Good news! We are moving to Women in Aid (WiA)

Dear all,

After a short pilot period we have made a couple of decisions about the future direction of Women in Aid.

The blog will immediately move to – this will be the longer term home of the blog. Please DO visit the site NOW, sign up for email updates and save it as a favourite on your browser.

We also changed the LinkedIn group to a closed group (e.g. only members can see the posts). You can join and invite women you know in the sector by following this link:

We would love to have your continued contributions.  Keep an eye out for more announcements on the new site and the linked in group for ideas on themed series, blog posts and webinars.  This is your space.  Please let us know what you would like to see.

Best wishes,

Fiona & Zehra (the Women in Aid team)

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Yep, we all cringe when thinking about it.  I don’t know many women who feel comfortable with this and if statistics are to be believed, men have much less of an issue negotiating a better salary, benefits, raises–you name it.

Linda Babcock, a professor at Carnegie Mellon has done research and written books about this.  According to the stats she gathered:

  • In surveys, 2.5 times more women than men said they feel “a great deal of apprehension” about negotiating.
  • Men initiate negotiations about four times as often as women.
  • When asked to pick metaphors for the process of negotiating, men picked “winning a ballgame” and a “wrestling match,” while women picked “going to the dentist.”
  • Women are more pessimistic about the how much is available when they do negotiate and so they typically ask for and get less when they do negotiate—on average, 30 percent less than men.
  • 20 percent of adult women (22 million people) say they never negotiate at all, even though they often recognize negotiation as appropriate and even necessary.

Here is WHY this is a problem (from the same source):

  • By not negotiating a first salary, an individual stands to lose more than $500,000 by age 60—and men are more than four times as likely as women to negotiate a first salary.
  • In one study, eight times as many men as women graduating with master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon negotiated their salaries. The men who negotiated were able to increase their starting salaries by an average of 7.4 percent, or about $4,000. In the same study, men’s starting salaries were about $4,000 higher than the women’s on average, suggesting that the gender gap between men and women might have been closed if more of the women had negotiated their starting salaries.
  • Another study calculated that women who consistently negotiate their salary increases earn at least $1 million more during their careers than women who don’t.

There’s the stats and the impact of our not negotiating.  It’s scary.  By not negotiating you stand to lose $1 million over a lifetime of working.  WTF?!

I’m a strong woman and I only started negotiating late in my humanitarian career (read one year ago).  I think back now and can’t imagine why I didn’t just go back and at the very least even ask:  Is there room for negotiation? It didn’t even cross my mind before till I started hearing about other women who would negotiate.  Two of my friends negotiated and were aghast that I wasn’t.  And it is expected that you will.  If not for salary, then for benefits.

I’ve compiled some videos and sources to help other women out there and below are “top tips” from the videos and from my own experiences.  Also, a GREAT read on how to ask for a raise can be found here. And I would read this piece for more great advice on negotiating a salary in the non profit sector.  And for those that like scientific articles, read this.

This first video is an HR lady talking about how to negotiate salary:

This second video is a bit smarmy for my taste but he’s got some great tips.

And here is a video interview of Linda Babcock herself discussing the findings from her research:

And here are the WiA top tips.  Please do add to these in the comments below as this is far from an exhaustive list.

Top Tip One:  NEGOTIATE. You just need to be comfortable doing this.  And it is expected that you will and it can’t hurt to ask.  Get your head around this and feel the fear but do it anyway.  The factor that people point to all the time to explain the gap between men and women in this matter is very simple:  Women Don’t Ask.  Do it–start asking.

Top Tip Two:  Know your own value (based on a market assessment).  You must do your homework and know not only what you are worth, but what the organization will pay and how it compares to what other organizations are paying.  This is a bit hard in our sector as there is such a range but one way to do this is  ask others for a range of what they get paid for a similar job to the one you are applying for.

