Towards a gender-equal think tank

10 July 2019

Gender analysis, gender mainstreaming, gender budgeting, intersectionality among many other concepts are bandied about often in larger discussion spaces. However, how often do institutions like think tanks look within to understand where they stand as far as gender is concerned, be it transformative change at the community level or internally? As a think tank, it would be interesting to question our own institutions and look at how gender manifests or is integrated within the research, governance, management and communication processes. 

The United Nations refers to gender equality as equal rights, responsibilities and opportunities for women and men and girls and boys. They further state that equality does not mean that women and men are the same, but rather that human rights, responsibilities and opportunities should exist irrespective of whether they are born male or female. In an interesting research paper on women’s rights, titled The Concept of Substantive Equality and Gender Justice in South Asia, author and academic Prof Savitri Goonesekere describes the concept of substantive equality that has evolved from the formal and narrow concept of equality. Substantive equality, according to Prof Goonesekere, looks at eliminating both discrimination and disadvantage by stressing the need to change attitudes and institutions which perpetuate discrimination faced by women. Using her concept of substantive equality, I thought it would be interesting to analyse gender within a think tank.

I decided to look inwards first and look at how I, in my position as a Programme Manager, could gauge my organisation as far as gender equality is concerned. This decision helped create a framework which could provide a score. While a score may help raise important questions internally and put in perspective where the thinking lies on the issue of gender, true change and movement towards this can happen only if there are dedicated strategies that are implemented backed by the core members of the organisation. But, the score would at least promote a discussion on important issues.

I created a set of questions which could be used to draw answers from senior management and others to compel them to ponder on aspects which may have been ignored earlier. This short internal checklist of questions can help organisations, like mine, realise quickly where they lie along the gender spectrum – if they are not a gender equal organisation, if they are moving towards change or if they already are a full-fledged gender-equal organisation. A few questions may be difficult to answer since it may demand certain pre-set work culture and practices. Be that as it may, it is very important for think tanks to ask these difficult questions if they wish to evolve and remain relevant. I termed this as the Essential Checklist on Gender (ECG) since these questions should prompt institutions (in this case, think tanks) to be gender-equal organisations. 

A gender-equal workplace ideally needs to be the norm and not the standout- it is no longer a ‘nice to have’ but rather a ‘should be’ situation.  Typically, such a checklist will work only if the respondents answer and apply the test in all honesty without any bias nor compulsion. When I began working on this, I received full support from the senior management at my organisation, the Public Affairs Centre (PAC), to test where the organisation stood as far as being gender-equal is concerned. 

The questions were answered by the Admin & HR Head, since the questions were primarily on policies in the institution. The questions were developed to check process, policy and their inclusion, representation and its actual practice within the think tanks. The questions were formulated after studying good practice around diversity within institutions, and framed to cater to aspects of representation, internal policies, hiring processes, communication and even infrastructure. I came up with 11 questions in total:

  1. Is the think tank representative in terms of male vs female ratio representation at all levels including junior, mid-level, and senior? 
  2. What is the male/ female ratio amongst the Board?
    (Questions 1 and 2 are all about equal representation, which is an important and integral aspect of being a gender equal organisation (both within the organisation as well as among the board of directors). 
  3. Does the think tank include gender as an integral aspect of its research?
    (Question 3 essentially delves into the manner in which the organisation includes gender within its research framework and whether the organisation’s theory of change is inclusive of gender concerns and if there are any research outcomes on gender.)  
  4.  Is the think tank an equal opportunities employer?
    (Question 4 aims to ask organisations to look inwardly to check if the organisation is free from any kind of discrimination against any employee or potential employee on the basis of caste, religion, sex, physical/ mental disability or age.)
  5. Does the think tank have a formal gender policy that has been implemented in its entirety?
    (Question 5 tries to question if the think tank has formally implemented its stated gender policy in its true spirit, because policies are often drafted and left on paper and rarely implemented.)
  6.  Does the think tank also have a written mandate on wage equality that ably addresses the gender pay gap (if any)? 
  7. Does the think tank include/ acknowledge the LGBTQ communities either in hiring and/ research?
    (Question 7 tries to understand if the internal processes of hiring and research work is inclusive.)
  8. Has the think tank integrated gender equality into its overall guidelines and strategic goals?
    (Question 8 aims to understand if the organisation has ensured that gender equality is part of its overall organisational strategy.) 
  9. Does the think tank have ways in which it communicates aspects on gender equality?
    (Question 9 seeks to find out if the organisation has a dedicated process to share its commitment towards gender equality – this could be verbally during meetings or by regular emails, on its website, etc. Questions 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 enquire into the internal processes and policies the organisation has committed towards, while questions 8 and 9 are about the actual integration of the stated aspect of gender equality and communication within the organisation, respectively.)
  10. Has the think tank engaged in incorporating gender at the workplace? For instance, has it taken any measure towards redesigning the workplace towards gender inclusion?
    (Question 10 actually focuses on understanding the extent and the kind of gender commitment that the organisation has taken towards the goal of gender equality. For example, does it ensure on-site child development/dependant care assistance plans, including workplace flexibility and formal reintegration post-maternity policy.) 
  11. Has the think tank formally adopted the zero-tolerance to sexual harassment policy?
    (Question 10 is specifically about the infrastructural redesigning of the workplace to cater to gender inclusion, this ranges from having separate toilets for men and women, designated space for nursing mothers, etc. Question 11 pertains to the policies that the organisation has adopted to ensure safety and security of its female workforce.) 

The questions will be scored (every Yes =+1 and every No= 0). The higher the score, the better the institution’s result on the gender scorecard.  

What do these scores mean?

Score between 10-11: An organisation that has done a lot of work on improving gender inclusion.

Score between 7-9: An organisation that has attempted, albeit in a non-structured manner, to build a gender-equal organisation.

Score below 6: An organisation that needs to start working towards creating a gender equal organisation immediately to stay relevant. 

As per the ECG test, currently PAC stands at 8 points on a scale of 11: an organisation that has attempted, albeit in a non-structured manner, to build a gender-equal organisation.  Even with PAC’s decent score of 8, absence of a formal policy of reintegration after maternity, and lack of representation of women at the Board level means that PAC needs to work more towards gender equality. The scoring of issues has nonetheless started an important conversation (and changed the nature of others), which we hope will inform changes in thinking and practice. 

In its silver jubilee year PAC has the opportunity as a reputed think tank to build a structured approach towards becoming a good practice gender-equal organisation. Policies, standards and processes and abiding by them will help sustain a progressive work environment. The PAC senior team were receptive to the questionnaire, and were eager to know where the institution stood as far as the ECG is concerned. Any change is difficult: PAC’s journey towards building a gender equal organisation has just begun and while this is just the start, it is certainly not the end.