Women-led Research and Consultancy Firms in Ethiopia: An Insight

6 min readApr 12, 2022

As a 100% female-owned social enterprise, this blog is celebrating a pioneering female entrepreneur who is also the Managing Director of the Includovate Research Centre in Ethiopia. Includovate was founded in 2019 in response to poor quality data available on gender norms and the extractive nature of research done in low-income countries. Its mission is to incubate transformative and inclusive solutions for measuring, studying and changing discriminatory norms that lead to poverty, inequality and injustice. As a 100% female-owned social enterprise, Includovate works globally with staff across 20 countries and has a regional focus on the Global South.

Includovate works to decolonise research and create alternative processes of knowledge creation by enabling researchers from the Global South to participate in knowledge production. This allows early career and local researchers to improve the research environments in their own countries and contribute to global knowledge by interacting with other experienced researchers through experience sharing, co-publishing, and engaging in international assignments. The Australian Includovate partners with the Ethiopian Includovate to build research capacity.

© Includovate

In Ethiopia, a number of consultancy/research firms operate and work on multiple thematic areas such as education, gender, health, business, and development. However, women-led research/consultancy enterprises are rare. Includovate Ethiopia has female shareholders and is led by a woman Managing Director, Elsabeth Belay.

In 2021, an Includovate researcher carried out a rapid online assessment study of 50 selected research and consultancy firms in Ethiopia. The focus of the study was to understand women’s participation in Ethiopian research firms, including in owning and/or directing the firms. By undertaking an online search of the firms and using the snowball sampling technique, the researcher accessed the firms’ physical, email, and website addresses, and cell phone numbers. Research/consultancy firms, also known as Private Limited Companies (PLC) based in Addis Ababa were included in the search and institutions that entirely focused on training were excluded. Includovate’s researcher conducted email and telephone interviews with the firms’ representatives in order to know the gender breakdown of their staff, the firm’s areas of research interest, and the owner and/or director of the firm. The data collected are analysed and interpreted using qualitative and quantitative techniques, and a summary of the findings is presented below.

The study found that out of the total number of 314 staff members in the assessed consultancy firms, 196 (62.4%) were males and the remaining 118 (37.6%) were the female staff. Males were numerically dominant in about 34 of the consultancy firms, and the number of male and female staff members was equal in three. Other studies in Ethiopia show equally poor workforce diversity and gender mainstreaming results.

In a very small number of firms, women staff members actually dominated, particularly in those firms owned and/or managed by women. Of the seven consultancy and research firms where women are the owners and/or the directors of the firms, women staff outnumber their male counterparts. At one woman-owned firm, women account for nine out of 11 staff members, and in another woman-owned firm with 20 staff, female staff are 17 (85%) and males are only three (15%). At the only firm led by a woman CEO, women staff are outnumbered by the male staff, three to 10. This data suggests that firms with women leaders hire and attract more women.

The findings of the study show that in the 50 consultancy firms studied, 43 (86%) are owned and/or managed by a male, while the remaining seven firms (14%) have female owners and/or directors. Of those seven owned or managed by women, men and women have jointly owned and coordinated one firm together. As the Managing Director of Includovate Ethiopia, Elsabeth Belay says, ‘it is very hard to be a woman in business in Ethiopia. There is so much discrimination. You are made to wait longer at government offices, and contracts usually go to male-owned firms.’

The majority of the consultancy and research firms are engaged in issues related to business, health, development, industry, engineering, and education. Although one research firm claims that its focus is on gender and development, it does not have a single woman on staff. Ms Belay says, ‘Includovate is one of the few PLCs in Addis Ababa that focus on inclusion and can claim to be feminist.’ Case studies completed in Ethiopia show that gender parity in the workforce is possible.

As a feminist organisation led by a woman CEO and women Managing Directors, Includovate has strategically positioned itself to overcome discriminatory norms that perpetuate gender inequality and poverty via research, evaluation, and capacity building work. Includovate believes that local women and underrepresented groups should lead research. Includovate’s CEO Kristie Drucza says, ‘we walk the talk. We try to localise research and knowledge creation. We promote inclusion and employ inclusively.’ Out of Includovate’s staff, 73% are women, 7% have a disability, and 61% are based in Africa. Includovate’s Head of Partnerships and Business Development, Kanika Joshi, says ‘through its continued commitment to evidence-based research and quality, and action-oriented knowledge products, Includovate is on track to become a global thought leader in the fields of inclusion, diversity and gender.’

Dr Drucza explains, ‘International development has a localisation agenda to incorporate more non-government organisations (NGOs) in its work, but what about the private sector? Where are the incentives to hire local firms and firms run by women? Only supporting NGOs interferes with sustainability and market-based approaches.’ Ethiopia (like many other countries) needs a women-owned small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) procurement strategy. The United Nations and many other academics and institutions have been advocating for Gender Responsive Procurement for some time. It is not just the government of Ethiopia that should prioritise women-owned SMEs, but also donors, NGOs and other development partners.

If you do not already apply affirmative action in your company or organisation’s procurement policies, then the following resources can help you correct any (unconscious) biases in your procurement processes that may favour male-owned firms: Models of gender-sensitive procurement used by international aid entities; the Gender Responsive Procurement Playbook; and Promoting Women’s Empowerment through Business Operations Strategy. Moreover, Includovate can help any organisation to develop culturally sensitive (evidence-based) gender policies and affirmative action strategies and plans that align with internal policies and international guidelines. We can also coach leaders to become more inclusive allies. For a quote please email info@includovate.com

© Includovate

About the Author

Dr Girma has ten years of experience in research. He has experience as a consultant in local and international development projects, both in Ethiopia and globally. Dr Girma’s research focuses on state-society relations with respect to access to land as a resource. Departing from conventional thinking, Dr Girma’s PhD research project explores how the state-driven land formalisation affects custom-based property relations and the social organisation by using participant observation, transact walks, focus group discussions and in-depth interviews. Dr Girma is particularly interested in the context where plural normative orders operate, thereby affecting the agency and social relations. He has also studied the challenges and opportunities for youth living in rural areas in Ethiopia, Burkina Faso, Uganda and Nigeria and engaging in farming and non-farming livelihoods. This study combined qualitative research methods (e.g. Focus group discussions (FGDs), Interviews, life history and Photo-voice) to find out the challenges of the rural youth, the available opportunities, and migration options and decisions and destinations.

Includovate is a feminist research incubator that “walks the talk”. Includovate is an Australian social enterprise consisting of a consulting firm and research incubator that designs solutions for gender equality and social inclusion. Its mission is to incubate transformative and inclusive solutions for measuring, studying, and changing discriminatory norms that lead to poverty, inequality, and injustice. To know more about us at Includovate, follow our social media: @includovate, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram.




Connecting and empowering people to overcome the norms that lead to poverty, inequality and injustice.