How to build capacity for gender equality: Looking inside our own organisations

Author: Penny Plowman 

In response to a growing number of applications for gender training, WISE Development is addressing the question of gender training in the context of ‘gender and organisational change’.  This means supporting organisations over a period of time to build gender knowledge and practical skills to improve practice. The WISE approach recognises the importance of building capacity across the whole organisation and positioning gender interventions in the context of organisational change. The starting point for WISE is therefore a process to get to know the organisation and its approach to learning and change.

Central to the WISE methodology is the importance of reflection and dialogue.

IIED Gender Training Edinburgh 2016

IIED Gender Training Edinburgh 2016


We have learnt over many years of ‘gender mainstreaming’ it is important that organisations have time to reflect on what a gender lens means for internal operations ( e.g. HR) and organisational culture, as well as external projects and programmes. The process of individual and group reflection leads to a significant deepening of understanding about core gender concepts. For example, reflecting on what you think about ‘gender’, ‘gender equality’ and ‘gender equity’ and sharing your thoughts and experiences with others in your work group/team/ and organisation is necessary for building a ‘common understanding’ and recognising ‘ differences’ of opinion and experience.

WISE Development uses writing as a tool for reflection and the Personal Learning Journal Process as a methodology for personal and group sharing. Talking about gender in the workplace is not easy. Talking about gender with project partners and donors is also not easy. The WISE approach recognises the importance of exploring what gender means to you and how gender shapes your own organisation for building confidence and strategies for change.  Conversations with project partners and donors about gender are strengthened after the opportunity to reflect with colleagues inside your own organisation first.

WISE is currently working with the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in a participatory process to raise gender awareness and take action. WISE Associate Penny Plowman ( and WISE Director Georgia Taylor are working with the IIED Gender Equality Champions Network and the Strategy and Learning Group to deliver gender sensitisation workshops for everyone – staff and management.

This is a work in progress. What stands out is the importance of bringing staff together across rank and job area and keeping the groups small. The workshop methodology encourages sharing and learning. Eyes are opened to the diversity of experiences in the same organisation. And those who may not have even realised the way gender dynamics manifest in the workplace begin to appreciate the significance of learning about core gender concepts for internal organisational culture and practice. Workshop participants leave with concrete ideas of what they can do to make a difference and how they can be supported by their own organisation.

IIED Gender Training Edinburgh 2016

IIED Gender Training Edinburgh 2016

“IIED has committed to become a gender-transformative organisation, both in our workplace and through our research. But we didn’t know where to begin. How do you shift organisational culture?” asks Sarah Colenbrander, a researcher at IIED. “Through a series of workshops, Penny and Georgia have given individuals and teams the language needed to recognise gendered ways of thinking and behaving, and even more importantly, a set of tools to engage with gender issues.

“Of course, not everyone will continue using all of these tools. But a number of our staff are now practising free writing on a regular basis, while others have developed action plans to tackle particular gendered ways of behaving. Penny and Georgia have been fantastic in helping us think through the issues that emerge during and after these workshops, and we look forward to working with them on the next steps of this journey.”

If you are interested in finding out more about the WISE approach to gender and organisational change please do be in touch – we look forward to hearing from you.

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