01, junio, 2015

Women in Think Tanks in Peru

(On Think Tanks)._ Conversations with Cynthia Sanborn and María Balarín

(On Think Tanks)._ This post is based on interview feedback from two women thinktankers based in Lima, Peru. Cynthia Sanborn is the Director of the Centro de Investigación de la Universidad del Pacífico (CIUP), the research centre housed at the University of the Pacific, and Maria Balarín is an Associate Researcher at the Grupo de Análisis para el Desarrollo (GRADE). The researchers offer their views on gender dynamics in think tanks on issues such as overt and subtle biases, the role of care, and pipeline challenges. They also put forward possible strategies for addressing gender issues, including affirmative action, mentorship, assessments, mobilisation strategies, and the promotion of new ways of thinking about workers’ identities. Their feedback reflects the diversity and nuance of experiences among thinktankers illustrated throughout this series and provides a similarly diverse set of responses that could be effective depending on regional context, organisational structure, work cultures among other factors.

Cynthia Sanborn

I spoke with Dr Sanborn who provided her perspective as Director of one the top think tanks in Peru and as a founding member of Grupo Sofía, a voluntary organisation that works to improve the visibility of women in the social sciences in Peru.

Where to start?

Sanborn, recognising that gender diversity might be lacking at CIUP, began by using the organisation’s annual report as an occasion to measure and track women’s representation. She cited this as a critical first step for organisations trying to get a hold on and improve their gender dynamics.

CIUP currently has nearly equal representation of men and women among its research assistants (44 per cent are women), but has fewer women in senior positions, where they make up a third of researchers. She attributed the underrepresentation of women in senior positions to various factors including generational changes, discrimination and sexism, pipeline issues and the balance of work and care activities.

How do you recognise and deal with sexism and discrimination within an organisation?

Sanborn spoke about discrimination and casual sexism that still pervades in Peru. She noted that there seems to be a generational shift away from direct forms of discrimination, with younger male workers adopting more egalitarian views of their female colleagues. What does persist are more subtle barriers to women advancing, such as being overlooked in meetings or in the organisation of conferences and assumptions about researchers’ commitment to their work when they adjust their schedules around care activities.

She argued that a key tool for recognising barriers and raising awareness, which is at the unique disposal of research organisations and think tanks, is having discrimination as an issue area for research and debate. CIUP has, indeed, had discrimination as a line of priority work for six years, conducting both testimonial and experimental research as part of the Peru Sin Discriminación project. Sanborn believes that research in this field has helped to raise staff’s sensitivity to gender disparities, as well as racial and ethnic differences among others.

What are the pipeline issues for women in think tanks?

Part of the problem of today’s underrepresentation of women in senior position is a lack of a pipeline of female scholars in the past. Another aspect of this issue is that there is now more competition in Peru for talented scholars in the public sector and women are being courted by new government agencies such as the Ministries for Social Inclusion and the Ministry for Women’s and Vulnerable Populations. A final challenge to the pipeline has to do with where women see openings for themselves professionally now and in the future.

Women might not imagine that they would get the professional support they need at institutions when they do not see other women working. This dynamic is played out in how women are represented in research areas within the social sciences as well. Women tend to be more highly represented in the fields of anthropology, sociology and social policy while steering away from more male dominated fields of economics, public works and engineering, and foreign policy.

CIUP has tried to address these pipeline issues by making conscious efforts to help women researchers feel supported and not marginalised within the institution. They do this by engaging women researchers in CIUP activities, promoting them for grants and graduate studies, and supporting their work for publication.

How do think tanks treat workers with care responsibilities?

Echoing commentary from Priyanthi Fernando in our second post, Sanborn points out that in theory, research positions can be more family-friendly than in other sectors, because key phases of the work can be carried out from home or from anywhere with a computer and internet connection and at any time of the day.

There is much less need to be in an office everyday than other fields, especially in the writing stages, which is largely an individual process with collaboration taking place in the form of edits and commentary sent via e-mail. However, the implications of this can be that work runs into all parts of personal life and become a twenty-four hour practice. Additionally, in the case of university-based think tanks, such as CIUP, where teaching is a big part of researcher’s duties, or for thinktankers whose positions involve other duties like management, outreach or research dissemination, more time in the office might be a necessity.

Sanborn mentioned that women may be more comfortable asking a women supervisor to exercise flex-time options, which underlines that having more women in leadership positions will help perpetuate more equitable representation of men and women.

She has noted an uptick in men also requesting flex-time for care activities in recent years and hopes this indicates a shift towards more equitable divisions of care. A cultural shift towards more equal sharing of care labour, although beyond the scope of institutional interventions, would relieve pressure for women to compete in a predominantly male breadwinner model in the workplace, where workers are assumed to be fully supported by a committed household and with no responsibilities of their own beyond formal work.

What interventions are effective for increasing women’s presence and influence?

Lastly, Sanborn and I discussed possible interventions and institutional policies that foster better gender equity. Her feedback centred around four different types of interventions:

Read the entire article  On Think Tanks.