Research Publication: Is diversity missing from SDG 6.2 leadership?

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  • kimmee22
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Research Publication: Is diversity missing from SDG 6.2 leadership?

Hey all,

Just wanted to inform you that earlier this week our research team published with Sage Journals an article about systemic inequalities in sanitation's leadership. Our team researched to ask if the sanitation sector's leadership is lacking diversity. The results, in a word, indicated the answer was "yes". 

The article is open access here:  journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/11786302211031846

The abstract is as follows: 

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in the global sanitation sector have not been the subject of extensive investigation or scrutiny. However, without diverse leadership, the sector will continue to experience failure, inefficient use of dwindling resources, and overall low sanitation coverage rates, with 2 billion people lacking sanitation access. This research presents the first quantitative study of sanitation leadership demographics. The results revealed that older, white males from High-Income Countries comprised over a third of all leadership positions. This research found that two-thirds of all sanitation leaders were white, with white leaders 8.7 times more likely to hold multiple positions across different organizations than Black, Indigenous, or other People of Color. Eighty-eight out of one hundred organizations were headquartered in a High-Income Country, and western institutions dominated education data. Black, Indigenous, and other Women of Color were the least represented group, highlighting the importance of an intersectional perspective when discussing gender and racial equality. These issues must be urgently addressed if the Sustainable Development Goal 6.2 targets are to be met effectively. Institutional reform, inclusive hiring policies, and transforming individual attitudes are starting points for change. More organizational data should be made available, and further research needs to be conducted on these topics if a change is to be seen in time for 2030.

Enjoy the read!
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  • Chaiwe
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Re: Research Publication: Is diversity missing from SDG 6.2 leadership?

Dear Kim,

Thank you for sharing this publication. 

I keep second-guessing myself about the meaning of SDG 6.2 leadership, especially when I read the part about 'White Male domination vs other groups etc''. This is probably because I may not be preview to the sample used for the research and i come from a different geographical context.

Could you share a little more about the definition and what constitutes  SDG 6.2 leadership?

Kind Regards,
Chaiwe
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(With financial support by GIZ from June to October 2021)

Chaiwe Mushauko-Sanderse BSc. NRM, MPH
Independent consultant located in Lusaka, Zambia
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Re: Research Publication: Is diversity missing from SDG 6.2 leadership?

Hi Chaiwe,

In our methodology section, we defined leadership groups for this research: 

"The research team collected demographic information for 1472 unique individuals on the board, leadership team, and/or heads of sanitation teams for the list’s sanitation organizations."

The word leadership means different things across the literature, which is why we waited until the methodology section to define how we saw it in our research. Hope that helps!

Thanks,
K
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Research Publication: Is diversity missing from SDG 6.2 leadership?

Dear Kimberly.

Thanks to the authors of this paper ( Kimberly Worsham Ruth Sylvester Georgia Hales Kelsey McWilliams Euphresia Luseka ) for doing this interesting and detailed analysis. I think a lot of the findings are probably in no way unique to the WASH sector, e.g. the low percentage of female CEOs, top managers etc. is well known - everywhere in the world and in all sectors. In addition to the male/female thing one could also investigate women with children versus women without children, as I think it's generally harder for women with children to hold down those high-pressure, long-hour jobs. Some of them might deliberately say "no" to that. I would be one of them. Could it be that work-life balance is more important for many mothers with young children than it is for fathers with young children? Anyhow, I am digressing. (but I recommend to anyone to follow the account "Manwhohasitall" on twitter, Facebook or instagram, it's a very revealing satirical account which reverses the roles).

There are two things I would possibly slightly question in your paper: In your conclusion you say "Western HICs continue to dominate all aspects of sanitation leadership.". I find the term "sanitation leadership" rather ill-defined (just like Chaiwe said, too). Sanitation can be so many things (including local businesses for solid waste transport for example) but you seem to have zoomed in on the whole donor/aid/development cooperation thing.  So shouldn't the statement rather be "Western HICs continue to dominate the top level management positions of organisations that provide aid in the WASH sector?." Also, isn't it somewhat logical that if the money is provided by HICs that there are more people from HICs in the leadership positions of those organisations? I guess it comes down to the whole aid system, questions over aid effectiveness, is aid creating dependencies etc.  (as a starting point see the Wikipedia article about criticism of aid:  en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aid#Criticism )

My second point is this statement of yours in the abstract: 

However, without diverse leadership, the sector will continue to experience failure, inefficient use of dwindling resources, and overall low sanitation coverage rates, with 2 billion people lacking sanitation access.

Do we have any scientific evidences that even with diverse leadership, the sector would not experience failure, inefficient use of dwindling resources, and overall low sanitation coverage rates? One might hope so but do we really have evidence? I remember reading articles that companies whose boards have a better gender balance make better investment decisions. But is there similar evidence to show that boards that have a more diverse make-up of gender, nationalities, ethnicity, educational background, with/without disabilities, age would result in a more functional WASH sector? What if the problems are more at the political level of the LMICs, i.e. much broader than what WASH sector professionals can influence?

Regards,
Elisabeth
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Re: Research Publication: Is diversity missing from SDG 6.2 leadership?