Top Tip Three:  Never ever never never ever give a number yourself to start with.  The last time I negotiated though I was asked repeatedly for a number, I never actually gave one.  I very honestly said, I have no idea what people in the US make for these jobs and so, I was told what the range was and I said I would like to be in the higher part of the range and left it at that. Do ask for a range and though I’ve had the experience where HR didn’t give me a range (that’s really weird) they should come back with at least a range.  This hiring agency came back with a number but here’s where I made a mistake…

Top Tip Four:  Have a number in mind.  Figure out what your needs are and what you will work for.  I didn’t have a number and I was so enjoying not giving a number that I ended up losing out on probably 2-3K more a year.  I figured that out after I joined but I hadn’t really done my market research either and had no idea what people in the non profit sector in the US were making and had nothing to base my number on.  The general rule of thumb on this is to aim higher than your number as there is compromise and the hiring agency (if they really want you) will come back and meet you mid way.  So, if you are being offered $50,000 but you want $55,000, $say 60,000.  Simple math.

Top Tip Five: Be ready to walk away.  That’s a hard one since we all want jobs but down the line, you will get seriously annoyed at not being paid enough for your worth.  This will affect your work performance and it’s not something you want to think about while working.  You want to be focused on doing your best.  You need to be OK with walking away.

Top Tip Six: Negotiation starts after an offer has been made.  This is very true for salary requirements.  I’m on the fence if this is the same if you have other things you are negotiating such as working flexible hours, or from home part of the time or for an accompanied post etc.  That is a separate post coming later but for salary, my experience has shown that your strongest position is to get an offer, get a number from them and then go back and ask for more.

Top Tip Seven:  It’s not just about the money.  It can be about benefits as well.  A friend of mine negotiated better leave for himself.  Coming from a European background, American leave is a sad state of affairs and they knew this and he knew this and asked for that instead of a higher salary which he knew they would not be able to give him (he was going to be their Chief Financial Officer).  At the end of the day, you want to work in an organization that you feel recognizes your value and will work with you to find you the best deal for your own circumstances.

Top Tip Eight: Take your time.  If they’ve offered you a job, they want you.  Don’t let anyone rush you into making a decision or negotiating what you want and need.  We often feel rushed to accept as we are so grateful to be given a job but DO take your time.  Think about it and weigh the pros and cons.

Top Tip Nine: Get it in writing.  A rookie mistake I’ve made.  How many times do you hear it…get it in writing.  I took a job on the understanding that I would be able to travel and work remotely once a month to see my partner and I trusted that my manager would make it happen as this was discussed with him before I took the job and it was a make or break deal for me.  A week into the job, he was like, ummm, so we should talk about it.  6 months down the line, I left the job because I had nothing in writing and not being with my partner was not an option. It was really sad since me and the org really fit with each other and loved each other but there you go. Lesson learned–get it in writing IN your contract or some other legal binding document.

Top Tip Ten:  Learn from others and share with others.  We want to hear your experiences and please add to the top tips list.  There is so much out there and it would be good to hear from others on what they’ve experienced and how they negotiate negotiating!

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Two TedX talks to watch

I would recommend that everyone watches the following two TedX talks.

The first is a talk by Jackson Katz on feminism. It discusses the need for men to speak up and support feminism.

The second is Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook. Her talk discusses her observations of women in the workplace and how women sometimes limit themselves through their own actions.

Any thoughts on these videos? What do men and women need to do to level the playing field? Any personal stories of when you have seen change?

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Kashmir earthquake, gender and security

Lucy Morris has written a post for the blog this week. It is an important insight in to a time when reflecting on how the way in which policies and procedures were realized made a big difference to the impact that these have on staff members.

Lucy Morris has worked on humanitarian response and development programmes across Africa, Asia and CEE/CIS countries for the past 15 years. She has spent time working in DRC, Kenya, Senegal, Pakistan and the UK with UN/INGOs/national organisations, and her areas of expertise include: gender, children’s participation, child protection, partnership and faith-based work.


