Recruitment and Representation in the Sanitation Sector in Kenya

Recruitment and Representation in the Sanitation Sector in Kenya
Recruitment and Representation in the Sanitation Sector in Kenya

The draw of a career in the sanitation sector can take many forms, ranging from altruism to self-interest. When choosing to search for a job, when deciding to submit an application, and when signing an offer letter to a new job, newly graduated young men and women may be heeding a call to address a public need or fight for social justice; they may be pursuing a respectable, or even lucrative professional career; or they may be addressing some combination of any of these. According to our recent survey among workers in the sanitation sector in Kenya, most women are driven to join the sector because it is an important, necessary public service whereas most men are driven by the good career prospects, although there were fairly similar response patterns for both genders, in general.

A career in the sanitation sector begins with recruitment, job applications, an interview and then the acceptance of a job offer. When recruitment efforts focus on any degree where there are fewer women, such as any STEM field, recruitment at college campuses has already favored men. When interview preparation occurs through private courses, these will be more accessible to men. When women have a small baby to take care of, know that one is on the way, they may be more reluctant to apply for a job which they perceive will not allow them sufficient flexibility to care for their child; according to our interviewees, this is something which is considered regularly by mothers, but not by fathers. And whether she knows it or not, the gender of the people making the decisions in the candidate selection process might have an impact on whether or not they are looking to hire a woman or not: at least this seems to be the case in our survey responses.

In our survey of employees, we found that the gender of the respondent played a role in whether or not respondents thought that the current gender ratio was skewed or not, whether they thought it was improving and whether or not they thought special effort was warranted to hire more women. Among respondents, the majority agreed that women were well represented among the staff at their respective organizations, but more than twice the proportion of male respondents agreed strongly with the statement as compared to female respondents.

A large majority of both men and women also felt that the share of female employees was increasing. And only slightly more than half of those surveyed also supported special efforts to recruit more women. But when broken down by gender, we see that there is a wide gap between women and men: the ratio of men who agreed with such efforts to men who disagreed was 1:1, while for women it was 3:1. Unfortunately, it seems that feelings about special efforts to correct skewed gender ratios were not supported uniformly across genders.

When breaking the data down further, the difference in men and women supporting special efforts to hire more women was located entirely at the level of managers and executives. Out of the 9 women surveyed at executive and managerial roles, seven agreed that their respective organisations should increase efforts to improve female representation, compared to only 45% of the men. The relevant proportions of women at the supervisor level was 73%, compared to only 31% of the men. Whereas for employees at the staff level, 53% supported special efforts to hire more women, regardless of the gender of the respondent.

Zachary Burt
Zachary earned his PhD from the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley. He then completed his postdoctorate at Columbia University and a Fulbright Fellowship at the Indian Institute of Technology – Bombay. His research has focused on access, equity and affordability in water and sanitation systems. This incorporated considerations of climate adaptation, sustainability and public health.