Preparing Women for Leadership in Garment Production: Early Career Interventions

Lead Research Organisation: Innovations for Poverty Action
Department Name: Principal Investigator


The overwhelming majority of the 4 million workers in the Bangladeshi garment sector are female, but managers at all levels are almost exclusively male. In a series of projects, we have examined the challenges of transitioning women into supervisory roles. The first of the projects was funded through the DfID-ESRC Growth Research Program (ES/J009466/1). Our research has helped factories select better female candidates for supervisory positions, helped training providers hone the content of their training, and led to an increase in female supervisors in the sector. Long-term follow-up data from 44 project factories indicates that the percentage of female supervisors doubled from four percent to over eight percent between 2016 and 2017. In this project, we aim to build on both the momentum toward female leadership and the lessons learned from the earlier research to help training providers deliver more effective training over a longer training window, while preparing women for leadership positions from an early point in their careers.

We will evaluate a pilot training program that aims to intervene earlier in the women's career in the sector, with training spread over a longer period of time. We aim to understand if the earlier and more sustained intervention induces women to invest more in the skills necessary to be effective supervisors; increases their confidence when they are working as supervisors; increases retention rates in the factory and sector; and makes them more effective supervisors after they are promoted. We will work with factories to identify candidates for the training program and work with trainers to customise a training program covering both soft skills - leadership, communication and confidence - and hard skills - line balancing, performance measurement, etc. Training will be spread over a period of one year, with half-day sessions fortnightly.

The research will benefit garment sector producers and buyers. If the evaluation demonstrates that the training provides benefits that exceed its costs, we would expect dissemination of the results to lead to adoption of the training program, or parts of it, into the typical in-house training that factories provide for supervisor skills development for female workers. Moreover, the detailed analysis of the program will provide insights to the challenges and barriers to promoting women that will be useful to management personnel. We expect the project will encourage factory management to consider women for promotion. External training agencies that work with factories, such as Suddoko or BetterWork, may also be interested in incorporating some, or all, of the training components into their curriculum if deemed successful.

Planned Impact

Through a series of projects in the Bangladeshi garment sector over the past eight years, we have built relationships with many stakeholders in the sector. These relationships are the foundation for our policy impact plan. We will continue to work with relevant industry stakeholders and policy-makers during and after the project. Our work on related projects focused on women in supervisory roles in the RMG factories in Bangladesh would not have been possible without the important relationships we have built with a number of foreign buyers (Tesco, Sainsbury's and H&M, for example), the industry associations (BetterWork, BGMEA/BKMEA), relevant government ministries (Commerce and Revenue), and foreign aid agencies (IFC, GIZ, DFID, IGC).

The RMG sector factories and buyers are our main targets for impact-related dissemination. If the training provides positive net benefits, we would expect dissemination of the results to lead to adoption of the training program, or parts of it, into in-house training that many factories provide for supervisor skills development and an increased focus of those programs for female workers. Through both the events described below and informal networks among factory managers, we expect the knowledge will lead to adoption of soft skills building training and early career investment for female workers in additional factories. External training agencies that work with factories, such as Suddoko or BetterWork, may also benefit from the lessons of the research.

Our budget includes a policy conference for factories, buyers, and stakeholders for summer 2020 in Dhaka after results are known at least in part. We have held a series of annual workshops focused on women in the garment sector, and the dissemination of results from this project would represent a continuation of that series of events. We anticipate continuing our annual workshops focused on female supervisors in RMG in 2020 that will cover initial findings on this proposed study. These events have helped to create a community of buyers, factories, policy-makers, international donors, and other industry stakeholders focused on women's empowerment in the industry. This community is an effective channel to disseminate program evaluation results on this topic. We have a full-time team based in Bangladesh, including a Program Manager, that can oversee the planning and implementation of our dissemination efforts. This same team arranged the previous workshops as stated above and has significant experience communicating and working with this network in Bangladesh.

While the conference will allow us to present results to and receive feedback from industry stakeholders in a formal setting, we stress that our continuous presence in the country will ensure a two-way communication between the research team and stakeholders throughout the project period. In addition to the conference, we plan to write a policy brief that will be widely shared at our event and through our networks.


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