Diversity and Inclusion in the Global Sanitation Sector's Leadership

4 Poster Track: Applied Research » 5 Social aspects

Speaker: Kimberly V Worsham

Summary – for publication in conference brochure:

A research project and potential session at FSM 6 aimed at highlighting the lack of diverse voices within leadership and positions that shape the sector. This desk research establishes the demography of WASH, looking in particular at a variety of factors including gender, race and age. Through a discussion session, we will present our research findings that establish a basis for sectoral systems change to become representative of target populations. We will also seek to lead a discussion on clarifying which perspectives need to be better included at the decision-making level.

Introduction, methods, results and discussion:

WASH projects focus on including those most affected by inadequate sanitation, women, and people of diverse backgrounds. This has meant including the opinions and knowledge of community members in the design and maintenance of new systems. Though important for sustainable programming, there remains a diversity gap in WASH’s decision-makers. How many diverse perspectives are included in positions of power and C-Suites for WASH organisations, social enterprises, and funders? This research sets out to understand current representation within the WASH sector, address barriers for diverse leadership, and share actions to tackle sector shortcomings.

This study will accompany past research on gender equality and diverse perspectives in WASH fieldwork. Looking specifically at gender, Carrard’s work (2013) found that simply involving women in sanitation systems does not guarantee gender equality; focusing on meaningful participation of women in initiatives makes them more effective and sustainable in the long run. To reach meaningful inclusion at a  higher level for sustainable WASH program development, the sector’s leadership demography must be understood.

Looking at the inherent structure of the sector’s systems also requires researching what perspectives are being prioritized. Luseka (2020), Dietvorst (2020), and Kapur (2020) discuss how communication and power-sharing can be used as tools against inherently-biased structures and mindsets. WASH must prioritize knowledge generation from professionals with diverse backgrounds and perspectives - not just those from high-income contexts. This project seeks to address that knowledge gap by clearly outlining the current status of WASH’s workforce and leadership so that the sector can address inequities as a whole.

Addressing systems change can fix other sustainability issues throughout WASH. The sector has acknowledged systems change issues only at the ground level - not how systems change includes the institutions and leaderships making decisions and investing money. Among the sector, there is an assumption that older white males engineers are its core leaders. Is that assumption true, and to what extent? If the sector is not representative of the people it’s serving, then it is time for the sector to have a conversation about its lack of diversity, especially when there is a strong call for building inclusive, equitable, and sustainable programs.

The methodology is a desk research to analyze and assess teams of practitioners in the WASH sector as of summer 2020. This work will establish an understanding of the sector’s demography and lead organizations in self-evaluation about broad systems change.

Through our research, we will assess whether women, people of color, and people of different backgrounds are included on WASH teams. Additionally, we will also look to see if diversity is also included in the C-Suite and other key leadership positions. The factors we will analyze in WASH teams are the distribution of gender, race, educational background, local or international background, and age. Preliminary research of ten randomized WASH organisations - funders, advocacy groups, and entrepreneurs - show that leadership boards and sanitation teams have an average inclusion of 33-37% women and 11-27% people of color, which supports our hypothesis. More research findings will be shared during FSM6.

Conclusions and implications:

Diversity is essential to the growth of an institution as well as a sector, and there is an inherent assumption that the WASH sector is non-diverse. It is imperative to establish with research the reality of the sector’s demography. If the sector is dominated by one perspective, then it is truly self-limiting its own vision and growth. This work is not only essential but the most vital step in moving forward. This research seeks to create a base in which further research can work, looking into other areas like gender identity, social status, and educational background. As the American political climate sparked worldwide discussion on diversity and inclusion, the sector must also move forward in addressing itself internally. In order to progress, the WASH sector must understand where it stands.

Relevant references:

et al. (2013) “A Framework for Exploring Gender Equality Outcomes from WASH Programmes.” Waterlines
vol. 32:4
pp. 315–333. JSTOR
www.jstor.org/stable/24687536. Accessed 22 July 2020.
EUPHRESIA. (2020) “Initiating De-colonization of WASH sector Knowledge.” Medium https://medium.com/@euphresia_luseka/initiating-de-colonization-of-wash-sector-knowledge-c8ad0a9f8d6. Accessed 1 August 2020.
DEPINDER. (2020) “Decolonisation of WASH Knowledge: Addressing Institutional Bias.” IRCWASH Blog. https://www.ircwash.org/blog/decolonisation-wash-knowledge-addressing-institutional-bias. Accessed 1 August 2020.
COR. (2020) “Decolonising the WASH sector.” IRCWASH Blog.
https://www.ircwash.org/blog/decolonising-wash-sector. Accessed 1 August 2020.

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