Imagine that there’s been a massive earthquake in northern Pakistan.  Imagine that it’s your job to ensure that help gets to where it’s most needed, and that you need to recruit new staff to deliver a large scale relief/rehabilitation programme.  Imagine that security starts to deteriorate, but people still need help, and it’s up to you to ensure the safety and security of your staff and project assets.  What would you do?

Security solutions are often presented in the form of ex-military security advisors, razor wire and radios.  Yet there’s a softer-side to security management too.  And in north western Pakistan, where women are not usually allowed to leave their villages unaccompanied let alone work for INGOs, for these brave and forward-thinking women and their families, seemingly small things like the wrong male/female staff seating arrangements within a vehicle, can have extremely serious consequences.

After the 2005 Kashmir earthquake, I spent 5 years travelling back and forth between the UK and an area formerly known as the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP) in Pakistan in my then role as Programme Officer for a Catholic INGO, working closely with our national counterpart’s earthquake response programme as ‘facilitating partner’. One of the most important things that I learnt during that time was the importance of ensuring that security arrangements were gender sensitive i.e. that they reflected the different vulnerabilities and needs of both men and women.

As a Christian organisation operating within a new and highly conservative Muslim area of Pakistan, security and cultural sensitivity were prioritised from day one, and initially there was one national male Security Focal Point.  However, security became an increasing concern in 2008 following the attacks against Plan’s nearby office in Mansehra, and later an international (male) security advisor joined on a short-term basis to help strengthen security systems.  Despite installing CCTV and varying the pick up times, our female staff still seemed jittery, and without them it was impossible to access big sections of the female population. Not only was the environment highly conservative to begin with, but risks for females working for NGOs increased as a result of military action that pushed extremist radicals into remote areas of NWFP, and tragically, the World Vision field office in Oghi Tesil was deliberately bombed by terrorist radicals (in 2010) killing 7 including 2 female staff.

Good female staff were like gold-dust, but they were not reassured by the new security measures, and there were urgent exchanges about how they would be perceived if they had to stay overnight somewhere unaccompanied for work.  In northern Pakistan, a woman travelling alone at night or not covering her body in the ‘traditional’ way would become a target for an attack, and instead of being supported, victims of such an attacks were themselves blamed.  As a result, the female staff’s primary concern was linked to reputational damage and loss of personal and associated family honour. As one ex-colleague put it “When women work with male staff they need protection even inside the office, because if they talk with male colleagues freely for more than 5 minutes without calling them ‘bhai’ or brother, other colleagues will think that they are having an affair.”  Yet these concerns and were not making it onto the agenda of management meetings or into security plans.

A simple way of addressing this was by introducing a designated female Security Focal point in addition to the male one, so that female staff would feel comfortable raising their concerns in a structured way, and these concerns could then taken up by management.  Sometimes these concerns related to overnight field visits and to the need for separate male/female accommodation, other times they related to drop offs for female staff after work, or the behaviour of male colleagues; but what was key was they felt able to voice them and that they could be addressed quickly and discreetly, meaning that female staff were protected from accusations of ‘improper behaviour.’ As an ex-colleague put it: “If a female staff member is comfortable within the office environment and with her colleagues, she will be confident doing field visits as well.”  All staff were trained on the security guidelines and how to report security issues by using a special reporting form, and female staff could give their completed forms to the female Security Focal point who then shared a summary during management meetings. This approach was easy to introduce, partly as a result of a supportive female Earthquake Response Coordinator and male Security Focal Point, but was initially overlooked.

What was also important was that this arrangement formed part of a wider gender policy and strategy for the earthquake response programme, to ensure that both the direct programme work but also the organisation’s own policies and culture took account of the differing needs of men and women.  The gender policy and strategy was developed by national consultants with input from staff, and all of the staff then received basic gender training (UNDP example available here), some of whom then formed part of a cross-organisational gender network which was established to monitor progress against the strategy.  (The Gender and Development network and  ELDIS are useful resources for more information about ‘gender-mainstreaming.’)

