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More diversity needed in aid agencies

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Summary of story from IRIN News, September 15, 2011

Too many of the top positions in Western NGOs are taken up by white males, according to a study by UN-affiliated humanitarian group IRIN.

There are thousands of women working at all levels of the humanitarian sector; but when it comes to the top positions, at least in Western international NGOs and particularly in the field, staff are too often white and male.

A study by the Active Learning Network for Accountability and Performance in Humanitarian Action reported similar findings.

IRIN spoke to NGO staff in the UK, Johannesburg and Geneva, as well as staff at the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP).

Practitioners reported that proactive schemes to diversify leadership help, but do not tackle the hear of the ‘problem’: that is, a workaholic culture that is not conducive to families, and in some cases, latent discrimination against national staff and women.

No official studies have so far been carried out into why women and national staff are under-represented in leadership.

Discrimination is not deliberate, stressed the report’s chief author, Margie Buchanan-Smith. Rather, where it is present, it is “unconscious and implicit”. It may also emerge in indirect ways, such as what qualities agencies prioritise when hiring staff.

When it comes to national staff leadership, UN agencies perform better than NGOs, according to individual agencies and ALNAP.

Some organisations do better than others. Oxfam GB and Care International’s humanitarian management lines are all-female; 41 and 43 per cent of UNICEF’s and ActionAid’s senior staff, respectively, are women; and four of ActionAid’s six directors are female.

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