Angela E.V. King
Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women
on behalf of the Secretary-General
“Improving the Working Environment for Women: Best Practices”
Tuesday, 5 March 2002
1:15 p.m. – 2:30 p.m., Conference Room 4
Dear friends and colleagues,
Women and men,
The twenty-first century faces many challenges. The world of work, contract status and job content have all drastically changed. Changing demographics and workforce trends have profoundly altered the workplace. More and more couples pursue dual careers and family situations and structures are even more diverse. Women are especially concerned [with these issues] as typically, they assume more responsibility for family care. One of the critical challenges is how to establish innovative policies that enable staff to respond to the conflicting demands of work and family.
To attract and retain the best qualified staff, organizations must introduce personnel policies and practices which facilitate the reconciliation of staff members’ work and family responsibilities. Various studies highlight the links between family-supportive policies and work-related factors that are directly beneficial to employers and employees alike. These include lower absenteeism, reduced incidence of stress-related illness, improved productivity and morale, and reduction in recruitment and retention problems.
In short, modernizing our work/life policies makes good managerial and business sense. This has been recognized by the Secretary-General and the Heads of UN common system organizations. Within the framework of ACC (now known as the [United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination] (CEB)), the executive heads of organizations have pledged to create and enhance a supportive and gender-sensitive work environment, as well as to develop common policies on retaining women, including through effective spousal employment [assistance] and improved career development opportunities for women.
Within the UN system, [a number of organizations such as] UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, and WFP have taken the lead in moving the work/family agenda forward. These organizations have introduced flexible working arrangements such as alternative work schedules and telecommuting, enhanced child care arrangements, family-related leave policies, including paternity leave.
Within the UN Secretariat, the Secretary-General, has assigned priority to the reform of human resources management. To date, efforts have been dedicated to the reform and overhaul of the recruitment, promotion and placement system. Now that this new [staffing] system is to be introduced in May of this year, greater attention will be paid to implementation of the work/life agenda.
The Office of Human Resources Management recently initiated a worldwide survey of staff to obtain information on the work/life conditions that are of greatest concern. The results [of this survey] will be used to propose improvements in work/life conditions [for all staff].
One of the major factors inhibiting staff mobility is the limited opportunity for spouse employment in many duty stations. The ASG/OHRM has asked Chiefs of Personnel and Administration to make every effort to facilitate the employment of spouses in their respective duty stations.
Earlier this year, OHRM also introduced a mentoring programme for recently recruited junior professionals. A Caregivers Support Group has also been established to address issues such as elder care.
Towards creating a more gender-sensitive environment my Office has also formed an inter-agency Task Force under the leadership of the Focal Point for Women to review and propose improvement in the organizations’ policies to prevent and combat sexual harassment. The Task Force is currently developing consolidated user-friendly guidelines, drawing upon best practices of other agencies and the private sector.
While the UN Secretariat still has a long way to go [in advancing the work/life agenda], I would like to assure you that the Secretary-General is fully aware and committed to the establishment of a supportive and enabling environment for all staff, particularly women.
The Secretary-General recognizes that many [of you may] have concerns regarding the implications of the new staffing system for special measures. Although [the] overarching goal [of the new system] is to delegate authority for the selection of staff to heads of departments and to improve the speed and efficiency of the [selection] process, the Secretary-General remains committed to the goal of gender balance in the Secretariat. It will shortly be the subject of a cabinet meeting of senior management. Clearly, the essence of the special measures will need to be adapted to the new system. My Office is currently reviewing the new procedures [with departmental focal points and others] to see how we can best reflect the spirit of the special measures under the new system. I am convinced that heads of departments as well will seek the advice of their own staff on the most effective means for carrying out their newly-delegated responsibilities. To ensure that gender concerns, such as “substantially equal”, for example, are fully integrated in the new [staffing] system, perhaps you could in groups or individually, initiate discussions with your head of department on how he/she intends to implement the delegation and offer your services to advise on gender, [possibly through existing departmental focal points].
We work in close cooperation with departments and OHRM towards the goal of 50/50 gender distribution in the Secretariat. Currently, women account for over 40 per cent of Professional [and higher-level] staff on geographical appointments. In the larger population [of Professional staff with appointments of one year or more,] women account for nearly 35 per cent of the staff. [While the percentage of women on appointments subject to geographical distribution has risen over the past year,] we have been losing ground nevertheless in other areas of our work where opportunities have expanded in the past few years, such as peacekeeping. Even though we have more women on peacekeeping than ever before, women still account for only 25 per cent of the staff on mission. At the senior levels, the numbers are even more dismal with women accounting for only 6.6 per cent of the staff at the D-1 and above. Clearly, we need to do more to identify and attract sufficient numbers of women for [these peacekeeping] operations, particularly SRSGs.
On higher level posts, two new women have recently been appointed to the posts of Executive Secretary of ECE, Brigita Schmognerova (Slovakia) and the other as the first woman to head the Secretariat of Climate Change in Bonn, Joke Waller-Hunter (Netherlands).
We as women also need to be more proactive in pursuing our careers. It is no secret that generally men pay much greater attention to their career advancement than women. They not only have better networks, they use them. It still surprises me that women are not applying for posts in sufficient numbers, even in those occupations where women are well represented, such as economists.
When we assume higher-level responsibilities, we should also be vigilant. In too many instances, women’s responsibilities on reaching decision-making levels have been diminished. In some cases, when a woman is the first to breakthrough to hold a particular post, they sometimes find themselves subtly marginalized or excluded from important meetings or from the full range of strategic functions formerly entrusted to their male predecessors. This is unacceptable.
The celebration of International Women’s Day provides an opportunity for each of us to renew our commitment to the goals of gender equality in the Secretariat and to recognize that each year on this day we can count more and more of our male colleagues who see the benefits of women and men working together, sharing equally both the challenges and opportunities and the benefits of more favourable conditions. The Secretary-General sets a great store by his women staff working together with men as he so eloquently emphasized in his speech accepting the Nobel peace prize.
Madam Moderator, may I say how pleased I am to be here on behalf of the Secretary-General and may I thank the Group on Equal Rights for Women [in the United Nations] for organizing this meeting [which has] now become an honoured tradition. I appeal to you to keep up your vigilance in pressing for the improvement of the status of women in the United Nations and for making us all accountable.
In closing, to borrow a slogan from what will be the 190th Member State of the UN family – Switzerland, “Fair Play at Work and at Home”.