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gender at work facilitator team reflections: one year into the gender action learning process with science granting councils

Editorial Team

Michal Friedman, Nina Benjamin, Eleanor du Plooy, Khanysa Mabyeka, madeleine kennedy-macfoy, Olga Bialostocka (AISA-HSRC)

Table of Contents

  1. Developing a Council Gender Policy in a Participatory way Involving Multiple Stakeholders
  2. Evaluating The Process of Research Grant Calls
  3. Strengthening Integration, Engaging or ‘mainstreaming’ in the Management
  4. Science Promotion: Conceptualising How Science Promotion Centres are Designed and Run
  5. Deepening mentoring programs encouraging more young girls at schools to take up STEM subjects
  6. Increase the number of women principal researchers as beneficiaries of research funds
  7. Mombasa Reflection


It is just over one year since the Gender at Work (G@W) team began to work with interested Science Granting Councils (SGCs) in the Gender Action Learning[1] (GAL) part of the Gender and Inclusivity project (a consortium led by the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) and in partnership with G@W, Jive Media Africa and the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa CODESRIA). The project works toward strengthening science granting councils in Sub-Saharan Africa to strengthen their capacity to advance gender and inclusivity in the region’s science, technology and innovation sector (STI). Through its focus on SGCs, the project acknowledges the pivotal role of these bodies in national innovation systems.

Intended to facilitate sustained structural change, the project advocates for mainstreaming an intersectional transformative approach that extends diversity beyond gender to include inequalities related to age, race, class, (dis)ability, sexuality, and others. A unique peer-learning methodology – Gender Action Learning – is underpinned by a customised, participatory process that responds to councils’ own change agendas, builds partnerships and encourages ownership over the change process. This methodology, developed by Gender at Work, will see participating SGC members, under guidance from consortium members, catalysing and leading change projects in their institutions, the outcomes of which will be shared to promote wider uptake of gender and inclusivity issues.

The project is now in a phase of the process which focuses on Gender Action Learning (GAL), a process that is built on adult learning principles and values reflective space, recognising that reflection on both the self and on organisational practice is a key tool for learning and effective action. Another key factor in the GAL process is the ability for people to work together and learn from each other across SGCs.

The value of this participatory process is that SGC change teams identify priority areas for intervention that are relevant to their contexts, shape their own questions for learning and take ownership of the change process from the outset. While the goal of this process is action and change of a social system, it also facilitates increased knowledge on gender and inclusivity.

This newsletter includes our reflection on our participation in the Scinnovent led training workshop, “The Art of Influencing Policy”, held in Mombasa  (April 2022) as well as shares key highlights from what is currently transpiring among active participants in this process. It is intended to inform Change Team[2] members of what their counterparts are busy with, the SGC’s more broadly and other CTA’s working within the SGC ecosystem. The authors include all G@W facilitators, based on what we’ve heard from our work with Change Team members.

The main aim of the SGC initiative is to “fully develop and implement policy commitments around gender and inclusivity”. We understand ‘fully develop and implement’ to need attention at multiple levels – including intellectual, attitudinal and concrete every-day practice. In other words, it is not possible to activate this kind of change only at the level of information or knowledge-sharing. Early ideas shared by the HSRC about what this actually might mean include – the creation of more equal spaces in science, where knowledge production and research are carried out more equitably (with more diverse researchers, more inclusive research methods, greater valuing of different ways of knowing) and that the results of the research have an impact on transforming exclusionary norms in the communities. It also begs the question of how science, technology and innovation might contribute to greater wellbeing for as diverse populations as possible.

One of the ‘tools’ G@W brings from previous experience to the kind of organisational and culture change thus required to more deeply foster inclusive enabling conditions, is the notion of an accompanied process over time. A process that is rooted in peers, both learning from each other and learning directly from their own experience – where they take “new” actions steered in the direction of the desired change, reflect on what they learn and adapt in real time.

From our side, our starting hypothesis, therefore, is that when engaged participants from each council use such a process as a peer-based resource, to strengthen their capacity to explore, challenge, deepen and act upon their understanding of gender equality and inclusivity in their organisations and in their work, then they will be better able to fully develop and implement policy commitments around gender and inclusivity. The process itself role models an inclusive approach, one that goes beyond numbers, and it seems to swim upstream given the way traditional bureaucracies work.

