Institutionalization of the gender perspective: identifying inequalities to transform the organizational culture

Institutionalization of the gender perspective: identifying inequalities to transform the organizational culture

By Natalia Zlachevsky, Mora Laiño and Pablo Friedman.
Translation: Grecia Zamateo de Luna, Laura Fujtey and Pía Errozarena.
The field of engineering has distinctive features. Throughout time, a masculine culture has been moulded, in a way in which certain aptitudes, traditionally associated with the masculine gender, like efficiency, rationality, strength, and competence, enjoy more recognition and prestige. In contrast, those historical attributes tied to the feminine universe, like caring, having emotions, building bonds, and cooperating have been less valued and hierarchized, thus forging symbolic and material inequalities within the engineering world.
In this light, and beginning an internal formative and awareness-raising process, EWB-Ar conformed a workgroup with the objective of identifying and highlighting certain practices that reproduce inequalities in order to avoid them from being transferred to the organizational culture, consequently affecting a broader social change.
This is how the institutionalization journey of gender perspective began.
The first step consisted in analysing the state of the organization with regard to gender equity in work teams. The result showed that there was a similar quantity of men and women in projects and areas. Likewise, this first step helped identify egalitarian practices in connection to tool management, decision-making roles and other kinds of tasks. After obtaining this information, women volunteers in the organisation (most of them engineers) were surveyed, so as to compare the perceptions of those who had joined recently with those of who had been longer in the organisation. In this way, the aim was to identify the possible effects that being in a more equal context could have on them, such as the kind of environment that is promoted in EWB-Ar.
The result showed that those women who had been longer in the organisation were much more aware of having gone through great inequalities in their academic and work path than those who had just joined and who did not seem to easily identify gender-inequality-influenced practices or experiences.
The recognition of violence as a social problem connected to the existence of inequalities and inequities is present in organisational culture. In 2019, EWB-Ar’s Comisión de Igualdad y Buen Trato (rough translation: Commission for Equality and Fair Treatment) worked on the creation of a gender-oriented protocol for the prevention and eradication of violence. This instrument includes an awareness and training plan in all internal teams with regard to unequal relations of power, gender perspective and violence types and manifestations.
The tool adds to other initiatives, such as the one on the equalisation of both maternity and paternity leaves. In Argentina, Employment Agreement Act 20744 establishes 90 maternity-leave days and 2 paternity-leave days. Equalising the amount of days and providing the non-gestational parent with a 90-day leave aims at a cultural transformation that includes co-responsibility in caregiving tasks.
In order to fully understand the importance of the Commission for Equality and Fair Treatment, Victoria Rivero, a chemical engineer and volunteer at EWB-Ar for 5 years, feels that the existence of the commission gives her the peace of mind of knowing that she is in the right place. “In my profession I have experienced situations of inequality and in EWB-Ar I know that I have a commission that helps to solve situations, that you can always find a person to talk with and feel comfortable, and the participatory and open approach that is given to the topic is fundamental so that all kinds of situations are contemplated.”
Andrés Armesto is an industrial engineer and has been an EWB-Ar volunteer for three years. From the beginning, he realized that the number of men and women in the construction sites was similar. This was noticed both in technical areas and in the entire structure of the organization. The support of the Commission for Equality and Fair Treatment is key to its maintenance and the equity that exists in all areas enriches the experience in EWB-Ar. “We are encouraged to explore new roles outside of gender stereotypes. That makes us feel very comfortable when taking on new functions.”
These initiatives are starting points towards a more inclusive engineering challenging traditional gender roles and stereotypes.
Future goals include mainstreaming a gender perspective in the design, implementation and evaluation of projects EWB-Ar carries out, along with other actors. Being able to incorporate a transforming view of gender relations in infrastructure projects that require not being blind to gender bias. Accepting that inequalities exist can be the starting point to think creatively in what way projects can transform these asymmetries, with a broader view of access to human rights.