Although there was initially a lot of resistance to women working with NGOs in northern Pakistan, as more and more women joined and started to bring home regular salaries, local mind sets shifted, and many of the women themselves started to dream of going to University and of having a career. Benazir Bhutto defined empowerment as “the right to be independent; to be educated; to have choices in life…to have the opportunity to select a productive career; to own property; to participate in business; to flourish in the market place,” and she once said “I dream of a Pakistan in which women contribute to their full potential.”   In the often chaotic environment of the aid and development market place, what will you do to ensure that women can participate and flourish?

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Making Sense of Violence

This week we have a post by a fellow humanitarian health coach, Claire Higgins, on not just working with violence in a professional sense but also experiencing (and healing from it) on a personal level.  This is not a topic that gets discussed often and certainly not in such an open and honest manner.  On a professional level we can become numb by serving as witnesses to violence and not realize the consequences of this.  Intertwined with this, on a personal level it can profoundly affect us in ways that are often unknown to us till much later.  Claire’s story is an inspirational one of the turning points that lead us home.

Claire is a Humanitarian and Health Coach. She is also a Budokon Red Belt Sensei, Karate Black Belt, Women’s Yoga Teacher and Relax & Renew Trainer. She blogs about health, work and relationships, stress, trauma and resilience, war, violence and conflict, and the turning points that lead us home (


It’s a cool and peaceful evening. For once, everything seems calm both within and around me. We’ve just spent the past hour swimming and hanging out in the sauna together, much needed time to reconnect after months apart.

As we walk uphill towards my home on mission, we approach a checkpoint to our left. He tells me to cross the road with him but I don’t hear until it’s too late. As we part ways, I saunter past the 3 soldiers, who seem oblivious to our presence, and he walks the other way. We reunite on the other side and it is only then I realize what he said:

‘’Why didn’t you cross with me?!” he demands.

His face looks like thunder and I know what this means, I just don’t know where the next move will come from. I freeze for a moment and then suddenly, he swings the plastic bag of hardback books he had bought earlier that day into the back of my head with full force.

I stumble forwards in shock for a moment, then as I regain my senses give him hell. I know how to answer back, to shout and stand up to him. As a black belt martial artist, I usually know how to defend myself. It would take almost another two years for me to stand up for myself and leave.

The past four years have been a gradual process of healing for me, from the violence I was a part of growing up, the violence I witnessed in the field, and the violence I experienced in my 9-year marriage and relationship.

I don’t fit the typical stereotype of a ‘’violated’’ woman. Yes, I saw things I wish I hadn’t as a young girl. Yes, I was raped as a teenager. And yes, my ex-husband was emotionally, physically and mentally abusive towards me. But none of this looked like Hollywood drama, I never broke down, and most of it happened in very matter-of-fact ways that I quickly picked myself up from. Or so I thought.

What makes the story a little odd is how I was repeatedly drawn to situations of violence with such little awareness.  I started my humanitarian field work as an interpreter with the ICRC, translating in prisons, later working as a prison delegate. Like most ICRC staff, I dealt with the evidence of torture, death and other atrocities head on.

In between missions I specialized in violence during my Masters degree, then went on to work with other agencies like the IFRC, UN, smaller refugee organizations, and more recently, MSF. I moved from protection to prison reform, media and communications.

Personal and professional experience has taught me that health is really all we and our so-called ‘’beneficiaries’’ have. Without our mental, physical and emotional health intact, living becomes so much more complicated, draining and exhausting both us and our immediate communities.

A few years ago, I realized that the intertwining of my own and the field stories I witnessed had to be unraveled. I lived and breathed violence so deeply within my own system that it was easy for me to work with it in the field. If work appraisals are anything to value, all of mine were either ‘’excellent’’ or ‘’very good’’. I didn’t know how to do a bad job when it came to suffering.

