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Diverse and Inclusive Humanitarian Leadership

Humanitarian leadership does not currently reflect the broad diversity of talent across gender, age, ethnicity and culture. This stream focuses on understanding the real and potential benefits to organisations and disaster-affected populations of diversifying humanitarian leadership.

Myanmar, Photography by Greta Carroll

Stream overview

Diverse leadership teams generate a variety of benefits, including an enhanced ability to solve complex problems.

However, such benefits are rarely tested in the humanitarian sector. This raises the question: how can drawing on our diversity support more effective humanitarian action?

Humanitarian Advisory Group is undertaking research to understand how diverse and inclusive leadership can contribute to tackling some of the challenges that face the humanitarian system.

Pipeline for men and women into leadership roles in the sector:

Pipeline for men and women into leadership roles in the sector


Phase 1

The first phase of the research examined what is currently known about diversity and humanitarian leadership, and identified how the two intersect in the international humanitarian system.

Exploring how the private sector has unpacked diversity dividends, the paper suggests two hypotheses that phase 2 of the research answers.

Hypothesis 1

Organisations with more diverse and inclusive humanitarian leadership teams make better decisions; generate more innovative solutions and products; and build greater trust and confidence.

Hypothesis 2

Organisations with more diverse and inclusive humanitarian leadership teams: deliver more inclusive response operations; and engage more meaningfully with, and are more accountable to, affected populations

Phase 2

Stage one of phase 2 saw our latest report, ‘Data on Diversity: Humanitarian leadership under the spotlight’ highlight results from the largest diversity survey conducted in our sector, reaching over 1,400 humanitarian staff, across 115 countries.

The research found that humanitarian leadership teams that are perceived to be more diverse and inclusive are perceived to perform better. It allows the sector to reflect on how we recruit and compose leadership teams, how we measure their success, and how we give teams the skills and tools to ensure inclusive leadership.

Stage 2 of phase 2 is currently underway

The research has opened conversations in the sector designed to improve understanding that diversity extends beyond gender and has a tangible impact on organisational performance. HAG is partnering with United Nations agencies, international and national NGOs , the private sector and the Red Cross Red Movement – alongside our national consultants – to implement the research in the Philippines, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

Partnering for Impact

The study is a collaboration between four partners: The Humanitarian Advisory Group (HAG), the Global Network for Women leaders in the Red Cross Red Crescent Movement (GLOW Red), the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). The research aimed to understand how different leaders across the International RCRC Movement prepared for and responded to COVID-19.

The research aims to inform conversations about diversity and inclusion in the humanitarian sector not by making the principled case for reform – important as that case is – but by demonstrating the value of having a wide range of perspectives and experiences within the International RCRC Movement’s leadership and decision-making.

The research revealed important differences in the way the International RCRC Movement leaders with different backgrounds, profiles, and experiences approached and prioritised decisions and actions. Put simply, the research showed that it matters who is around the table.