Home Diplôme d’Études Supérieures en Leadership Humanitaire (DESLH): Gender and Leadership Study

This report examines gender equality and leadership in the context of the Francophone humanitarian system, to identify key causes of the persistent gender imbalance in the Diplôme d’Études Supérieures en Leadership Humanitaire (DESLH) cohorts, with a view to develop evidence-based strategies for the Centre of Humanitarian Leadership (CHL) and key stakeholders to improve the gender ratio in future iterations of the course.


Women have their own way of leading and managing, they have skills and they have knowledge. So do men. And I think that by putting the two together, that can create something more enriching that will help to have a greater impact.

Alumni respondent

Key findings

There is widespread support from within the Francophone humanitarian system for increasing the number of women in leadership roles. Significant barriers, however, impede progress towards gender equality in the humanitarian system. Pervasive gender norms in leadership, humanitarian work, and family environments, as well as a comparative lack of educational opportunity, all compound to limit women’s access to decision-making levels in organisations.

Women’s perceived ‘lack of confidence’ was one of the most frequently cited barriers to progress towards women’s leadership reported in the Francophone survey.

When asked what strategies could overcome these barriers, respondents suggested a range of options, including quotas and positive discrimination, gender transformative policies such as maternity leave and gender-blind recruitment, political will and advocacy, and interventions to tackle ‘toxic masculinity’ and misogynistic work cultures.

Conclusions and next steps

There is widespread support for increasing the number of female leaders in the Francophone
humanitarian system, and evidence-based instrumental and intrinsic reasons for aspiring to
do so. The barriers to achieving gender equality and improving diversity are entrenched and may seem insurmountable. However, this report outlines key strategies for overcoming these barriers.

Leadership development is among the most frequently cited strategies for improving the
knowledge, skills and practices—as well as confidence—of female leaders in the field. The Centre for Humanitarian Leadership can build on the insights outlined in this report for future recruitment strategies for the DESLH and other leadership courses.

Further research and advocacy are needed to shed light on women’s experiences—including barriers to and solutions for achieving gender equality in the humanitarian system.

However, there are limits to what leadership development courses can do. A concerted effort
within and between stakeholders, including leadership development providers, donors, and organisations at all levels of the system is necessary to enable equitable access to leadership for all genders in humanitarian response.

Academic contributors

Partner organisations


  • DESLH Gender and Leadership Study
  • DESLH Gender and Leadership Study - Brief
  • DESLH Gender and Leadership Study - Checklist