of mine, she did

volunteer work with me in another group and changed over to this
one. She told me that here the mentality was different, you have
more input about scheduling, it was more interesting as an
experience, there was more opportunity to make yourself heard and
Women in Voluntary Organization 16

they didnt criticize everything you said about how things could be
improved. (female, age 32)

Organizational culture is thus a decisive factor, not for the

individuals decision to do volunteer work in a particular field, but as

regards the organization itself, its values, its rules, its norms:

The group doesnt offer any kind of strategy for coping with all the
demands of home and family, job and volunteer work, let alone
having programs to make it easier to handle all these
responsibilities. Pretty strange for an association that works with
womens problems, isnt it? All they tell me is that if you come,
thats great, if you cant come, thats OK too. I think thats a form
of coercion, even more than a direct order, because if you say that, it
means you dont need my help anyway. (female, age 47)

If the values and norms are not right for them, the volunteers

will abandon the VO:

I dont understand the VOs that dont show any concern for their
own volunteers, who are these associations greatest resource as
a result, some people just dont come after awhile, and work comes
to a standstill. Its no wonder that people get fed up and go away,
and maybe even found another group, with different rules. (male,
age 53)

In some VOs, the problem would appear to lie in how the

group is run, with methods that are too similar to those of for-profit


In the VO Im in now, we can talk over any problems we might

have in a much more friendly way, in the old group you couldnt do
that because it was like being in a big corporation, with a rigid
pecking order. (male, age 48)
Women in Voluntary Organization 17

Forms of recognition and rewards. In class II, we have the

words that refer to forms of recognition and rewards for participating

in volunteer work. The interviewees report that these moments of

celebrating participation are essential in the life of the VO, as they are

useful in reminding all members of the shared values that their

commitment involves. In addition, celebrations foster a sense of

belonging to the group, of gratification with a commitment that took

time and effort that would otherwise have gone into other activities

with family and friends, in many cases, such explain in this interview:

volunteer work gives you a chance to be useful to other people, but it

also gives you personal gratification because were all of us a bit

egotistical underneath (male, age 29), and another volunteer says

Its nice to do volunteer work and its something that should be

done, but you have to get some satisfaction out of it personal
gratification is very important, its the giving thats gratifying, its
important because things are done better and you can see that.
(female, age 54)

The VOs celebrations take place mainly at holidays describing


there are times when we all get together, like the group party...
every year during the Christmas holidays we have meeting where
we can all socialize with each other for a bit... its important for
feeling that were part of the organization. (female, age 53)

Some groups have more formal ceremonies, where prizes are

awarded to some of the volunteers with symbols of belonging to the

VO: in my VO, they give medals on the basis of the number of

Women in Voluntary Organization 18

activities youve been in, theres an official ceremony attended by all

the big shots and politicos, and our families are invited, we wear our

uniforms (male, age 48). The volunteers emphasis that the lack of

such moments creates considerable disgruntlement: often, Ive had no

recognition for what Ive accomplished its not that I want the

medal, but I do want recognition not having any recognition is

demotivating, and once a persons demotivated, all his potential is

destroyed (male, age 37).

Discussion and Conclusion

The data gathered from interviews in the course of the

investigation indicate that Italian VOs can embrace an organizational

culture whose rules and norms are oriented towards attracting men and

women to join and encouraging them to participate in all

organizational roles, including leadership and management roles

(hypothesis 1). An organizational culture of this kind is necessary for

VOs, who risk failure if they do not adopt flexible rules and settings

(hypothesis 2): VOs are seen as organizations whose rules can

contribute to creating an atmosphere that is more accommodating for

everybodys needs.

In VOs, the organizational culture orients the distribution of

leadership and management roles. This distribution takes place on the

basis of mens and womens mentalities, and on the type of work that

the VO does (Table 1, classes I-II). Mentality is a question of the

processes involved in constructing gender identity, which has long

Women in Voluntary Organization 19

contributed to a male hegemony and hence to a patriarchal culture

(Connell & Messerschmidt, 2005). This does not mean that the

mentality cannot change in favor of new rules. But if VOs do not give

women a chance to try their hand at these roles, there is a risk of

estranging them mentally from the content and context of their work

(Kerfoot & Knights, 1998, p. 20). As for the type of work engaged in

by the VO, the study described that, as Eaglys work has shown (Eagly

& Carli, 2007): leadership is still at least in Italy linked to

expectations regarding gender roles, and VOs are not exempt from the

social and cultural processes at work elsewhere (Table 1, class I). The

data indicate that a women is more likely to be chosen as a leader in a

womans volunteer group, where her behavior more closely reflects

gender stereotypes and the VOs values and norms (see Eagly,

Makhijani, & Klonsky, 1992). Not surprisingly, women described an

increase in the number of men as a factor that can disrupt the groups

equilibrium: redistributing assignments restores equilibrium, but there

is a risk that women will forgo key roles in favor of preserving the

stereotype that fosters their participation and inclusion (Martin, 2003).

The crucial element is thus the organizational culture that determines

which of the volunteer groups members are singled out for roles as

leaders and managers (Table 1, classes I-III). The leader in particular

is required to guarantee and preside over the VOs values, norms and

rules (Pearce, 1993; Wood, 1981), so that the vision and mission that

have given the organization its character can be perpetuated (Table 1,

Women in Voluntary Organization 20

classes I-III). It should be noted that some of the volunteers find the

same rules in the VO that they have encountered in for-profit

organizations (Table 1, class III). Nevertheless, participants recognize

a change in VOs and in the people both men and women who work

with them (Table 1, class I).

