Dec 9, 2019 | Anne-Birgitte Albrectsen

Why Civil Society Must Achieve a FAIR SHARE of Women in Leadership

Plan International has become a go-to organisation for girls’ rights. Our organisational efforts to champion equality for girls underpin every partnership, priority and decision. But change must come from within – and this is why we have signed up to the FAIR SHARE initiative and committed to examining gender dynamics within our own organisation.

The world is waking up. From the #MeToo movement re-shaping conversations and perceptions around sexism at work, to debates about equal pay for women around the world, now is the time to self-reflect on how we achieve gender equality and prevent abuses of power within our own organisations.

In civil society, the global workforce consists predominantly of women – yet our leadership is largely male. It is estimated that an average of 70% of CSO staff are women, while 70% of leaders are men. This stands in direct contradiction to the values of fairness and equality that we all exist to promote in the world, and to Plan International’s mission as a gender equality organisation.

The percentage of women in our overall staff must be reflected in the percentage of women in our leadership. This must be the aim of all Plan International entities, from the Global Hub to our Country Offices. This is why I have pledged to pursue FAIR SHARE’s objective of achieving proportionate women in leadership by 2030 in every part of our organisation. In the interests of transparency, we have also provided gender-aggregated data for Plan International entities, highlighting where we are succeeding and the areas in which we need to improve.

FAIR SHARE has one clear goal: to increase women’s leadership and representation in senior roles in civil society organisations by 2030 to 70% – proportionate to the 70% of the CSO workforce who are women.  In our letter of commitment, we have pledged to raise all efforts to match the percentage of women in our staff to women in Plan International’s leadership. We also seek to diversify our leadership by promoting and recruiting more LGBTQI+ people, people of colour, people from the global south and differently abled people as leaders and young people – especially young women – within Plan International. We aim to better understand and prioritise what inclusive, intersectional feminist leadership looks like, champion feminist principles and explore what an organisational shift towards feminism means for our staff, work culture, and our global strategy priorities.

But tackling gender inequality in our organisations is about more than just statistics. It’s about challenging harmful gender norms and power dynamics every day and starting conversations about what it means to promote gender equality in the workplace and beyond. Globally, we work with over ten thousand staff – and our aim is to spark conversation around gender norms and feminism in every corner of our organisation. That is why we are surveying our male colleagues on what masculinity and feminism mean to them and have kickstarted internal conversations with staff who identify as men around how they can be allies to the girls and women in their lives – and how a gender-equal world benefits all genders.

But we recognise that we still have a way to go. Some of our more traditionally male-dominated fields of work, such as IT or Engineering, still have heavily male workforces, and conversations around gender equality can be challenging, controversial and even dangerous in many countries and culture in which we work.

Listening to experiences of female staff across the organisation and supporting their voices must remain our priority in order to propel our gender inclusivity efforts. Vivian Nekoye, IT Assistant at Plan International Kenya, told us, “my main role is IT support which includes network troubleshooting, solving hardware and software problems etc. I was passionate about computers from way back and I believed in myself. Many people would say IT was difficult but I really wanted to try my best to prove this norm wrong.”

Dorcas Odhiambo, Communications Officer, also at Plan International Kenya, added, “In five years I hope to have risen up to a managerial position in my professional work. In 10-15 years, I hope to be an employer and an authority.” We must make special efforts to foster this kind of enthusiasm among women working in our more male-dominated areas and offices.

We know the power and potential of women leaders because they are among us every day. Providing them with the tools and opportunities to leverage their skills is the only gateway to fast-track positive change. Our values-based leadership practices are underpinned by feminist leadership principles, and our core organisational function is driven by enabling girls to learn, lead, decide and thrive. We recognise the importance of advancing women’s leadership in our sector as a first step to achieving this, and our commitments within this initiative encourages us to hold ourselves accountable.

Vivian told us, “I would change the [work] culture, to believe that women too can take up male-dominated roles… and to have more young women on board in this career.” This is the kind of professional culture we are seeking to achieve at Plan International. We must live our values as a girls’ rights organisation.