Nov 20, 2023 | FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders

On the road to a feminist data governance

FAIR SHARE of Women Leader’s Data Practice Accelerator project within the 2023 Patrick J. McGovern Foundation Data Governance cohort is focused on establishing data systems, guidelines, and processes to further their goal of monitoring and promoting feminist leadership in nonprofit organizations. This text was originally published on the PJMF Medium page and is shared here with permission.

How do you make progress towards gender-equitable leadership in any sector without taking (continuous) stock of where you’re starting from?

It is within this context that FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders was founded in 2019, with the FAIR SHARE Monitor as its flagship project. The Monitor makes the data on women in leadership transparent,¹ holds international social impact organisations accountable for their gender gaps and supports advocacy for gender equity in the social impact sector.

With the international discourse around women leadership gaining momentum and a growing number of international organisations actively participating in the FAIR SHARE Monitor, the moment for optimising this data-based tool is now. Indeed, insights from members of our Committed Organisations community, as well as other consultations, made it apparent that for the Monitor to be a powerful and actionable advocacy tool for gender equity, it needs to become more interactive and capture more complex power dynamics in the sector.²

The 2023 Data Governance Accelerator at PJMF came at an exciting time for our organisation as we sharpened our thinking around how to develop the FAIR SHARE Monitor into a transparency and accountability tool not only about but also for and with the international social impact sector.

Big challenges, even bigger ambitions

In recent years of prototyping the FAIR SHARE Monitor, we have faced several challenges, including unreliable and unsustainable technical infrastructures, resulting in a rather traumatising first-hand experience of how the power differential between external service providers who “know and sell tech” and those of us who don’t have the knowledge or experience can materialise. These challenges were exacerbated by the lack of a defined strategy to guide our data work, as well as insufficient funding to bring in external expertise for extended periods of time to develop the tool further.

However, rather than curtailing our ambitions and efforts to scale our work, these challenges have opened the door for important internal reflections and insightful contributions from our network. Collective thinking has already taken place around how to develop the FAIR SHARE Monitor into an insightful data-based tool, creating even more value for the social impact sector and developing an overarching data strategy for our young organisation.

Our main ambition coming into the Data Practice Accelerator Program was to develop a comprehensive data strategy that would embody our feminist values and our aspiration for an intersectional approach to data, and build on this strategy to improve our policies and processes, and, in turn, the FAIR SHARE Monitor.

“The need for the Monitor to become an interactive, user-centric, and actionable tool for the sector to shift power dynamics toward equitable representation remains.”

In 2021, we started this journey toward a more intersectional approach to data governance by collecting data on Black, Brown, and Indigenous women and women of colour (BIWOC) in the FAIR SHARE Monitor to paint a more nuanced and accurate picture of women’s representation in the sector. In 2023, we took this further by including non-binary and gender-diverse employees in our data collection process to be more inclusive and reinforce our stance on the expansiveness of gender.

While our efforts towards intersectionality have found positive resonance among our stakeholders, the need for the Monitor to become an interactive, user-centric, and actionable tool for the sector to shift power dynamics toward equitable representation remains. With these learnings from past years as well as our current ambitions, we kicked off our engagement with the 2023 Data Governance cohort of the PJMF Data Practice Accelerator program in February 2023.

The practicum phase of the program has been of immense value for FAIR SHARE, particularly at this early stage of our data journey. Reflecting on past experiences and current capacities, learning from peer organisations at different stages of their own journeys, and leveraging the expertise and resources made available to us through the program have enabled us to put things into perspective and concretise our ambitions. The outcome of this practicum phase was the development of FAIR SHARE’s first Data Governance Roadmap outlining the following main priorities:

  1. Develop an intersectional data strategy in line with FAIR SHARE’s new organisational strategy
  2. Engage our community in the optimisation of our data-related activities and development of our data strategy
  3. Audit and improve our current data processes
  4. Develop feminist data governance policies in line with FAIR SHARE’s data strategy

Data governance in motion

With our data governance roadmap now laid out, we are excited to be taking the first steps in the implementation phase of the program. One such step has been taking advantage of the Ford Foundation’s Cybersecurity Assessment Tool and assessing our current infrastructures. We are also in the process of carrying out an organisation-wide data inventory and data quality benchmarking involving all team members to varying degrees to ensure proper buy-in. These centre pieces lay the groundwork for the development of said data strategy.

“When it comes to data governance, there is no moving FAIR SHARE forward without building a common knowledge base.”

Furthermore, in line with our efforts to increase data fluency and confidence across the organisation, we are developing knowledge-sharing workshops to enable team members who were not able to attend the practicum phase to also benefit from the valuable knowledge acquired during the program. After all, when it comes to data governance, there is no moving FAIR SHARE forward without building a common knowledge base, so we are thrilled to be able to count on the support and expertise of Aapti Institute and Data Elevates in carrying out these workshops over the next few months.

Lastly, as we progress into the implementation phase of the program, we look forward to engaging with members of our community through the establishment of our first Data Council. The operationalisation of this Council and the subsequent development and implementation of FAIR SHARE’s first feminist intersectional data strategy will be a major milestone in our data journey. Our aim is for the Council to become a community for FAIR SHARE to work with as we continue to expand our data work in an inclusive, participatory, and intersectional way to advance gender equity in the social impact sector’s leadership.

Looking ahead

The next months will be crucial in building the foundation of FAIR SHARE’s data work for the years to come. There is no doubt that an intersectional data strategy, refined data processes, and comprehensive data governance policies will bring significant added value to the quality of our work. But, beyond this, we foresee a significant impact on the expansion of the community we strive to build behind our data work and, in particular, the FAIR SHARE Monitor. As the Monitor becomes better positioned to provide actionable insights on gender gaps in leadership, our hope is that we can rally a larger and stronger community behind the goal of achieving gender-equitable representation in the social impact sector.

“There is no doubt that an intersectional data strategy, refined data processes, and comprehensive data governance policies will bring significant added value to the quality of our work.”

At an organisational level, the knowledge and experience that our team has already gained and will continue to gain from this program is invaluable and will continue to serve us as we expand the scope of our work. In the long term, the impact of the successful implementation of our data governance roadmap will also contribute to increasing the traction behind our data work and boost our credibility and reputation as an organisation.

We are aware of the ongoing nature of any data governance journey and understand that reassessing, adjusting, and further developing will be essential for the continuous effectiveness of the processes and policies currently being developed. But, with the skills, resources, and network that the PJMF Data Practice Accelerator program has enabled us to gain in the past months, it is with confidence that we will continue our data journey well after the completion of the program.

¹ FAIR SHARE of Women Leaders e.V. strives to establish a more inclusive image than the constructed idea of a white, heteronormative, able-bodied, and cis woman as the norm. For us, the word woman explicitly includes women who do not fall into this constructed image of a woman, e.g. trans women, Black women, women of colour, disabled women, and all those who identify as women.

² Committed Organisations are organisations who have signed the FAIR SHARE Commitment, pledging to achieve a FAIR SHARE of women in leadership by 2030 and actively participate in the FAIR SHARE Monitor by submitting their gender data every year.

³ Through our new organisational strategy, we aim to build a feminist social impact sector by holding the sector accountable using intersectional gender data and advocating for Feminist Leadership.