On a learning curve towards gender mainstreaming

Blog by
25 January 2018

From the inside out, IIED is taking measures to integrate gender equality into every aspect of our work. Rosalind Goodrich and Morgan Williams report back on institutional learning so far.

A women's focus group is a key part of a governance assessment at Lake Mburo National Park in Uganda. It's essential that gender equality and equity is addressed in research proposals and activities (Image: IIED)

'Mainstreaming' is a popular word in the international development sector but when we talk about 'mainstreaming gender into institutions', what do we actually mean?

There are projects for mainstreaming biodiversity into development, for mainstreaming natural capital into policy planning, and recently we attended a learning workshop hosted by the Gender and Development Network (GADN) to share experiences of mainstreaming gender in institutions.

Gender equality and gender equity (PDF) are fundamental to achieving IIED's mission and since 2015 we have been focused on integrating gender issues across our research work and into how we operate as an institute. We carried out a gender audit and published a gender manifesto in February 2016.

That manifesto has two goals: one 'looking in' to the organisation to build a diverse and fulfilled workforce that thrives in its career, family and personal life; the other 'looking out' to produce high-quality research that supports gender equality and equity for sustainable development. So far, so mainstreaming.

Putting gender mainstreaming into practice

We're now striving to put our manifesto into practice. Our Gender Equality Champions' Network meets every month to coordinate activities to promote gender equality and keep it on the institute's agenda.

We have invested substantially in capacity development: all staff took part in gender sensitisation workshops in autumn 2016, followed by more in-depth training for our research and communications staff. 

With support from a gender and learning adviser, we now have a peer support group with solid gender equality skills, ready to advise other researchers on how to strengthen gender awareness, responsiveness and put gender equality at the centre of their work. 

Our new comprehensive gender resource site gives IIED staff easy access to relevant resources, tools and information.

In consultation with staff, we have assessed all our human resources policies, leading to several being updated to promote equality better. We have also introduced gender key performance indicators to monitor our own progress and hold ourselves to account. With these indicators in place, we can track the level of gender ambition of our research proposals and the gender sensitivity of our communications products. 

For the first time, we have analysed responses to the employee survey to identify any differences in response by gender. It seems there are clear differences on some core issues between men and women. Informal conversations reveal the same. We are now carrying out a more in-depth survey, focusing on gender.

Three of the questions on IIED staff have been asked in an internal gender survey (Image: IIED)

Like many fellow GADN members, we think we're putting the right pieces in place to ensure gender equality is at the heart of everything we do, and yet, also like other GADN members, we're finding there is still some way to go. 

In word and deed or just word? 

While we've got firm commitment 'from the top' to consider gender routinely in our research, when it comes to the practice, it's taking time to see changes. Internal analysis has shown our research proposals could still be stronger. The peer support idea is a great one, but the group hasn't yet found its feet. 

A baseline survey of our 2016 briefing papers showed that while we may be building gender elements into our research, we're not communicating this consistently in our analysis of results. 

And as our survey showed, we can't assume that everyone at IIED has a common understanding of gender equality and why it is relevant to IIED internally and to our research topics.

Moving forward with mainstreaming

We didn't solely dwell on what wasn't working at the GADN learning workshop. We also talked about successes and shared some tactics for overcoming the obstacles to moving forward with mainstreaming, for example:

  • Encouraging senior management to be role models by acting out the kind of behaviours we want to see 
  • Encouraging research teams to partner with women's rights organisations when working in contexts where women's rights aren't being upheld, whether that's culturally or legislatively 
  • Promoting participation in a gender leadership programme with practical tasks and quarterly goals
  • Building gender-based behaviours into behavioural competencies and checking against these in regular appraisals
  • Making organisational expectations around gender clear in recruitment packs and job descriptions, and
  • Building gender objectives into all areas of the organisation's functions, including communications, finance and facilities as well as the core business.

Any organisation needs to be clear what it means by 'mainstreaming' and measure progress against that definition. Mainstreaming is only one route to equality. As with mainstreaming of anything, to be successful we've got to work on making it relevant and have practical examples of what that success looks like.

Gender mainstreaming at IIED has started well; and this year's drafting of IIED's next five-year strategy presents a great opportunity to move things forward.

Rosalind Goodrich (rosalind.goodrich@iied.org) is head of research communications at IIED; Morgan Williams (morgan.williams@iied.org) is senior coordinator in IIED's Climate Change research group.

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