Gender imbalance in Foreign Direct Investment and what to do about it.

by Carolina Arriagada Peters – March 8th, 2020

The many activities and media coverage of Women’s Day inspired me to reflect about gender balance in the Foreign Direct Investment Industry (FDI). I am currently giving the final touches to my upcoming book so I looked at the biography list which contains over 300 sources. The observation is simple: most of the references I cite are written by males.  Clearly this is an area we should look at.

Where are the females thinkers, researchers and leaders of the industry?  I interviewed some fantastic female for the book; why is it that they don’t make it to a reference list?  One could assume that the existing gender imbalance in leadership translates into gender imbalance in thought-leadership. As a result, there are less female who shape the FDI industry and thought-leaders who produce content. But that is only a partial explanation. I venture three addition reasons that could explain the imbalance.  

The first one is about women as co-authors: This is common in academic publications, where a number of scholars undertake research together. The list of names is long and for practical reasons citations tends to use only the first names of the list, which will cover authors with surnames that starts with the first letters of the alphabet.  If, for example, the co-author is called Tanja Williams, it is unlikely that her name makes the cut. As such, the opportunity to citing any co-author gets lost, including any female writer. The second one would be gender-neutral citing. This is the case when the first name of the author is shortened to an initial, which in practical terms takes gender away. Whilst some authors and publisher prefer this approach, it makes monitoring female participation more challenging. And the third one is when the publisher is an organisations. Even when females employees might write content, if this content is later published by the organisation, the tracing of that female author will be difficult because her name is not indexed.

Irrespective of the narrative of the low presence of female writers in the FDI industry, I would like to see more women speaking and writing about economic development, trade, foreign direct investment, placemaking, policy advocacy just to name a few. Gender does not define impact when it comes to wrting; but being either present or absent in the circles of influence and thought-leadership does. And any industry that does not feature female contribution is affecting its capacity to learn, adapt and advance.

This is a call to the FDI industry and policy makers to take an intentional step to address gender imbalance in bibliography. For starters, some practical suggestions to specific actors of the industry:

  1. IPAs, EDOS, RDAs: Please give sabbaticals. Writing is hard work. It is unlikely it can be done while working. Allow head space for your female leaders for them to make an ever bigger impact.
  2. Funders: Please give scholarships to female writer. Only a few can sell their houses, as I did –   to finance their time writing.  I would like to see financial support to get women (including me) to write about how to generate jobs, create opportunities and build sustainable societies.
  3. Publishers: please sign up female writers and get them into your catalogue. There are hundreds of female professionals making a difference in economic development today. Create awards and make a special effort in identifying female candidates to recruit.
  4. Editors, journalists, writers and trainers: Please share your writing skills with females in the industry. Writing is a skill. FDI practitioners are not necessarily good writers; but we can learn. From you. I would be happy to be your student.
  5. Academics: help us to learn the sometimes-opaque art of academic publishing. I have no shame in sharing that an article I wrote recently was approved only after the editor send it back 7 times. It was a humbling exercise, it made me realize how little I know about how to get published in prestigious journals and required quiet a lot of stamina.  Help us in that journey so that we don’t fall out in the process.

This is also a call to fellow female professional to plasm their ideas into ink (or digital for this purpose), so that the FDI industry can benefit from inclusive thought leadership. We can’t really afford the luxury of females not publishing.  Practical suggestions for aspiring female authors include.

  1. Write again: If you wrote as part of a teams and your name got lost in the process, please write again.  You don’t need to write a whole book; you can start with a blog or an article for your favourite newspaper. Just make sure your name features visibly and that you are citable.
  2. Set up a team of researches around you. Writing a non-fiction book required a copious amount of research. It takes hundreds of hours. Can you get volunteers, interns, retired colleagues, students to help you find quotes, data and references?
  3. Get going. Writing requires determination, focus and a lot of work. Don’t even start it you don’t plan to finish it no matter what happens. Having an unpublished draft in your desk is clutter, not impact.
  4. Start small. Start with a column in an industry magazines, newspapers or blogs so that you taste completion frequently. A book is such a big undertaken that sometimes it is difficult to see the end. Chunk it into columns and articles.
  5. Talk about your FDI walk: Share with others what you are working on and the journey you are in. People might want to join your efforts, will want to learn from you and co-create some exciting new projects that only you can initiate.

These 10 suggestions are easy to implement, affordable and can help catapult some promising new talent.  Let’s support a more gender-balanced industry-wide dialogue, introduce some new thinking into the industry while we all work together to generate more jobs, create thriving communities and more sustainable societies.

Carolina Arriagada Peter is a senior FDI consultant with a passion for sustainable development. She is the Managing Director of Cities & Collaboration and her upcoming book “Aftercare Explained” is due to be released this year. She is also the co-founder of WinFDI (Women in FDI) an invitation to look at the FDI industry through the lens of gender balance.  

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