Although I took time out in between each mission, I could only ever switch off for a week and then I would return to survival mode. I would transfer my inner anxiety to a job-hunting process, to mastering a new skill, to numbing out. Looking back, I wasn’t an easy partner to have and neither was he. We didn’t have the life skills to support each other and not staying in one place to deal with it made it so much worse.

And so after realizing my marriage couldn’t continue, we separated, divorcing two years after that. The strain of managing a long-distance relationship between two people who had had their fair share of violence in the past had become impossible (my ex-husband’s story is his own, but I can say it was certainly worse than my own).

I am one of the many divorced aid workers whose marriages didn’t survive the field. While it saddens me at times that I have seen and experienced so much violence, and experienced my own losses along the way, I don’t have any regrets. I know it is a cliché to say this but I honestly would not have the level of compassion and understanding for life I now have without all that has happened.

Violence in our own relationships is complicated. In my experience, it usually begins with unresolved violence within ourselves. Not all of us have to have encountered trauma or witnessed atrocities in the field to be affected at a deeper level. In many ways, the day to day stresses and strains of field work can have just as much an impact on our personal lives.

I am now a certified martial arts and yoga teacher, and have recently qualified as a health coach. On my last mission to a hard-duty station, where movements were restricted (no walking, frequent curfews), I taught classes up to six times a week to both local and international students. All brought layers of trauma and inner suffering with them to class and together, we found ways to silently release them in community.

These days I find myself in a much easier duty posting where I can move freely. Coming here was part of a conscious decision to come home to myself. I am now studying global health policy and in my current role at MSF, learning more about how war surgery and reconstructive care for those who have survived bombings can be integrated with psychosocial support and physiotherapy. We need to treat the whole person in our work, including ourselves and our own families.

At some point in our aid or development work, we will need to make sense of it all. Why we are here, what we need to process, and what our purpose in life really is. I believe we all have a destiny and that consciously or subconsciously we will find a way to live this out. Finding the strength and commitment to live a conscious life is the first step to creating the space for us to hold all of it, the good and the bad, the difference we made, and the many times our efforts have fallen short.

I believe we all pay a price for the work we do, we can only hope that what we take away at the end is worth all we have given. For myself, this has certainly been the case.

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WWIAD: Public Announcement #1

So Women Working in Aid and Development is up and running!

It is such a great feeling after months of talking about this project.

Thank YOU so much for all you have contributed so far.

There has been a great reception to the project and some fantastic guest bloggers already.

Women Working in Aid and Development was set up as a platform for all women in the sector to open up about the great experiences they have had and the challenges along the way. We hope that as well as in-depth discussions about what the current state of affairs is that this blog will also contribute to positive change in the future, whatever this may be.

We would like to invite you all to contribute. We want as many people guest blogging as possible about the subjects that are important to them. We would also LOVE suggestions about how to improve and develop the site (we have a few ideas in the pipeline already!).

You may not know this but Women Working in Aid and Development has its very own LinkedIn group. At the moment there are over 130 members and an interesting conversation about knickers going on! Join the group and the debate. Invite other women you know too.

The LinkedIn group is an OPEN group. This means that anyone can see the posts that go up. The decision was made to make the group open so that all people (both men and women) can discuss Women Working in Aid and Development together. If many of us are saying that men hold many of the powerful positions in the sector, then we’ll have to get them involved in order to see meaningful change.

However, one thing that we want to ask you is whether you would like us to create a PRIVATE space for women only discussions? This could be created as a sub-group of the LinkedIn group. We only want to do this if there is enough demand. Just let us know in the comments sections below.

If there are any other functions you’d like to see in general do just comment here and we will do our best.

