Aruna Rao


Aruna Rao is a leading international expert on gender equality, feminist leadership and organizational transformation.  She is the co-founder and former executive Director of Gender at Work, an international feminist network committed to building cultures of equality and inclusion in organizations and movements. In her over 40 years of experience particularly in Asia and Africa, Dr. Rao has combined advocacy and cutting-edge research on gender equality and development, especially on gender transformative institutional change, with leadership and management to forge equitable and sustainable outcomes for women and girls. She has worked at multiple levels - from global level advocacy initiatives including on UN reform and gender and democratic governance and global evaluations of gender mainstreaming, to gender transformative change efforts in national and international development organizations, to research on human rights and institutional change, public sector reform and on implementing gender equality policies and practices in private sector companies, to grassroots engagements with rural poor women. 

She has successfully overseen the growth and development of key international human rights and civil society networks: she currently chairs the board of the Nobel Women’s Initiative; she has chaired the Boards of the Association of Women’s Rights in Development, and Civicus, and led the work on feminist practice and safeguarding as a member of the Board of Action Aid International. She has effectively forged alliances between feminist and social justice organizations and national and multilateral development institutions to further gender equality and development goals, and developed and led learning and knowledge networks linking development practitioners in South-North knowledge exchanges.

She co-hosts the Gender at Work podcast, Rethinking Feminist Transformational Strategies( Among her publications are Gender at Work: Theory and Practice for 21stCentury Organizations (Routledge, 2016), Advancing Gender Equality in Bangladesh (Routledge, 2017), and Gender at Work: Organizational Change for Equality (Kumarian Press, 1999). She holds a Ph.D. in Education from Columbia University, New York.

She has co-developed a very successful 5-day course on Transformational Leadership for Gender Equality under the auspices of UN Women for senior managers in the multilateral, public and private organizations (including UN organizations, OAS, DFID and African educational unions in the UN Girls Education Initiative). She is currently a lead trainer in the SOAS-Gender at Work led “Transformative Leaders for Gender Equality in UNDP Program” focused on UNDP Resident Coordinators (2021-2022). She has also developed and taught MA courses on gender equality and institutional change at the University of Sussex, UK., and at Georgetown University, Washington DC.