Diversity in Think Tanks

Diversity in Think Tanks

Think tank researchers are knowledge producers and storytellers. They provide us with narratives to make sense of the world around us. But one look at most think tanks’ websites and it becomes clear that our organizations may be telling a story from a handful of narrow perspectives. In the framework of the Think Tank Lab’s Diversity Challenge, a working group of practitioners from various German think tanks and foundations has addressed the question of how to foster diversity and inclusion in the German think tank sector. 

In this dossier, we argue why diversity in think tanks matters, we share what we know about the state of diversity in European think tanks, and we offer suggestions how think tanks and foundations can become more inclusive. We also share what we learned by approaching diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in think tanks through a five-month systemic design sprint.

Further Resources

Over the course of the Diversity Challenge, we have collected resources on diversity, equity, and inclusion in think tanks, which we want to make accessible for everyone interested in getting started on the topic. Please let us know via hello@thinktanklab.org if there are other resources we should add.

Networks & Initiatives

Better Think Tanking is a monthly free newsletter inspiring its readers to be better colleagues, managers, and think tankers. The notion behind is that the world of think tanks, NGOs, and international organizations is full of dedication, knowledge, and ideas. However, there is room for improvement and for more diversity and professional management. The newsletter aims to help achieve better public sector and non-profit management by initiating a movement for a more conscious and reflective non-profit and think tanking practice.

The Brussels Binder is a database of women experts to improve gender diversity in policy discussions and the media, with the aim of becoming the go-to resource for improving gender diversity in policy debates in Brussels and beyond. The main assumption of the initiative relies on the fact that good policy derives from innovation, brand new perspectives, and fresh analysis that reflect the diversity of the societies policies affect.

The Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy (CFFP) is an international research, advocacy, and consulting organization that promotes an intersectional approach to foreign and security policy to be adopted globally. Founded in 2016, CFFP became the world’s first organization explicitly dedicated to feminist foreign policy, with the underlying mission of “smashing the patriarchy”. CFFP supports several feminist networks, including Netzwerk F – The feminist network for politically active women and non-binary people and WOX – The Women Experts’ Network in Foreign and Security Policy.

N-Square is a cross-sector group of technologists, game designers, policy experts, diplomats, Hollywood filmmakers, and more, who are tackling nuclear challenges together in novel ways. They inject new energy and a fresh approach to tackling the deepening threat posed by nuclear weapons. The nuclear landscape presents many overlapping challenges, ranging from political dilemmas to technological puzzles to conflicts between belief systems. N.Square recognizes these complexities and tackles them by employing a range of tactics to create conditions that enable new solutions, ideas, and partnerships.

Women in Global Health (WGH) is a global movement with the largest network of women and allies working to challenge power and privilege for gender equity in health. WGH acts as an organization, building on a global movement that brings together all genders and backgrounds to achieve gender equality in global health leadership. WGH also creates a platform for discussions and collaborative space for leadership, facilitates specific education and training programs, garners support and commitment from the global community, and demands change for Gender Transformative Leadership.

Women of Color Advancing Peace, Security & Conflict Transformation (WCAPS) is a platform founded in 2012 that is devoted to women of color. It cultivates a strong voice and network for its members while encouraging dialogue and strategies for engaging in policy discussions on an international scale. Through mentorship and partnerships, WCAPS aims at changing the global community landscape, while remaining committed to achieving their vision of advancing the leadership and professional development of women of color in the fields of international peace, security, and conflict transformation. WCAPS believes that global issues demand a variety of perspectives.

People of Color Also Know Stuff (POCAlsoKnow) is an initiative promoting scholars of color, which aims to serve as an amplifier for efforts to advance racial diversity and inclusion in political science. Key to their mission is to advance equity that is inclusive of all class backgrounds, gender identities, sexual identities, and institutional contexts. Their main goal is to foster cross-institutional collaboration and networking across subfields and rankings, especially for graduate students and early-career scholars, via promoting scholarship, celebrating professional wins, and serving as a resource for mentoring efforts in the discipline.

#VertrauenMachtWirkung is an initiative whose members reflect on the future of foundations, shape them and learn from one another in the process. The initiative has published nine theses as a compass for this commitment, the basis for sustainable foundation action, and a value system. The first of the nine theses posits diversity consciousness and combating discriminatory structures – both externally and internally – as a prerequisite for foundations to fulfill their mission of social responsibility, to ensure the quality and relevance of their work.


More networks and initiatives related to DEI in think tanks can be found on the gender, think thanks and international affairs dashboard.

Good Practices: DEI in Think Tanks


Think Tank Diversity Action Statement (2020): The Think Tank Diversity Action Statement is a collaborative letter and list of recommendations written to increase diversity and inclusion in think tanks. This statement was written by a group of employees diverse in race, gender, and political leaning from across the US think tank community. The group recommends in its “Action Area One: Transparency” to publicly publish an institutional annual report on workforce and board makeup by race and gender. It also gives advice on what shape this report could take and how frequently it should be published.