In VOs, cultural elements are also transmitted through the

recognition for work done (Table 1, class II). The VOs ceremonies

are made up of rites and rituals that reinforce the type of conduct for

which the volunteers are rewarded by means of symbols such as

medals, building a sense of belonging to the group. This is essential for

volunteers whose work involves responding to medical or

environmental emergencies, and not only for them: belonging to the

group strengthens the processes of inclusion and participation (Farmer

& Fedor, 2003), enabling members to express themselves and feel

welcome, accepted (Table 1, class II). And as a result, it empowers

them to take on responsibilities, to try their hand at new roles.

What, then, are the cultural values that can be effective in

enabling women to express their potential in VOs? The answer is to be

found in the VOs willingness to remove obstacles to womens

participation, to do everything necessary to accept and welcome

diversity, and to help balance the demands that a dual presence in the

workplace and the domestic sphere can entail. VOs are asked to

remove all the barriers to participation, including the problems

Women in Voluntary Organization 21

involved in balancing an individuals many responsibilities (work and

family, for example Table 1, class I-III).

Italian VOs like all organizations could benefit from greater

diversity (in gender, certainly, but also in knowledge, skills, age,

ethnicity and other areas) in their leaders and members, and from

investing in a decision-making process that involves their entire

membership (Cox & Blake, 1991; Gilbert, Stead, & Ivancevich, 1999).

For each volunteer, this makes it possible to improve the participatory

process, to offer more creative solutions and make the most of

everyones potential (Hackman, 2002). What the VOs and other

organizations are asked to do is to devote more attention to each

individuals capabilities, remembering that all people have the right to

aspire to lead the life which they can and want to do (Singh, 2002).

One way of affecting such changes is to reflect on the type of

organizational culture adopted by the group and the resulting efforts to

provide support and closure.

It was found that Italian VOs that are not oriented towards

acceptance and involvement, and that do not have flexible and

inclusive rules for participation, put their own survival at risk: their life

cycle is likely to be short, and unable to meet societys current needs,

not in terms of mission but of vision. If a VO is unable to implement

rules and settings oriented towards flexibility and inclusiveness, it

would appear to be destined for failure (Table 1, class III): the

volunteers move to another organization, or even create a new one

Women in Voluntary Organization 22

which is more consonant with their own needs. The volunteers

describe the failure of the process of inclusion and participation as one

of the factors that cause the VO to fall apart: in such cases, change

must necessarily be internal (Table 1, class I).

When volunteers do not agree with the rules and norms, they

are especially likely to change to another organization. Thus, change is

more likely to take place in VOs where people are not bound by

formal contracts but by affective and emotional ties, by their own

sense of responsibility, and can choose to leave the group, change it, or

create one of their own. And change can be spurred by women, by

their needs.

The risk is one of fragmentation2, but these new organizations

can come together precisely by virtue of a new vision, of strategies for

inclusion and participation that extend to the young people who are the

future of volunteer work. The data indicate that one of the major

channels for access to volunteer work are friends and acquaintances

who promote a VO on the basis of their experience with it (Table 1

class III): if this experience is satisfying, the VO is more likely to

attract new people who can contribute to fuelling its mission and

vision (Mattsson & Stenbacka, 2003).

An aspect that must be monitored from VOs leaders and

managers is that of the cultural elements that characterize the birth of a

organization, and how its success or failure depends on its membership

makeup. And when a VO springs from a previous failure, what is

Women in Voluntary Organization 23

womens role in proposing and stimulating change towards an

organizational style and climate that is more consonant with their

needs and desires? An attempt must be made to understand what

organizational models are best for women, and how they can be

adapted to different organizational contexts. VOs would appear to

have considerable promise as a laboratory for testing different

organizational forms, as this investigation indicates that their strong

point lies in an ability to be more flexible and adaptable to their

members needs.

Finally, we can say that VOs have the potential to evolve more

rapidly than for-profit organizations, and this process could have a

great impact in civil society. Survey on volunteers showed that in

Countries where there is a large presence of VOs there are likely to be

successful problems of discriminations, both ethnic, about gender,

social class, religion or politics, and so on. The VOs network allows

all citizens to access the same services, and permits volunteers to get

in touch with the real needs and requirements of society (Edwards,

Foley & Diani, 2001). Through volunteering, you lay down the rules

of reciprocity which have repercussions on the sense of citizenship,

thus fostering social innovation evolving civil society (Sirianni &

Friedland, 2001). So VOs their leaders and managers - are invited to

try new approaches to inclusion, participation and assigning leadership

roles to women that can become examples of good practice for all

institutions and enterprises, for-profit and other non-profit alike.

Women in Voluntary Organization 24


1 The program uses symbols to indicate the type of root. If the word is

followed by the symbol <, this means that only the root of the word is

recognized. The + symbol, on the other hand, means that the

terminations and multiple forms of the same root are recognized. An

example of the first type is the word actual< , which stands for

actuality, actualized, actually; for the second type, the word wom+

may refer to women and woman.

2 In 2003, for each organization that closed down, more than 10 new

ones were registered (Source: STAT Italian National Institute of

Statistics, 2005).
Women in Voluntary Organization 25


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