A little over a year ago,  as we were developing our latest strategic plan, our team identified a  significant gap in our strategy and operations vis-a-vis gender equity and justice. Gender equity is not a new concept within the field of accountability, transparency and governance. There have been a number of studies (here and here for example) that look at the way policymakers and NGOs think about the impact of corruption on women and the role of women in promoting ethical leadership and transparent government. At the Accountability Lab, we noticed a gap in both our operations as well as in our programmatic strategies, and as an accountability organization we strive to live our values and practice our principles. Gender equity is one of our core values, but we realised we needed to better define it internally in order to truly articulate appropriate ways forward both in terms of our organization and our programs. We are committed to intentionally addressing issues that affect women disproportionately in the communities where we work, internally in our own organization, and also in our own programs around the world.  

As a result of having realized this gap, we decided to embark on a journey to better understand gender dynamics within our organization, programs and stakeholder communities. We are doing a deep dive into this multi-faceted topic, reading the literature, consulting with gender experts, designing an internal gender equity and sexual harassment audit and examining other organizations’ approaches. Our goal is to put in place a long-term gender strategy that is co-designed with staff and members of our community around the world, and we have already begun to make a few changes based on what we are learning.

Women in leadership positions 

As we laid out in our operational plan last year, we committed to gender balance within the leadership of our country teams and boards of directors, because we value women and men equally and we know that there are barriers for women in reaching leadership positions. We reviewed our job descriptions for any kind of gender bias, worked through our hiring processes to tap into different kinds of networks and made sure we had diverse hiring panels. Women now represent over 60% of our staff, 45% of our leadership positions and 60% of our board members across all countries. In the last two months, we have hired two senior female staff in both our US and Nepal offices; and within the next month we will do the same in Mali and Liberia. We are fully committed to ensuring that as we grow, there are women leading that growth, together with men, in all countries.

An equitable and transparent workplace

We are working to ensure gender parity and equity in our workplace culture and policies. We understand that simply having a gender balance doesn’t automatically lead to equity, and that we need to transform our culture to one that values individuals equally. We now have equivalent parental leave for all, and we have a comprehensive new sexual harassment policy. We have also incorporated more rigorous background checks for all of our hiring processes; and we are co-developing trainings and learning opportunities for all staff- new and existing- with regular check-ins on these issues as part of performance reviews. Beyond these policies, we are striving above all to create a transparent culture within the Accountability Lab- and to the extent possible- within our sphere of influence, where women and men are valued equally, treated respectfully, where harassment and discrimination are not tolerated, and where staff members feel safe enough to voice their opinions on any subject.

Gender-focused programming

With regard to our programs, we are working to ensure that gender equity is a central focus of our work on accountability. We haven’t yet achieved it, but our aim is to ensure that at least half of our “accountapreneurs” are female (this number is currently 35%, up from 28% last year). We plan to conduct gender analyses and apply the results to help us inform the design of new programming and improve our current work. To date,  through the accountability incubator, we have implemented gender-focused programming by supporting a film school for women in Pakistan; a theater school for women in Liberia; and civic education programs for women in Nepal, among other efforts. We are currently working to build the first national network of women filmmakers in Liberia, supporting them over the course of the next year to tell their stories through film. We have similar goals for the Integrity Idol campaigns around the world. Thus far, 24 out of 60 Integrity Idols have been women. In Nigeria, four out of five idols were female last year. Looking forward, we plan to be more proactive and meaningfully engage men as fellow champions of gender equity as we continue to support women’s leadership and program to advance gender equity.

Research on gender and accountability

We are beginning some in-depth research into how gender and related power dynamics relate to accountability, transparency and corruption more broadly. This has begun with a desk review of the relevant literature to understand current thinking on the issues; and will be followed by research on the ground in conjunction with consultation with gender and inclusion experts in the countries where we work to learn how we can support women more effectively as part of our programs. We are interested in the role of women within the field of accountability and governance, as well as how we can support the transformation of the barriers while expanding on opportunities for women to step into leadership positions with local and national governments.  

Building the Organizational Culture

All of this is underpinned by an effort to create an organization that is centered around equality, inclusion, dignity, respect and trust. It is about creating an inclusive environment in which everyone is valued, accepted and feels welcomed regardless of their sex, ethnicity, religion or background. It’s about deeply understanding the concept of privilege and working every day to unpack it, address patriarchal norms and behaviors, and create space for marginalized groups- particularly women- to step into leadership roles and voice their opinions. It has been incredible to see how our teams in Liberia, Nepal, Pakistan, Mali, Nigeria and now South Africa have managed to support diversity and inclusion in this way by building networks to support the most vulnerable groups, creating real team spirit even in hard times and continuing not only to talk about these values but to live them every day.

In the current context of the #MeToo movement, many organizations in the aid industry have been thrust into the spotlight as women have found a platform to voice their concerns and share their stories in ways that may have previously been more difficult. We hope this continues, and as an organization working on accountability- and one that is based on the idea of adaptive learning- we feel the first step is ourselves to be transparent about all of this. We will work hard to share where and when we face challenges and embody the behaviors we’d like to see in the sector more broadly. There is much more to do, but we are excited to have begun this journey. We look forward to engaging with all of you around it and sharing what we learn along the way. Stay tuned for more blog posts in the coming months about our progress.  

How can we improve? What can we do differently? Let us know through email at: [email protected] or @accountlab.