European Network Against Racism (ENAR) 

Gender, Think Tanks & International Affairs, a project by Chatham House, Centre for Feminist Foreign Policy, and British American Security Information Council

Data & Reports on DEI & Bias in Think Tanks and Beyond

Institute for Government (2022): Diversity and inclusion in the think tank sector. This report investigates why think tanks are not as diverse as they could be and looks at barriers faced by applicants from minority ethnic groups and those from a lower socio-economic background. With diversity vital for research organisations – for its own sake, and because a diverse staff will be better able to draw on a wider range of experience to inform research – the report sets out a series of recommendations to make recruitment in the think tank sector more inclusive. It calls for greater outreach efforts to raise awareness of the think tank sector and reach people who might never currently think of applying, as well as conducting an external audit of recruitment processes to ensure they are as fair and inclusive as possible.  

The Brussels Binder (2022): Walk the Talk: Women and Think Tank Events: The Covid Effect 2021 and Walk the Talk: Women in Words: Gender Representation in Think Tank Publications 2021. The first report compares gender representation in think tank events from March to May 2019 to the same period in 2020. It determined whether the initial shock of Covid-19 had an impact on women’s participation in events. The second report assesses women’s representation in think tank publications in 2020, to determine the gender balance of research outputs. A brief analysis of the Covid-19 pandemic is also included. The findings reveal a clear under-representation of women, in both events and publications. They also reveal a clear impact (mostly negative) of the pandemic on women representation.

Charta der Vielfalt & Center for Intersectional Justice (2021): Policy Paper: Die Dimension „soziale Herkunft“ in der Arbeitswelt aus einer intersektionalen Perspektive. The policy paper of the Center for Intersectional Justice deals with social origin as a determinant in the world of work and looks at the new 7th diversity dimension of the Charta der Vielfalt e.V. from an intersectional perspective.

Colonomos (2016): Selling the Future – The Perils of Predicting Global Politics. Oxford University Press. This book analyzes today’s knowledge factories to reveal how our futures are shaped by social scientists, think-tanks, and rating agencies. It explains why conservative and linear predictions prevail, and why the future reflects a systematic search for stability, especially when linked to national interest.

Cummings & Hoebink (2016): Representation of Academics from Developing Countries as Authors and Editorial Board Members in Scientific Journals: Does this Matter to the Field of Development Studies? The European Journal of Development Research (29/2017) Patterns of publication in the field of development studies are examined, based on analysis of the affiliations of authors and editorial board members for a sample of 10 ‘well-known’ (Sumner and Tribe, 2009, p. 32) academic journals.

Diversity Council Australia: Get Your Baseline D&I Data. The power of having accurate and relevant trend data on diversity and inclusion at your fingertips cannot be underestimated. Not only will it enable you to understand the current state of D&I in your organization, but also help you make informed decisions about setting future aspirations and the best way forward with your strategy and initiatives.strategy and initiatives.

Horst et al (2020): Absent Influencers? Women in European Think Tanks. German Marshall Fund of the United States. This paper argues that think tanks need to refocus on their value, mission, and role to be impactful in the current competitive and often poisonous political environment in many countries. If they do not renew their composition and capacity for innovation by bringing in fresh ideas from a more diversified mix of genders, ages, nationalities, and social, educational, and political backgrounds, they run the risk of being seen as “elitist” and out of touch with society as they do not reflect their diversity.

OnThinkTanks (2021): Open Think Tank Directory. The Open Think Tank Directory is a global database of think tanks. On the basis of the Directory, OnThinkTanks publishes annual state of the sector reports and a selection of data and charts, including the number of female leaders and female founders of think tanks per region.

OnThinkTanks (2015): Women in Think Tanks, Blog Series. Are there barriers to women succeeding in think tanks? If so, what are they? Are women funneled into certain policy issues or do they themselves choose to work on different topics than men? Does gender shape the way discourse and research is developed? Do men and women apply different methodologies? These were some of the questions that this series on Women in Think Tanks seeks to answer.

Open Society Foundations (2018): An End to Manels: Closing the Gender Gap at Europe’s Top Policy Events (the complete dataset can be downloaded). The number of women who speak at key policy-shaping conferences across Europe is far below that of their male peers. Looking at five years of high-level conferences in Europe, this report finds that a woman has only one opportunity to speak for every three times a man speaks. The situation is not improving, but it can. Conference organizers are the gatekeepers to the stage.

Rotmann, Bressan & Brockmeier (2020): Neue Erwartungen: Generation Z und der Einstellungswandel zur Außenpolitik. Global Public Policy Institute. According to little-noticed survey data, a trend towards a greater desire to assume international responsibility for resolving conflicts has emerged among the German electorate over the past few years. Younger people, in particular, are significantly more likely than other age groups to expect “greater involvement in conflict resolution than in the past.” Clear reasons for the differences between younger and older people do not emerge from the data available so far. (in German only)

Stiftung Mercator (2021): Diskriminierungsrisiken und Handlungspotenziale im Umgang mit kultureller, sozioökonomischer und religiöser Diversität – Ein Gutachten mit Empfehlungen für die Praxis. Discrimination on socioeconomic, cultural, or religious grounds remains the order of the day in many areas of life. At the same time, certain institutions are developing a strong positive dynamic in dealing with diversity and are characterized by a willingness to change. The report describes the findings of the study commissioned by Stiftung Mercator. (in German only)


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