By Camilla Fredriksen, Manager (and Gender Champion) Global Foundations Unit, IDI


“Recently there was debate in the Norwegian media about a high-profile recruitment. The discourse brought up some outdated perceptions about who is best qualified for a position when a man and a woman are competing for the same job.  In short, qualified women were portrayed as less robust and experienced, while male counterparts’ experiences were weighted more heavily, even when not directly relevant. This discussion echoed a work life observation I’ve made many times; men are often simply considered competent, while women have to demonstrate they are. It’s a constant reminder that for women it’s still difficult to break the glass-ceiling, even when they are competent and experienced.

One of the targets of the SDG5 (Sustainable Development Goal no 5) on Gender Equality is to Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life. The progress report, however, paints a grimmer picture, with women chairing only 18% of government committees on foreign affairs, defense, finance and human rights.

In December, IDI published a Gender Performance Annex to the Global Stocktaking Report. The report showed that, while almost half of all SAI staff are women, only 39% of Senior Management positions are held by women, and that 29% of the SAIs have a female Head. In other words, the higher the position, the fewer the women.

Gender performance in SAIs globally reflects regional variations related to educational, structural, and cultural factors. Some of the nominations of Heads are political, and outside the SAI’s control. Still, the inverse relationship between female representation and rank, also seems to suggest that recognising gender issues should start within the institution. While around one-third of SAIs have gender-related strategic objectives, only 10% of SAIs carried out a gender analysis to inform their Strategic Plan. Potentially, the remaining 90% lack the necessary information to prioritise and identify measures.

For some getting informed could start by expanding the understanding of what lies behind the different gender concepts. Again, less than 10% of SAIs undertook capacity building activities on gender issues during 2017-2019, making few SAIs equipped to roll out strategies to address inequality concerns. Developing capacity on gender issues in their staff could be the first step towards fostering a work culture where more women (and other groups) are encouraged and succeed in becoming leaders for their fellow staff members. This could be key to create real equal opportunities. If SAIs want to lead by example, they need to consider this.

Last year taught me how little I knew about gender and diversity issues, before starting to inform myself through my work with the Global Survey, and exchange with my fellow Gender Champions in IDI. For example, discussing intersectionality prompted me to reflect on the other identity markers we need to factor in when discussing women’s career opportunities, such as ethnicity, having disabilities and social background, such as being a single parent. All are markers which makes women even more prone to discrimination in their career. It seems that if we want to create equal opportunities, we must work toward changing the established ideas of what a competent person looks like.

Similarly, it’s good to challenge existing perceptions, including our ideas about how inclusive we are, not only towards women, but other groups outside the hetero-normative patriarchy. Perhaps it could be a way to open your eyes towards colleagues who have ideas and voices that are not always heard, and seldom listened to. In Norway, an amendment to the Equality and Discrimination Act now requires public enterprises and all private enterprises with more than 50 employees to publicly report on gender and diversity. The numbers tell stories and are good starting points for promoting equality and diversity internally in the enterprises. Equally the gender data reported in the Global Survey could be a starting point for SAIs wanting to evaluate their status internally.

When a new year is starting, we often look back at what we achieved in the one we’re leaving behind. Taking stock can help us move forward. The report and data from the Gender Annex will hopefully give input to the further work of providers of support, regions and the SAIs themselves, and will help spark more ideas on how SAIs could become gender responsive”.