Research project

Women's leadership: a desk study of strategies supporting women leaders in aid organizations

“This work conducted with Anne-Lise Dewulf, an independent consultant specializing in humanitarian action, consists of a desk study of strategies that support equality and women leaders in organizations in the aid sector and beyond.”

Context, issues and problems

This research was initiated by the GLOW Red network and supported by the Swedish Red Cross and the French Red Cross Foundation.

GLOW Red is the global women’s leadership network of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, created following a decision by the General Assembly of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (International Federation) and the subsequent adoption of Resolution 2017 by the Council of Delegates, which calls on National Societies to significantly increase their efforts to identify, support and promote women candidates for leadership positions.

GLOW Red commissioned a desk study to enhance the network’s knowledge of the status of women in the humanitarian sector, and in particular of the obstacles to greater parity in leadership positions, both within and outside the RCRC Movement. What strategies support women leaders in achieving greater parity at all levels of decision-making in aid organizations?

Description of the research field, its specific features and difficulties

The aim of the study was to gain a better understanding of the strategies that promote equality among the leaders and representatives of aid organizations. The literature review covers academic and non-academic literature at a global level and in a variety of sectors, including outside the aid sector, to examine good practice. It combines English- and French-language academic literature as well as sources of knowledge from the humanitarian community to cover a broad horizon of practices that offer concrete avenues for action. This literature review goes beyond an analysis of the barriers faced by women leaders and those who aspire to become them, and explores the approaches that need to be put in place to move towards greater parity and equality in aid organizations.


What are the main results of your research?

The research considers seven areas of action to support women working in aid organizations who aspire to be and remain leaders.

  1. Building an organizational culture that supports gender equality internally (and not just in intervention programs)
  2. The collection and analysis of data specific to the organization’s context and on gender differences to better inform awareness-raising strategies
  3. The collection and analysis of data specific to the organization’s context and on gender differences to better inform awareness-raising strategies
  4. The responsibility of today’s leaders to encourage mentoring and female leadership role models
  5. Parenting support to overcome the obstacles faced by working mothers who want to manage their children
  6. A zero-tolerance policy on sexual exploitation, abuse and harassment
  7. Continuous training, adapted and networked, to support women’s leadership



Virginie Le Masson holds a PhD in Human Geography from Brunel University (UK). She is currently a research associate with the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) think tank in London, and works as an independent researcher. Her research focuses on the social dimension of sustainable development, in particular gender inequalities and the risks associated with violence in places affected by environmental change and disasters.


Anne-Lise Dewulf is an independent consultant specializing in humanitarian action.