Extreme power imbalances are common in the aid sector, especially in humanitarian crises. This was one of the findings from the International Development Committee’s (IDC) report on safeguarding (January 2021). These power imbalances create an environment where exploitation and abuse can take hold – even more so when combined with gender inequality and patriarchy. At Tetra Tech, we strive to actively examine the power imbalances that affect our safeguarding practices.
In this blog, our Gender Leads, Sophie Amili and Anna Misterska, have put their heads together with Compliance Manager, Melissa Nicholson, to highlight how we are facing those imbalances to ensure a working environment that is fair and safe for all.
Where economic opportunities are scarce, social services are unreliable, or there is a risk of insecurity and conflict, local communities are often reliant on aid or development providers to meet their basic needs. Predators can use that reliance to abuse their position of power and silence whistleblowers. For this reason, it is critical that communities are involved in the design and delivery of programmes, as well as being fully aware of their rights and complaints procedures.
But we can do more than that. We also have power to shape our organisational cultures, values and behaviours which can either allow perpetrators to hide undetected or kick-start a safeguarding culture at organisational and project levels. If we want to see change, we must champion equality and diversity throughout our operations.
We can do this by:
1. Working in a way that is anti-racist and which addresses gender power-dynamics
To do this we must curate an open and inclusive culture that is anti-racist, and where all staff are valued and listed to. We should expect our leaders to spearhead that change. In 2020, we developed an Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Policy to set out our commitment and vision for being an equal, diverse and inclusive employer.
Our EDI policy commits us to promoting a fair, supportive and inclusive environment for all employees through: building a safe and inclusive workplace culture; fostering a zero-tolerance approach to discrimination, racism, harassment and bullying; promoting fair recruitment, retention and progression policies; and actively supporting the progression and development of underrepresented groups.
We are also committed to understanding how equal, diverse and inclusive we are as an employer and have developed our own internal scorecard to do this. Regular reviews help us to measure progress and performance against our commitments, and inform future priorities and action to redress any gaps. Our evidence-led approach helps us to understand areas where we are doing well and less well, and, crucially – guide us in our efforts to ensure an inclusive workforce and working environment is in place for everyone.
2. Addressing and representing intersecting issues relating to gender expression, ethnicity, religious affiliation, disability, sexual orientation and age
Previous IDC investigations have found that the culture in the aid sector has played a central role in preventing aid workers from speaking up and reporting misconduct perpetrated by staff. We need stronger local representation to challenge discriminatory attitudes and cultures that allow sexual exploitation and abuse to be perpetrated.
One way in which we address that is through our model of selecting Safeguarding Focal Points. On all of our projects, our Project Managers receive training and become Focal Points for their projects ‘by default’. Our project teams are then asked to select additional in-country Focal Point(s). Under the guidance of the Project Manager, the Safeguarding Focal Point adapts and implements the Tetra Tech Safeguarding Strategy for the programme so that it remains relevant to the local context.
When selecting a Safeguarding Focal-Point, teams are encouraged to consider individuals who exemplify Tetra Tech values such as integrity, collaboration, valuing people, and cultural diversity. Safeguarding Focal Points must be able to act in a crisis and be trustworthy, empathetic, accountable and have good rapport with the team and community. We know that reporting is a brave act, and we endeavour to remove as many barriers to reporting as possible. Asking local teams to appoint their own Safeguarding Focal Points means it is more likely that they will reflect the diverse populations and contexts in which we work. Survivors can then report to someone they feel comfortable with and who appreciates the cultural nuances that may be at play.
EDI and safeguarding are two sides of the same coin. Without meaningful representation, participation and inclusion, we will continue to maintain the status quo. At Tetra Tech, we want to be part of a safer sector where power imbalances are systematically addressed and challenged, where vulnerable people are safeguarded, and where communities and staff feel safe and empowered to speak up. If you want to achieve this too, then, it’s time to take diversity and inclusion seriously.