Women working in development breakfast event

On Thursday 13th July CDR and BDO LLP co-hosted a networking breakfast event for women working in development. The event was designed to bring women from across the sector together to share views, experiences and to seek opportunities for collaboration. 

The event also featured a panel discussion with Plan International UK's CEO Tanya Barron, Palladium's Managing Partner for EMEA Sinead Magill, and former advisor to the Sierra Leone Government's during the Ebola outbreak Victoria Parkinson. Each shared their career experiences and views on why it is important to support women in the sector.

Some key takeaways from the discussion include: 

  • The benefits of having women in senior positions are clear – their visibility can help others consider senior leadership roles as a viable ambition. Research has also proven that women in senior leadership lead to more innovation and better business outcomes.

  • Despite this, it is important to have feminists, not just women, in leadership positions. Feminists are committed to transformative agendas and will enable a diverse group of people to contribute to the development of any organisation.

  • Women in the development sector are well represented at team leader and middle management level; however they are less well represented at senior management level.

  • Women may often be questioned about their ability to undertake certain work or roles once they have children. While men also have the same pressures and family commitments they are not usually subject to the same questions. Women may also be streamed into “parent-friendly roles” and unconsciously channel themselves into these roles. It is important to be aware of your decisions and not let your employer channel you into ‘mummy-roles’, unless you want to do one. 

  • We should exercise caution about saying “women are different” so that we avoid others being able to say that women aren’t suitable for certain roles.

  • Developing female talent is critical. Actions organisations have taken to improve outcomes for women include: generous parental leave, promoting female staff, setting up young person advisory councils, and offering preferential leadership courses for women.

  • This is a great time for women in the sector. All speakers expressed an optimism that this is an extraordinary time. Firms want women in leadership roles, so it’s important for us to think about what skills we need to fulfil those roles.

  • We need to be more aware of diversity in the sector more generally. There are structural problems within the sector e.g. the requirement for a masters as a basic requirement for most jobs. Organisations are taking actions like introducing apprenticeships, supporting graduates from outside the UK, changing job assessment criteria to competence rather than education-based criteria and enhancing the role that diversity and inclusion managers have.

  • Mentoring and networks are valued and need to be developed. The sector needs more structured mentoring schemes and approaches that focus not only on soft skills but also the business, strategy and financial skills which are crucial to career advancement.

  • Sinead Magill recommended a helpful TedTalk: ‘The career advice you probably didn’t get’ by Susan Colantuono. This talk explores why women play leading roles in middle management but aren’t breaking through as often to the top. She identifies the ‘missing 33%’ skills set and advocates the importance of building your business, strategic and financial acumen.  

  • Interhealth can provide essential information for international travel to fragile countries and emerging economies.  



We intend this event to be the first of many to support women in the sector. We're planning future events for late-October and early-March. 

If you would like more information or to get more involved in developing the programme, please contact Jessica Toale


Centre for Development Results Ltd. A company limited by guarantee, no 10010584. Registered Office: 1 Northfield Road, Reading RG1 8AH

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