Data Upskilling for Equitable Futures: What’s Gender Got to Do With It?


While I was working on this blog post, the now late great Tina Turner passed away (I despair!!!). Her passing got me thinking about her most widely recognized tune: “What’s love got to do with it?”  

Since the debut of Ms. Turner’s hit song, a variation of this simple question has been asked the world over as a way to explore the relevance of one subject to another. Such questions have long been asked in the field of data science, where (as just one example) generative AI and the data it’s being trained on are frequently being exposed for harboring misogynist biasees.  

Nevertheless, when inherent and oftentimes obvious gender biases are pointed out, people working in data are still asking: What’s gender got to do with it?  

It’s no secret that when working in social impact, achieving meaningful and sustained change requires a deep understanding of the populations with whom we collaborate. This of course includes gender dynamics. Data upskilling that includes gender as its own distinct knowledge area empowers individuals in the social impact sector to harness data in ways that can promote more equitable outcomes for women, girls, men, boys, and girls alike.  

Earlier this year, in partnership with TechChange, sponsored the Gender Data 101 course for nearly 1,250 people. Our priority for this course was to incorporate gender into the data skills training to enable the immediate practical application.  

If this was not achieved, there was a risk our target audience would struggle to derive value from the learning experience. Drawing on feedback from the course offered between February and May 2023, as well as best practices in gender and development, here are three takeaways where gender data upskilling contributes to more equitable futures and benefits from an intersectional understanding and application of gender considerations throughout the data value chain

1. Unlocking the Transformative Potential of Data for Social Impact 

Data is increasingly informing decision-making, resource allocation, and more, gender data upskilling can equip stakeholders with the know-how to collect, analyze, and interpret gender-disaggregated data. But this work is more than just statistical analysis. It helps data and social impact practitioners understand qualitative data, including the root causes of gender inequality, and to uncover hidden patterns, and expose systemic biases that can negatively affect development outcomes. In turn, insights can be generated that highlight any unique challenges faced by different genders in different areas of global development. Harnessing this knowledge will lead to evidence-based solutions that are gender transformative. By transforming raw numbers into actionable insights, gender data upskilling enables practitioners to foment more equitable social change with increased precision.  

Florencia Cicchini, a Gender Data 101 participant based in Mexico said “…the most valuable takeaway [from the course] is the ability to identify entry points for gender mainstreaming in all the stages of the data lifecycle.”  

2. Creating Space for an Array of Data Practitioners 

In our Workforce Wanted: Data Talent for Social Impact report, we added evidence showing that people with disabilities, people who identify as women, and people who work in low- and middle-income contexts are among the least represented in data roles.  

Gender Data 101 course prioritized enrolling individuals whose own lived experiences may have in the past put a data upskilling course participation out of reach. By assembling a cohort of people with a shared understanding of marginalized communities, opportunities were created to promote knowledge exchange among groups whose data sovereignty has frequently been compromised or denied altogether. The intentional design of this community of practice resulted in conversations that linked data and gender to ability, language, geography, and sexuality. Such a melange created a learning space where intersectional thinking for gender data upskilling was baked in from the start, providing a lens through which course content could be more deeply understood by participants and even to lead to new innovations.  

Lika Døhl Diouf, a course participant based in Trinidad and Tobago shared of one of her key takeaways: “[The] second thing was learning how to do an intersectional analysis. There was a video in there from We All Count showing an intersectional pay gap analysis, and I am already thinking about how I can use that type of analysis to illustrate the digital divide here in the Caribbean.” 

3. Designing Projects and Programs that are Gender Transformative 

Gender data upskilling not only opens the doors to a vibrant and supportive community of change agents; people with gender data know-how are in a prime position to instigate gender transformation through their project and program design, participation, and leadership. As mentioned earlier, it was important for the Gender Data 101 course outcomes to include the ability for participants to apply the gender data skills acquired. To earn our Gender 101 certificate of course completion, participants submitted a final project that demonstrated what they learned. Many such projects produced incredible outputs that operationalize their recently acquired or enhanced gender data skills in unique ways for equitable future outcomes, including: 

  • Gender analysis of a conditional cash transfer program in Paraguay 
  • Data visualization of women and men’s access to finance in Jordan 
  • Uptake and impact plan for the provision of gender-based violence support services in Malaysia 
  • Assessment of reproductive health, family planning, and child immunization services in India 
  • Gender data workshop in Cameroon 
  • Survey adaptation to ask questions about the specific experiences of female data scientists in Colombia 
  • Monitoring, evaluation, and learning toolkit for global projects that collaborate with girl children 

These projects energize me and get us closer to finally answering: What’s gender got to do with it?  

In the months ahead, we look forward to exploring other ways in which data upskilling contributes to equitable futures by offering more courses like Gender Data 101. We hope you’ll join us on our mission to do data differently through training and digital learning, and in the meantime, you can stay connected with us to learn about our new courses as they launch! 

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