Consultant to conduct the Action research on Women’s Leadership in BRAC International Background


Women International Leadership Development (WILD)

A group of ‘can do’, senior leaders in INGOs (of which BRAC International is a part) are committed to being more inclusive organisations, struggling to know how, but determined to help their organisations and make a difference using an evidence based, action research  approach. This group, known as WILD, along with other partners including Fair share campaign, have started this journey to discover ‘what difference makes the biggest difference’ – using a gender lens as the entry point. One of the core questions of our initiative is, ‘why are there so few women CEOs and Chairs in INGOs’? Whilst 70% of INGO staff are women, only 30-35% of our top leaders are women. Whilst many organisations talent pipelines and Boards appear to have a healthy gender balance, there are still fewer women CEOs and Chairs than our number reflects in a sector that explicitly recognises and espouses women’s empowerment. How can INGOs be successful in this external ambition without ensuring it puts its own house in order first?  
Despite the actions that many INGOs have taken to be ‘good employers’ (flexible working, carers and shared paternity leave, encouraging women in talent pipelines) the needle doesn’t seem to have shifted. Something more systemic seems to be getting in the way of progress. Given recent events it has been identified that so little is being done to think more deeply about what really needs to change within our walls. Besides bringing changes in policies organisational norms and accepted behaviours need to be challenged as well. Unconscious bias and traditional models of leadership seem to frustrate attempts to change and hold back too many of our talented staff. 

There is demand for a more evidence based research on what needs to be changed in the development sector to enable more diversity, including women leaders to take their place at the top tier of leadership roles, even though there is a political will to increase diversity in the leadership team

For instance, BRAC International (BI) advocates for women’s empowerment externally but internally, only 20% of senior management roles are held by women, while 60% are at the lower levels.  Failure for BI to recruit women into senior leadership roles, would constrain the organization from retaining women leaders. BI has a lot of talented women, who has the capability to take up the leadership role. However, that progression is very minimal and it remains unclear why this is the case? The action research therefore seeks to unearth how can INGOs be successful in the external ambition without internal alignment, to ensure that it puts its own house in order first?

This action research, initiated by BRAC International, as a member of a wider research group – WILD, will entail the application of feminist leadership principles. This entire initiative will be supported by other development partners, professionals and academia.

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