Hi Elisabeth,

Thanks for this. I think it's worthwhile to take a step back from these comments to note a few things:
  • While the findings are not necessarily unique to the WASH sector in sentiment, it is the responsibility of those in the WASH sector to address their diversity issues. We felt it important to provide information about the sector's status as a baseline so that this dialogue may move forward and beyond pledges.
  • The WASH and overall development sectors do not have sufficient literature about DEI - most of our research comes from corporate industries. We were not trying to check all of the boxes in this research - we were merely trying to start building evidence for the sector by starting from the first step - conducting a baseline.
  • We were in no way trying to do all of the things in this study. Our research team was entirely voluntary, and to make sure we could do something meaningful and focused, we kept our scope to gender, race, and countries of origin. While assessing parenthood could have been part of our research, we believe it could have overburdened the key points we were looking to assess and muddle the message.
  • Our primary hypothesis was that sanitation leadership is white and male; our results showed that women of color are significantly underrepresented.
To answer your comments:
  • On SuSanA, we have had discussions about defining sanitation before since it can be tricky to define well and in a way that everyone can agree with. Again, we opted to stick to sanitation in terms of fecal waste management and toilets because of our scope, though many of the organizations we assessed also manage solid waste management. It wasn't WASH-focused because we didn't look at organizations working in water or hygiene, and it would have been misleading. Also, many of the organizations we studied do not necessarily provide aid, but may work on research and advocacy, facilitation, or inclusive sanitation advocacy across many geographies. Therefore, we were not talking about aid as a whole, and we did not feel it made sense to define our research in that way.
  • We are currently looking to source funding for the second phase of research that would assess the performance and effectiveness of sanitation efforts with diversity in leadership. However, there are no studies currently specific to sanitation - as mentioned in the paper, we have seen it in other industries and can extrapolate for now.
  • You've pointed out that if money is coming from HICs, it makes sense for leaders to come from those organizations. This is one of the problems we're trying to address in the paper - that we need to remember why this is the case (years of colonialism of which the power structures are still intact today) and the efforts we need to make to undo this. 
Thanks,
Kim & the other authors
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  • Elisabeth
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Re: Research Publication: Is diversity missing from SDG 6.2 leadership?

Thanks for these points. I find that when you communicate your hypothesis, the abbreviated form of "Our primary hypothesis was that sanitation leadership is white and male" might lead to confusion (it confuses me). I would find it helpful if this was spelled out more precisely even if it's a bit less catchy as a phrase. Leadership and management is not necessarily the same thing. What you're actually talking about is upper management levels, isn't it? Leadership in my opinion could also be politicians or activists.

Also, regarding your statement:

You've pointed out that if money is coming from HICs, it makes sense for leaders to come from those organizations. This is one of the problems we're trying to address in the paper - that we need to remember why this is the case (years of colonialism of which the power structures are still intact today) and the efforts we need to make to undo this. 

Could you please elaborate a bit on this? Do you mean the problem that there seems to be a necessity for money to flow from a HIC to a LIC*, or that the HICs have a preference for those financial contributions to be managed by someone from a HIC? I guess we could open this can of worms more broadly and question the effectiveness of aid, and also the effectiveness of the whole expat model for management of projects. I sometimes wonder whether the Covid pandemic might have shown us that we don't actually need so many expats and that projects can be managed with fewer helicopter visits or expats from HICs.

Eventually, would the problem dissolve itself if sanitation expenditure came from local taxes and not be supported by external funds, large NGOs, donors etc. from richer countries? It would perhaps dissolve the problem of "white males in leadership" but the issue of "males in leadership" might continue on, as that is quite pervasive all over the world, right?

Regards,
Elisabeth

* HIC = high income country, LIC = low income country
Dr. Elisabeth von Muench
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  • paresh
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Re: Research Publication: Is diversity missing from SDG 6.2 leadership?

Thank you Kimberly and Elisabeth for this fascinating exchange. 

I'd like to point out another possible (and rather well known) reason for the lack of diversity in sanitation (and broadly WASH) sector leadership is the lack of diversity in higher education institutions (HEIs). As both of you rightly point out, these issues are structural and sector professionals can do little about it. Fortunately, many SuSanA members are part of leadership in such HEIs and can initiate small changes that can bring about a large change at a later stage. In that spirit, I’d like to point to this independent review at LSHTM which found evidence of racism and inequities in the school.

In India, there have been series of reports (see  here  and  here   for example )that have found positions reserved (for representation purpose) for historically marginalised groups remaining vacant for years and HEIs not taking efforts. Only recently, under pressure from the Union government some HEIs have been conducting special recruitment drives to fill such positions.  

I think the sector level understanding your paper brings out needs to be accompanied by such studies at institution/organisation level. This can help understand different ways in which the systems work to reproduce and perpetuate and inequities along various axes like race, caste, gender, sexual orientation, and others. They together can help identify  measures needed at the micro and macro level to make institutions, sector and our society more inclusive.  

Regards
paresh

(This post is based only on this piece , shall read the complete report later and comment if needed)
Paresh Chhajed-Picha
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