Best wishes,

Fi & Zehra

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7 things every woman needs to speak truth to power

Women Working in Aid and Development is honored to have a guest blog written by Jennifer Lentfer. Named as one of Foreign Policy Magazine’s “100 women to follow on Twitter,” Jennifer Lentfer (@intldogooder) has worked across southern and east Africa over the past decade. Focused on organizational development and learning, she has served with various international organizations and foundations in Zimbabwe, Malawi, Namibia, and the US. As the creator of, Lentfer works to place grassroots-driven development initiatives, which can be more genuinely responsive to local needs, at the forefront of international aid, philanthropy, and social enterprise.


Financial mismanagement. Lay-offs of local and international staff. Inappropriate conduct by leadership. Finally, a visit planned from headquarters to see what’s going on. What do you do?

 A superior continues to make passes at you. You find out you’re paid less than someone doing your exact same job. Someone takes undue credit for work you did. Why does this panel have only old, white men?!?

There are times in our aid careers when playing nice is no longer in our best interests. Telling a donor or a boss to go fly a kite is an intimidating experience, but there is a point when we have to speak up, no matter how uncomfortable we may be or how much power someone else has.

And unfortunately the aid world is still a boy’s game. While we’re represented among the workforce in proportional numbers, this is not the case among the leadership. We are going by their rules.

Oh wait, their rules don’t work for us? Guess we have to stand up for ourselves and change those rules. This will not happen by letting power go unchecked or unchallenged, on a personal or a sectoral level.

From my experience, here are seven things that can make these encounters a little less frightening.

 1)     Anger as fuel. Leymah GboweeAs women, we’re often taught to keep the peace. At age #%, I still struggle with expressing anger. I unfortunately know its ability to damage relationships. But I’ve also learned that anger can be a powerful force if I can stay with it and transform it as energy to carry me through a necessary confrontation.

2)    An ever-thickening, yet still permeable skin
. When I first took a course with The Op-Ed Project (highly recommended), they told us that stepping into the public space would require a thick skin. They were certainly right. Due or undue, look at the backlash Sheryl Sandberg has received. When speaking truth to power, you will receive criticism yourself. Some of it will need to bounce right off your exterior. Some of it will be necessary to move you to the next level

 3)    Use of the powerful’s own language and tactics. I struggle with just how much I have to act like the boys game in order to get the access to change the rules. I tend to favor infiltration and influence. But the words of a friend and fellow writer often also ring in my ear, “Sometimes, you also have to also scream and yell to get a seat at the table.”

 4)    Your peeps. Perhaps Sheryl Sandberg might have gotten further if she advised women not only to lean in, but to lean on each other. I tend the tribe as another source of my power. Allies ground me, validate me, are friendly adversaries, help lick my wounds, and share their own tales of speaking truth to power. Invaluable.

5)    A new definition of vulnerability. Powerlessness is only a perception. But I find that if I can acknowledge my own vulnerability, I can find a more secure place from which to advocate. In fact, my vulnerability emboldens me in a way. Courage is fueled by knowing that viewpoints under- or mis-represented in a push-push-muscle-might environment are necessary.

 6)    A back-up plan. Whistleblowers often have to start anew. It’s the price they pay for speaking truth to power. Even if I may have reason to think otherwise, I try to keep in mind that personal risk is often over-estimated. Bureaucracies and organizations benefit from a fear of losing our jobs. But we are not our organizations and it is foolish to equate income with security.

 7)    A touch of bravado. Speaking truth to power often means women are seen as loud-mouthed, cut-throat, self-righteous, hot-tempered, over emotional, unfeminine. A bitch you say? You can be afraid of these labels. I still am at times. But then I take a deep breath, remember to play big, and let it rip anyway. Desiree Adaway says it best, “It’s ok to be the smartest, savviest, most awesome person in the room…and have a vagina.”

Why do I think it’s important for women to speak truth to power? Because half the story is still not fully represented in the discourse. In the same way that we are not only whores or mothers, women working in aid and development are not only saviors or victims.

 So let her rip.

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