IDinsight Cluster Coordinators, Usha Sharma and Vishnu Bajpai conducting a surveyor training in Himachal Pradesh, India. @Manish Dubey/IDinsight
Most organizations in the development sector have made considerable efforts to achieve a healthy gender balance amongst team members. Yet the presence of women in field management and leadership positions in India still remain low and significant work needs to be done to address the disparity. There are several systems and processes that can be implemented to accommodate this important objective during the project planning phase, ensuring that female aspirants get an equal opportunity to take up leadership roles in field management – from surveyor to field manager.
In this blog, I share reasons for why it is crucial to have women represented in the field and provide tips on how organizations looking to invest in the development of their female surveyors can take the right steps.
Research institutes in the development sector undertake a wide range of work associated with women’s rights and empowerment and often contribute meaningfully through studies, programs, and monitoring and evaluation. Thus, it is important to adopt the same approach when we think about the participation of women in field activities.
For a recent project, IDinsight conducted a survey of nearly 3000 women. For data collection, we hired over 200 female surveyors out of which 18 female surveyors served as team leaders. However, due to time constraints in hiring, we appointed a few male surveyors as team leaders for some teams.
This created some challenges because the level of comfort between female and male team members, whether surveyors, coordinators, or field managers, can vary. During data collection, for example, a female surveyor facing certain menstrual health-related problems was hesitant to convey her situation to the team leader since the leader was male. Delayed communication led to a delay in seeking medical help, and her health deteriorated, leading to her being ill for a few days. Following this incident, we created WhatsApp groups specifically for female team leaders and surveyors to ensure the women on our team had a safe space for discussing personal/sensitive issues – regardless of the gender of their team leader.
Employers in India often find that female candidates have less experience than their male counterparts. However, to create a pool of trained and experienced female candidates, it is crucial to provide opportunities to women in the first place. Employers may believe that female candidates face more security and safety-related issues than males in the field. They may also perceive that women could face more problems relocating or are not able to work in remote locations.
In instances when the recruitment process needs to be completed on a short timeline (due to time and budgetary constraints), organisations may find it easier and quicker to hire and train surveyors that are already experienced. Because of these existing dynamics, usually, they are male.
These factors further lead to the belief that male leaders are the best choice for field management and are needed to ensure the safety of female surveyors, inturn reducing the demand for female surveyors.
Since surveyors, including both women and men, have usually observed men in leadership roles in field management, women may fail to associate themselves with such roles, leading to lack of confidence and self-doubt, especially among less experienced female candidates.
Instances of male surveyors resisting the power dynamic – as shared by our Senior Field Manager, Lipika Biswal – where a female monitor or team leader is managing and leading them are fairly common and high.
“I have experienced situations wherein if a female and male field manager are leading the project together, the field team prefers to report to a male field manager and not me” – IDinsight Senior Field Manager, Lipika Biswal
Demonstration of such resistance often leads to women withdrawing from leadership roles, as when they encounter these challenges they may not have other female role models to look up to or turn to for advice.
“Can women also get opportunities to lead (as Cluster and Regional coordinators), or will only men get this opportunity?” – Female surveyor
1. Provide more opportunities for women to be monitors or team leaders
To lay a strong foundation for women-led field leadership, it is crucial to trust women, even if they have lower levels of experience, and support them to build their leadership capacity. Opportunities must be provided to first-time surveyors in monitor and team leader positions. For survey data collection in one of our projects, we supported 18 women to become team leaders, which enriched their experience and boosted the confidence and morale of other women surveyors who aimed to become leaders. In another project, we appointed a new, first-time female surveyor as a cluster coordinator and provided her with constant mentorship in technical and field management skills. She now works as a designated cluster coordinator with IDinsight and leads data collection.
2. Ensure additional management support to the women team leaders
Based on a discussion with one experienced female surveyor, we learned that women are often discouraged to take up leadership roles because they feel that they might not get the required support from their team. Thus, it is important to ensure that woman team leaders receive support from the cluster coordinator and the larger team during survey trainings and data collection. Such initiatives can boost the self-confidence of women team leaders and also serve as encouragement for other women surveyors.
In one of our past projects, we faced difficulties hiring women with experience in remote locations for the position of Cluster Coordinator. Given their critical role in the project, we went ahead and hired less experienced women and provided them sessions with experienced Cluster Coordinators on technical and field management activities. In addition to their skills, this exercise slowly but steadily built their confidence and by the end of the project, they were able to handle all the leadership responsibilities effectively and with limited/no support. One of these women is currently a key member in our flagship Data on Demand project leading large-scale data collection exercise in specific assigned districts in Himachal Pradesh, India.
3. Focus on professional development
Organizations looking to invest in the professional development of their female team leaders can organise team leadership sessions on the last day of surveyor training to build team management abilities so that females can lead the data collection effectively.
Through our capacity-building sessions, we have observed several women team leaders display improvements in their technical and leadership abilities They felt confident enough in their abilities and went on to become Cluster Coordinators in the future.
4. Build a culture of adopting female leadership in field teams
Since witnessing men in leadership positions like team leader, cluster coordinator, cluster coordinator is common, first-time women team leaders find it difficult to visualize themselves in the role. This may lead to hesitancy in applying for promotions. Thus, it is crucial to inculcate a team culture that values and supports females to rise to leadership positions.
There is growing literature and positive evidence on involving men (in this case maybe men who are team leaders, cluster coordinators etc.) to discuss challenges that women face along with experienced women leaders and collaboratively identify solutions to help them thrive.1 Such collaborative efforts make men feel like ‘gatekeepers’ of equality and less hesitant to gender information and sensitisation.1 Such discussions can also facilitate the development of a gender sensitization module which can be made a key part of all surveyor and supervisor trainings.
Furthermore, during the application process, female candidates must be assured about the support they will/can receive. An in-person or virtual meeting should be set up with an existing female team leader so that candidates’ queries can be resolved and they can receive encouragement.
One of the key challenges in conducting sensitive field surveys is the ability to identify and find experienced women with prior technical and leadership skills. We hope some of the tips shared in this blog encourage organizations to provide female team members with the space to make mistakes, learn and grow, and build their leadership abilities to support critical and sensitive surveys.
I would like to thank Manish, Narayan, Bhagwan, Moujudeen, Hari Ram, Naresh, Vishnu, Satyanarayan, Ramcharan, Ramavtar, and Om Prakash, who worked with IDinsight in Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan as a district coordinator and supported me and the new women monitors and District Coordinators in this endeavour. I would further like to acknowledge IDinsighters who reviewed and provided inputs for this blog. Thank you, Akshita Sharma, Ashruth Talwar, Akshay Mahadevan, Bano Fatima, Vasundhara Chauhan, and Emily Coppel.
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