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Lack of Gender Bias in Grantmaking

8 May 2018 at 8:32 am
Wendy Williams
Grants are “women’s business”, according to a new study.

Wendy Williams | 8 May 2018 at 8:32 am


Lack of Gender Bias in Grantmaking
8 May 2018 at 8:32 am

Grants are “women’s business”, according to a new study.

The Gender Bias in Grantmaking report, published by the Our Community Innovation Lab Team, has found the awarding of grants does not appear to be affected by an applicant’s gender.

The data revealed that women placed significantly more applications than men, however, the percentage of applications granted was well balanced and proportional to the number of applications per gender.

Report author and data scientist Paola Oliva-Altamirano, said grantmakers in Australia appeared to judge applications by their content regardless of the gender of the applicant.

“That is to say, we did not detect a gender bias in grants awarded across time, organisation type or amount of money granted,” Oliva-Altamirano said.

The project analysed a total of 405,188 applications made through the SmartyGrants grants management platform between 2013 and 2016.

It inferred the gender of applicants, based on their honorific or their name, then compared each group (women, men, unknown) to the outcome of their application – whether “successful” or “unsuccessful”.

Researchers said they did not find a bias in the overall results.

“In general, the number of grants awarded to men/women was determined by the number of applications placed by men/women,” the report said.

“Roughly 42 per cent of the applicants were approved regardless of the applicant’s gender – ie for every 100 applicants, at least 52 were women and 34 were men; of those 22 women and 19 men were approved for funding.”

Our Community executive director Kathy Richardson told Pro Bono News it was important that bias was not at play.

“There are all sorts of unconscious biases that are at play in society and we wanted to make sure that that wasn’t happening in the awarding of grants,” Richardson said.

“I was surprised because it seems like every time we take away the cloak of unconscious bias we find that there is a bias there. So it was surprising [that there was no bias].

“On the other hand it wasn’t surprising because why should there be any bias in the awarding of grants? It doesn’t stand to any sort of reason that there should be favouritism towards either men or women in the awarding of grants.”

The research also sought to detect if the general trend of gender equity was borne out across all grantmaking sectors.

One exception to the general trend was for those grantmakers classified by SmartyGrants as State/Territory Government Grantmakers, which showed a gender bias in favour of women.

The data also revealed that while women were over-represented as grant applicants, where a grant was more than $1 million the trend was reversed, with applications more likely to be submitted by men (49 per cent for males and 36 per cent for females).

However, the bias did not flow through to approval rates. The study found that women applying for grants of more than $1 million were more successful than men.

Richardson said it gave them cause for more speculation.

“We don’t know the answer as to why, much of our data science initiatives prompt questions rather than answering them which is the opposite of what we expect,” she said.

“But it’s definitely something that we’re interested in reading people’s interpretations on.”

Over the next 12 months the Our Community Innovation Lab Team will be doing further analysis to determine if applications that are targeting a particular class of beneficiary (male versus female; particular ethnicities; particular age groups; etc.) are likely to be more successful.

“Just because we’ve eliminated a bias towards male or female grant applicants does not mean that grant application assessment is fair,” they said.

Richardson said there was all sorts of aspects to fairness in the awarding of grants.

“Almost all the time, the awarding of grants is a very inherently human process. So there’s almost always a human being or a set of human beings who are determining the outcome of the grant application,” she said.

“You might know if you’ve ever been on a grant assessment panel that if you read 20 grant applications and there’s five of them that are for the same great new idea, the first one that you get to might get a better score than the last one you get to because it no longer seems that interesting.

“So there’s all sorts of biases that can creep in to the awarding of grants so we’re really interested in uncovering where those biases lie. And if they can be uncovered then can we correct for those to make sure that it’s a real level playing field for anyone who’s applying for a grant.”

Australian Women Donors Network CEO Julie Reilly told Pro Bono News they applauded the gender focus Smartygrants has incorporated into their grants management software.  

“Gender lens questions improve the quality of grant applications and the impact of decisions by grant-makers,” Reilly said.  

“Of most interest to our network is gender data on the distribution of funding to end beneficiaries. That is, do women and girls benefit equally in the funding of projects and programs – and do these grants address systemic gender inequity?

“While the examination of success rates of grant applicants by gender is valuable and adds to the broader gender analysis of granting outcomes in general, our mission is to ensure women and girls are equal beneficiaries of funds granted irrespective of the gender of the grant applicant.”

Wendy Williams  |  Editor  |  @WendyAnWilliams

Wendy Williams is a journalist specialising in the not-for-profit sector and broader social economy. She has been the editor of Pro Bono News since 2018.

One comment

  • Steve says:

    Could gender biases in grant-making be expressed more in response to gender-specificity of the underlying cause (e.g. breast cancer), as opposed to the gender of the applicant?


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