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Improving gender equality in knowledge management

Today March 8 is International Women’s Day, offering an opportunity to reflect on gender equality in the knowledge management (KM) discipline. Is there a gender imbalance in KM, and if there is, what should we do about it?

While I haven’t been able to locate any robust statistics about the proportion of women in various KM roles, there are some strong indicators that the discipline has a significant gender equality problem. For example, in Stan Garfield’s comprehensive list of KM Thought Leaders, just 16% are women, and the Women in Knowledge Management LinkedIn group has been established “for women who are in a field [which is] often … male-dominated.”

This isn’t surprising, given that the World Economic Forum’s 2017 Global Gender Gap Report finds that while many countries have made considerable progress, the gender gap is actually widening rather than closing:

The Global Gender Gap Report benchmarks 144 countries regarding their progress on gender parity via four main themes: Economic Participation and Opportunity, Educational Attainment, Health and Survival, and Political Empowerment. There’s also data around the dynamics of gender gaps across industry talent pools and occupations.

Unfortunately, data shows that the gender gap is widening, so there desperately needs to be new ways of thinking if the world is to close the gender gap. Progress is regressing and moving backwards. Instead of taking 170 years to close the gap at the current rate of progress, it is estimated that gender parity across the world will take over two centuries, 217 years to be exact.

Better gender equality can bring significant benefits. In a previous article, Stephen Bounds discusses how diversity is one of the most powerful motivators for a group to search for novel information and perspectives, and leads to better decision making and problem solving. In another article, I review organisational research showing that gender diverse teams make better decisions up to 73% of the time. This means that gender equality is an issue that the KM discipline needs to address.

Achieving gender equality is also the focus of Sustainable Development Goal 5, and as I’ve previously discussed, the KM discipline has an important role to play in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

So how can the KM discipline improve gender equality?

The 2015 International Labour Organization (ILO) Women in Business and Management. Gaining the Momentum – Global Report1 identifies a series of measures to advance women in management, many of which will have relevance to the KM discipline. The measures are listed in order of importance as ranked in an ILO survey. They are:

  1. Exposing women to all company operations and functions
  2. Executive training for women
  3. Assigning women managers visible and challenging tasks
  4. Mentoring scheme
  5. Top level management support for a gender equality strategy
  6. Recognition and support for women
  7. Making corporate culture more inclusive of both women and men
  8. Awareness training for senior managers on the business case for more women in management
  9. Flexible working arrangements (time and place)
  10. Setting of targets and tracking progress
  11. Retention and re-entry schemes
  12. Making promotion paths and career advancement prospects clear for women
  13. Appointment of women to board of directors
  14. Focus groups for senior and mid-level women
  15. Appointing a woman as CEO
  16. Appoint men who champion gender equality to senior management and company board positions
  17. Sponsorship scheme
  18. Results based rather than time based employee performance evaluation
  19. Diversity training for all managers

Sponsorship is an enhanced form of mentoring, involving “a long-term, hands-on commitment to encouraging, fighting for and creating advancement opportunities for high-potential individuals.”

The Women in Business and Management. Gaining the Momentum – Global Report also references the CEO Statement of Support for the Women’s Empowerment Principles. The Principles are the result of a collaboration between the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the United Nations Global Compact. They are:

  • Principle 1: Establish high-level corporate leadership for gender equality
  • Principle 2: Treat all women and men fairly at work – respect and support human rights and nondiscrimination
  • Principle 3: Ensure the health, safety and well-being of all women and men workers
  • Principle 4: Promote education, training and professional development for women
  • Principle 5: Implement enterprise development, supply chain and marketing practices that empower women
  • Principle 6: Promote equality through community initiatives and advocacy
  • Principle 7: Measure and publicly report on progress to achieve gender equality

Everyone in the KM discipline should commit to these measures and principles to the greatest extent possible.

Further, an article in The Conversation advises that achieving gender equality requires us to first deal with our unconscious biases. We’ve previously explored how biases affect our thinking, and I’ve argued that the KM discipline has a role to play in raising awareness of these biases and helping people to address them.


  1. International Labour Organization (ILO). (2015). Women in business and management: gaining momentum. Geneva: International Labour Organization.
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Also published on Medium.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes ( is a knowledge management (KM), environmental management, and education professional with over 30 years of experience in Australia and China. His work has received high-level acclaim and been recognised through a number of significant awards. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University and Research, and holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction. He is also the editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (, and teaches in the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) Certified High-school Program (CHP).

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One Comment

  1. Thank you for bringing this up, Bruce.
    I posted a follow up on my blog @

    One approach regarding Stan’s list may be to increase the visibility of the gender gap by separating the men and women. Another approach, perhaps more controversial would be to ask for the top 100 men and top 100 women. I don’t really like the idea of a “top” anything but it would force more equity. Unless we are saying that there are actually very few women KM thought leaders, but I don’t believe that.

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