Advising on Inclusive Workplaces, Programs and Projects

There is extensive work to be done within humanitarian and international development organisations to prepare for and embed the inclusion of under-represented groups. The whole purpose of the aid sector is to ensure that people’s needs and rights are met – and to ‘leave no one behind’. To achieve these lofty goals, we need to ensure that our organisations are deeply embedding diversity and inclusion.

Workplace focus

Within my work at Edge Effect, as well as within organisations I previously worked for or consulted for, organisational change work has been an important aspect of focus. Ways in which I work with organisations -often over quite a long time and under many different smaller contracts – to embed systemic change, is outlined below.

This includes;

Facilitating the development of a Statement of Intent – Communicating to your staff (in all the different country offices), the aid sector, and larger communities you work in that you are committing to the inclusion of specific under-represented groups. (be it women, indigenous people, people with disabilities, young people and children, people with diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities, Expressions and Sex Characteristics). An example of previous work is with WaterAid Australia and their LGBTIQ+ Statement of Intent 2022.

Research on country / local contexts – I work with organisations to better understand the local contexts in the countries the aid organisation is working in. This includes research on the types of laws and norms present that impact particular groups of people. A few sample of laws include;


  • land ownership laws
  • abortion laws, rape laws and other Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights related laws
  • inheritance laws
  • child custody laws
  • divorce laws

People with disabilities

  • involuntary sterilisation, rape laws and other Sexual & Reproductive Health & Rights related laws
  • involuntary institutionalisation, forced medications, forced constraints, and forced medical procedures (such as electric shock therapy for people who experience mental illness)
  • custody laws
  • Lack of anti-discrimination laws regarding employment, education, rental accomodation accessibility
  • guardianship laws including those which restrict people to make their own financial decisions.

People with diverse Sexual Orientations, Gender Identities, Expressions or Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC)

  • homosexuality laws
  • laws concerning gender affirmation and identity documentation
  • laws that support so called conversion therapies
  • ‘propaganda laws’
  • ‘impersonation’ laws
  • laws restricting the legal registration of LGBTIQ+ civil society organisations
  • education, employment and housing anti-discrimination legislation

The above examples of local contexts that may impact under-represented groups in the humanitarian and development systems is small sample. Beyond the laws, having an understanding of the cultural norms, appropriate language, what civil society organisations exist, what movement building work is currently being undertaken and what the priorities of local under-represented communities have are all important when considering how ‘ready’ and robust your organisation is on its diversity and inclusion journey.

Review Internal Systems – which include reviewing and evaluating internal organisational policies, and developing new policies, and also evaluating or ensuring that the policies embed a norms based approach. It is not enough to have distinct siloed groups of under-represented communities such as ‘women and girls’, ‘people with disabilities’ or ‘people with diverse SOGIESC’ mentioned as a part of a long list of vulnerable groups within one or more policies. If the aid sector policies themselves embed sexism, ablism, heteronormativity, cisnormativity, gender binarism and endosexism (to mention a few norms) then, the polices will be limited in their ability to support the organisational goals in diversity and inclusion – and the sector goals of ‘localisation’, ‘Accountability to Crisis Affected Communities’ and ‘Leave No One Behind’. A transformative approach not only includes under-represented groups, but also addressed the underlying symptoms of the discrimination, stigma, alienation and exclusion. Furthermore, these policies need to talk to each other and the norms based work behind them need to be embedded through all policy positions, procedures, guidance and communications. For example, having a policy positions that acknowledges that there is more than a gender binary, and that it is important to include transgender, third-gender and non-binary folks in all areas of the aid system, AND changing all use of gender binary terminology like, ‘men and boys, women and girls’ (this norm is heteronormativity) in ALL policies, not just use it in the diverse SOGIESC policy. Policies need to talk to each other, and consider the complexity of people’s identity markers and experiences. For example, rather than communicating that women and people with disabilities are two distinct groups, include ‘women in all their diversity’, including women with disabilities, women who are lesbians or bisexual or transgender.

Tools Review and Guidance: Much like the policies, do the tools reinforce harmful norms or do they address the under-lying symptoms of discrimination and exclusion? For example, do they imply that sex and gender are the same thing? Do they imply that transgender, third-gender and non-binary folk don’t exist and therefore, menstruation (as one small example) is about all women, without considering trans men menstruate, trans women don’t menstruate and intersex folks have bodies that we can’t make assumptions about. Do our tools imply that people with disabilities or trans folks that live together are not a family? Implying that a household is made up of a nuclear family structure (man, woman and children) and not people who live together, share expenses and eat around the same kitchen table daily. There are many ways in which the tools we use do not consider specific under-represented groups or the lived experiences of people may differ from the often discriminatory norms they are based on.

Safeguarding and Risk is an important part of the work of an inclusion advisor. Safeguarding needs to consider the responsibility that the development organisation has towards under-represented communities (and all communities) it works with. This includes the harmful beliefs and myths that exists within the staff population. Not not uncommon for people to reinforce the norms that we are tying to eliminate. Further, I can support organisations to take a more collaborative approach to risk. What do the communities we are working with see as risks? What mitigation strategies do under-represented communities already use that we can learn from? How are communities themselves deemed ‘risky’ and how can we change the narrative? How can we embed a ‘dignity of risk’ approach where the community decides what is too risky based on their local context, and how much they could possibly win / lose?

Partnership building with Rights Holder Organisations (RHO’s) My role in this space places a strong emphasis on the partnering process so my approach is about process issues just as much as it is about collaborative project management. My commitment to ‘co-design’ and Participatory Action Research is critical – both because it allows for diversity / complementary in my approach and because it enables us to model collaboration in practice. Adhering to some core partnering principles, my approach is to share knowledge and expertise by enabling genuine dialogue / conversations with all those with whom we work. I aim to be open/explicit about my own frames of reference and transparent about the conceptual frameworks that I use. Differences of viewpoint and (healthy) conflict are, I believe, central to the partnering process and not a hindrance or diversion.

Proposed behaviour change cycle of building diversity and inclusion within International Non-Government Organisations, and UN agencies.

Project / Programme Focus

My project / programme advisory practice is based on several other pieces of work already elaborated on within the website.

  1. Training for Change – Building the expertise and technical skills of community practitioners.
  2. Inclusion Hub – continued support and reflection through a ‘community of practice’ which includes fortnightly Bright Sparks workshops and Ignite Change Masterclasses.
  3. Using a Co-Design approach which can be found at this link.
  4. Using a Participatory Action Research Methodology which can be found at this link

If you would like to discuss the possibility of working together on Advising on inclusive workplaces, programs and projects, please don’t hesitate to get in contact.