FIE TIG Week: The Rise and Grind of Women in Evaluation by Kathleen Doll, Nina Sabarre, and Libby Smith

HELLO! We are Kathleen Doll (independent evaluation consultant and doctoral student at Claremont Graduate University (CGU)) , Nina Sabarre (founder and principle of  Intention 2 Impact and doctoral student at CGU) , and Libby Smith (program director at University of Wisconsin-Stout and evaluator with ARC Evaluation).

In March 2018, we joined forces to craft a research study as a means to grapple with the pervasively dismal trends of gender equality in the workplace; a relevant issue to many of us. Despite widespread attention to feminist issues, empirical evidence suggests progress for women leadership remains slow. Although women have earned more college degrees than men for the past three decades, less than 5% of fortune 500 CEOs and 24% of the US legislature are women.

However, as we reflected on the field of evaluation, specifically AEA, we saw an abundance of women in leadership positions and a proliferation of women pioneering their own businesses. This made us wonder – is the field of evaluation an example of gender equity in the workplace? If so, what could other fields learn from us?

While of course, the field of evaluation certainly does have much room for improvement, our qualitative phenomenological research study, leveraging the voices of 11 prominent women evaluators,  yielded some juicy findings! We had the joy of sharing our working at AEA 2018 in Cleveland. For those of you who were not able to join, here are some of our lessons learned.

Lessons Learned

  • Many women we interviewed directly experienced gender discrimination in their evaluation work, especially at the onset of their careers. However, many cited that as they worked in the field longer, they became sheltered from gender issues due to the large numbers of women in the field.
  • Majority does not equate equity. Although there are more women in evaluation, many interviewees still felt that men still have more influence.
  • Several respondents felt that their evaluation approach was affected by their thinking about race more so than gender. Although it is worthwhile to understand the collective experiences of women, intersectionality needs to be addressed.
  • Women respondents were embracing intuition, empathy, and interpersonal skills to conduct more rigorous and inclusive evaluations, as well as overcome barriers

With all this in mind… where does the field of evaluation go from here? Well, the three of us certainly have more questions than answers, but we are committed to keeping this dialogue alive and launching another phase of this research study. What are some directions you would like to see this conversation move? Reach out ( and let’s ALL continue the conversation!

Rad Resource: For those of you thirsty for more findings from our study, feel free to access our slide deck HERE!

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Feminist Issues in Evaluation (FIE) TIG Week with our colleagues in the FIE Topical Interest Group. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from our FIE TIG members. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

5 thoughts on “FIE TIG Week: The Rise and Grind of Women in Evaluation by Kathleen Doll, Nina Sabarre, and Libby Smith”

  1. Kathleen, Nina, Libby,

    I have an interest in gender equality so I found your article very insightful. I am a student in a course on evaluation and I have since wondered about the prevalence of gender equality in this field of work. I think intersectionality is so important on the basis of race and gender. Both of these factors contribute to an individual’s experience and may have significant impact on a evaluation. I am a huge supporter of women’s intuition; the consideration from this perspective is reassuring as a woman. Although all evaluators regardless of gender should use their intuition to trust their judgement about processes, women may have a biological superpower, or it can come from experience.
    I look forward to witnessing the progression of women bosses in this and other fields.
    Thanks for the post.

    1. Hi Asia!
      Thank you so much for leaving a comment for us. It’s nice to know our work is still reaching people. Since doing this work a few years ago now, I continue to think about the role intuition plays in our work. Western ideals would have believe that there is no place in evaluation/research for intuition. But many different cultures have centered this way of knowing and I think it’s time that more of us leveraged our intuition as a gift and trusted friend.

  2. Hi Kathleen, Nina, and Libby,

    As a student in an evaluation course with an interest in gender issues, I found the “Lessons Learned” part of your blog very interesting.

    You write that the women respondents felt sheltered from gender issues when they were in the field longer because more and more women have entered the evaluation field. While reading this, I wondered if women also felt more pressure in comparison to men to prove themselves early in their career. Women might feel more pressure to prove their capability in fields that utilize more “masculine” skills (fields that are logical, data-based, rational, practical, etc.). I was happy to read your last point about women embracing intuition, empathy, and interpersonal skills in the workplace. These skills could be considered “feminine” and sometimes women are often made to feel that they have to act more masculine to be taken seriously at work, and in particular when attempting to advance into managerial positions. It is great to learn that women are not afraid to prioritize these skills, and are instead using them to overcome barriers.

    I think the lesson about intersectionality is an important one to remember. We tend to lump women into the same category based on gender, yet among women there are many differences, most notably race, but also class, age, culture, religion, etc. These differences among women lead to very different experiences.

    Finally, your lesson that having a majority doesn’t translate to equity is something I’ll keep in mind as I continue my studies in evaluation. This lesson shows that numerical data can be deceiving. Often, numbers are used as proof that gender equality has been achieved. Yet, numbers are easier data to collect and measure, whereas influence is more difficult to measure. You note that many of the women respondents felt that men have more influence. I also think that the word “feel” is sometimes viewed as subjective and therefore not as legitimate as numerical data.

    Thanks for this thought-provoking blog post!


    1. Hi Amy!

      Many thanks for taking the time to read our post and spending a moment reflecting on the “lessons learned.”

      Just like you stated, Nina, Libby, and I also found ourselves very curious about emerging female evaluators, social comparison, and the feeling of needing to prove themselves early in their career. We are so curious in fact, that we are launching a Phase 2 of this research study that specifically explores the experiences of emerging female evaluators. Currently, we are trying to determine who constitutes a “emerging professional” (e.g., age range, experience level, etc….). What are your thoughts?

      We hope to see you at AEA, where we plan to share these findings!
      Take care and be in touch if more ideas come you way!

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