Over the past year, our team has looked at what it would take from us to variously,

  • support the councils to best reflect on the way they have already been working (or not), to work more effectively on gender and inclusivity and to identify how to act to improve that;
  • support council Change Team members to craft change experiments that will take their work on gender and inclusivity to a deeper level;
  • to support council Change Teams to be conscious of their thinking, their processes and their learning in relation to this GAL process and implementing their change experiments with clarity, confidence and skill;
  • to sustain and strengthen the Peer-Learning community;
  • support council Change Team members to strengthen an engaged peer learning community and build on lessons learned in order to take their work on gender and inclusivity to a deeper level.

[1] The GAL process was initially designed as an alternative to traditional gender mainstreaming. GAL is a process through which organisational leaders and representatives are engaged in a customised, participatory process of co-creating strategies focused both on individual and systemic change.

[2] The GAL process within participating organisations is spearheaded by a small group of staff members, who are responsible for trying to do things differently as their gender and inclusivity lenses are sharpened. The process of trying different approaches to solve a challenge we call, Change experiment. And the small group of staff leading in the implementation of the change experiment we call, Change Team members.

Developing a Council Gender Policy in a Participatory way Involving Multiple Stakeholders

Some Councils do not have Institutional Gender policies – through the peer engagement they are beginning to see the development of an institutional policy as a way of strengthening the participation and involvement of council members as well as stakeholders. (e.g. Zambia)

The Malawian SGC, NCST, explored how developing a gender sensitive work environment can support gender and inclusivity in all their policies. The Change Team has through this process developed a Gender Policy for NCST. Mandated and supported by its Board of Directors, the Change Team spearheaded this process.  Instead of using an existing gender policy from elsewhere as a framework or template from which to work, they started the policy ‘from scratch’ noting the importance of tailoring a policy process that takes into account the specificity of the NCST and Malawian context.

The Change Team develop a council gender policy in a participatory way involving multiple stakeholders. With the technical guidance and support of the Ministry of Gender and Social Welfare they completed the process of drafting a Gender Policy. This process was time consuming and intensive and many stakeholders needed to be involved for input and to secure by-in. The current focus of the Change Team is the operationalisation of the newly drafted gender policy and to further explore how developing a gender sensitive work environment can support gender inclusivity in all their existing policies and processes.

Evaluating The Process of Research Grant Calls

Some Councils are beginning to look at all aspects of the process – from the kind of criteria used for selection, to the support needed for women researchers, to the composition of the selection panel.

The Tanzanian SCG, COSTECH, is making a study of recent research grant calls. They have an existing gender policy and gender framework. At the national level gender inclusivity is very much recognised and supported. The participants in the Change Team work in four directorates, namely – Research Coordination and Promotion (DRCP); Corporate Services (DCS); Centre for Development and Transfer of Technology (DCDTT) and Knowledge Management (DKM). In recognising that they do not have adequate data about how their gender policies are being implemented in practice, they chose to reflect on their existing M and E practice by doing a conscious gender analysis of recent research and innovation funding calls. They wanted to track existing STI gender inclusive experience and activities accurately; refine their monitoring tools, and identify gaps in implementation practice. Their main insight is that having all the tools, does not necessarily mean that the policy or framework is actually being implemented, it requires active monitoring to assess practice relative to the guiding documents.

There have been several funding episodes in the past 4 years. They decided to look into the records: how much was the funding? What was the call about, and who was awarded based on what criteria? “We realised that women were so few, and it didn’t matter whether it was just research, innovation or capacity building projects. At all levels of funding where science is concerned, women were underrepresented, and that is very contrary to what the gender policy and gender framework at COSTECH says” (Change Team member, Peer Learning 2).

It took time to work out a methodology for doing the analysis of the calls. The first attempt focused primarily on assessing the actual issuing of the grants and a quantitative assessment of who received the grants. Later, the Change Team realised this approach was too limited.  “From analysing the core process, we realised that it’s not only to the level of granting or issuing the grants, but it is the whole process: from the way the call has been designed, the announcement of the call, how it has been prepared. We also need to look at the review processes: who was involved, and also, if there was any sense of gender responsiveness in the way the concepts, the language that was used, whether it had bias or otherwise, and ultimately to the granting and the contracting process” (Change Team member, Peer Learning 2).

They also realised doing this kind of analysis is rather ambitious and that they need more time to complete the task.

Strengthening Integration, Engaging or ‘mainstreaming’ in the Management

In recognising that the Change Team itself is only a catalyst for change in the institutional culture, the Tanzanian Change Team have concurrently with their experiment on analysing grant calls, also been proactively engaging with their senior management team.

