In September last year, Itad joined the HeforShe global campaign for gender equality. We took this decision with the intention of strengthening our gender focus, both in our monitoring and evaluation work, and in our internal operations. Since then, we have certainly not been idle!
To map out a way forward, we decided to review how gender currently features in Itad and use this as a basis to build on. We called this process our ‘gender snapshot review’, and what followed was a fascinating process, which took on far greater momentum than we had ever anticipated. We started with fairly modest ambitions, knowing how challenging discussions around gender can be in most organisations, but these evolved and grew as the process took shape.
The Gender Snapshot Review Process
We knew from the outset that the snapshot review was going to be tricky, as it needed to explore who we, Itad, are, as much as what we do. It had to be light touch, but also participatory. We were also aware that it needed to engage people with varying degrees of gender awareness, some already gender specialists, and others who’ve possibly never thought about gender issues before. Building knowledge and awareness of gender had to be part of the review process itself, rather than left as a discrete activity we include in the ensuing action plan.
With the expert guidance of Penny Plowman (an Independent Organisational Development Consultant), our Gender Equality Working Group settled on 4 main strands to the review:
- Review of the attention given to gender in Itad’s current projects;
- Review of Itad’s staff composition and the roles women and men tend to play in the organisation;
- Focus group discussions and interviews with staff to explore what is gender, and how it manifests itself in our working lives;
- Analysis of the attention given to gender in Itad’s external communications.
As we took forward the review, two things were most striking. Firstly, staff openness and willingness to engage. For some in the organisation this was the first time they had thought about what gender is and how it shapes their lives. Experienced consultants, confident in their technical area, were suddenly asked to reflect on something that it is so normal that we don’t even notice it – and they weren’t always sure what to say. Thankfully, this didn’t impede their participation. There was an overriding openness amongst all staff to share, learn and see where the process would go. It’s this attitude which has, to a large extent, made the snapshot review such a success.
Secondly, the review process surfaced gender experiences of staff that previously were hidden, or ‘contained’ within private discussions. Suddenly, it was legitimate to talk about gendered experiences, and to ask what is acceptable and appropriate language and behaviour in a values driven organisation like Itad. It felt revolutionary. As one of my colleagues observed “we never [normally] talk about anything personal”.
So what did the review reveal? A number of things…
- In our project work, some good news, we’re giving more attention to gender than we say we are, but we are usually responsive to terms of reference prepared by clients.
- Much like other organisations, in our team, we found that women at senior levels of the company are scarce. Women have a higher percentage of roles in business support functions and are concentrated in junior consultant levels.
- Amongst our consultants, we heard that young female staff report feeling a lack of credibility due to their age and gender in a field dominated by older men.
- Whilst our flexible working arrangements help parents juggle home and work responsibilities, we realised that they don’t fully recognise the very varied and dynamic nature of our work.
- Itad prides itself on being a values driven organisation but we realised we need to strengthen the ways we communicate these values, and ensure our commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment is embedded both internally and externally with the consultants who work with us.
- The gender snapshot review was an experiment and at the start we had no idea how it would be received by the team. Not only did it go well, but the organisation (including our board) was keen for more! The review helped Itad recognise ways in which gender norms shape our organisational practices. With these new insights the team are eager to continue the dialogue this has sparked.
Where do we go from here? At the end of the review, we agreed a set of 6 action points which will embed a commitment to gender equality much more centrally with Itad’s work and its operations.
- Embed a commitment to gender equality into our values, our theory of change and the key performance indicators which will measure performance against business plan objectives.
- Integrate within the new organisational structure capacity, responsibility and accountability for mainstreaming gender into projects.
- Provide training and technical guidance to enable staff to identify and address gender dimensions in our work.
- Bring a stronger gender focus to our human resource policies and performance management systems, including by updating our flexible working policy.
- Put in place support systems to enable staff, especially young female staff, to challenge gender norms and stereotypes which negatively affect teams and the work they deliver.
- Put in place systems to clearly and consistently communicate Itad’s zero tolerance to sexual harassment in the workplace.
These agreements are timely, as Itad launches a new business plan which will drive a new phase of growth for Itad. A commitment to gender equality will lie at the heart of this ambitious programme of change. Exciting times ahead!