All our directors are men: from the Director General to the Departmental directors, but we have managed to do individual one-to-one consultations with the directors. At least three of them. They’re starting to understandNow we want to take it in a more organised way, because we want to present the entire initiative to the board management team so that everybody gets to own and understand the concepts, because at the end of the day we need to keep reporting on these things. We will need everybody on board when it comes to changing things. For instance, a call has been issued, the Director of the research should own it. But if there is an innovation call, then the director of the innovation, who is responsible for the innovation call should own. So, we need everybody on board.

So, it’s a way of fostering the ownership, and also getting things to the foot level, where they will start to act and own the intervention. We also want to strengthen the reporting of the activities that we are doing under this initiative in the annual reports, quarterly reports, so that people start to increasingly to be aware.

Another development, which we think is related to this, is the approach that we have been using in learning through the G&I. When I was introduced to this G&I, most of us thought this is online training, and we are used to the formal kind of training. Yes, this is formal, but the formal in this way is very different from the others. It’s more interactive. It’s very active learning, so the process is as important as the lessons and the content itself(Change Team member, Peer Learning 2).


Science Promotion: Conceptualising How Science Promotion Centres are Designed and Run

The Namibian Change Team is involved in promoting an interest in science, technology and mathematics among teachers, learners and broader community members. They are grappling with how to do this promotional work in a way that addresses broader issues of inclusivity with limited budgets. Their current innovation is to develop a fully-fledged science centre that can ultimately support a more diverse demographic representation among the country’s scientists at the individual, teacher and community levels. At present they are working on developing a more fully inclusive concept document for this centre. While they wait for the centre to be built, they are beginning to explore what they might include in some of their ‘exhibits’. To this end they are starting to investigate existing maths Olympiad victors (including females, males and some from remote rural areas), their background stories and what has influenced their ability to succeed. They hope to use some of these stories as ‘role-models’ to inspire new generations of scientists.

The Change Team from Mozambique is following a more decentralised approach. They are supporting centres in rural and more marginalised communities. Their inclusivity approach is currently centered on trying to fill the 30% quota of women. They also try to reach research centres in ‘the periphery’, which is everyone out of the capital city. They approach these centres directly when issuing calls and also organize their biannual scientific events in different provinces to allow researchers from different parts of the country to have a chance to participate when the events are nearer to them.

Deepening mentoring programs encouraging more young girls at schools to take up STEM subjects

The Zambian Change Team is deepening their relationship with the Education Ministry to,

  • influence the teacher development curriculum so as to integrate gender and inclusivity into the initial training for teachers,
  • create tools to measure the impact of the social skills component of the mentoring program.
  • Create holistic approaches to science and technology that takes into account the strategic needs of women and indigenous knowledge. In other words, this approach becomes an integral part of the mentoring program.

”The social element is about addressing the issue of power and how women don’t feel confident” (Change Team member).

 “Mentoring is about preparing the girl learners but also preparing the environment that they will return to. We are focussing on addressing bullying in the research and development environment” (Change Team member).

“The social aspect includes supporting well-being and mental health for young girls from marginalised communities” (Change Team member).


Increase number of women principal researchers as beneficiaries of research funds

In Mozambique there is an approval of a 30% quota of women PI, distributed among the provinces of the country to reduce decentralization of funds available to researchers and institutions in the capital city. They also have various strategies to encourage women to participate in their calls, however the number of women who receive funding, compared to men, remains below the 30% quota.

The Change Team is looking to understand the results of a specific existing funding criteria to promote participation of young female students in research projects. Research projects are required to have 50% of women in their team. Research teams are usually composed of students finishing university. They are encouraged to use their experience in the research project to finalize their under-graduate degree. The assumption is that the experience of the female students in research projects will encourage them to be interested in scientific research and to pursue further studies such as a Masters or a PhD. However, they have realized that if few women are applying for their various calls, it probably means that the female students do not remain in research through funds facilitated by the council. They also realized that they do not have a system that offers them information about what happens to the female students after the research project nor an intentional approach to raise the students’ interest in the resources FNI made available.

So, the council is trying out the following:

  • Reviewing their monitoring system to include indicators that allows them to capture the relationship between the female students in research projects while finalizing their undergraduate and the female candidates that later apply for scholarships or research funds.
  • Offer mentoring to these students: to understand the avenues they can take to be engaged in research, the types of funds available, percentage of funds for research that can be used for remuneration of research teams.
  • How to include these students as beneficiaries of training on preparation of research proposals, the council offers to women and junior researchers when it launches a call for proposal.