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By Yury Fedotov, Director-General of the United Nations Office at Vienna and Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

1. How do you explain the low representation of women in top leadership positions in intergovernmental organizations?

This is a complex, systemic problem, and the contributing factors are many. It may be true that there is generally a smaller pool of female applicants for leadership positions, which in turn lowers the possibility of a woman being promoted or appointed, but I think it is important to recognize that the problem starts much earlier. What we need to do is address root causes. 

We need to invest more in coaching and awareness to support women to apply and succeed in assessment processes. Many leadership positions in our organizations involve hardship locations or extensive travel, so we also need to do more to support and enable the use of flexible working arrangements, and provide opportunities for all staff to better balance private life and professional obligations. 

2. How can men as leaders take meaningful action to foster an increase in women’s representation in decision-making bodies?

Men in leadership positions should take an executive responsibility to ensure that the organizational culture is conducive to the advancement of women. This could include reviewing formal and informal “systems” and organizational cultures that have had the end effect of favouring men when it comes to representation in decision-making bodies. 

At the UN Office at Vienna and UNODC we are currently developing a Gender Equality Strategy and Action Plan to make sure that our senior management undertakes such reviews and follows commitment with action. 

3. What strategies and approaches have been successful in engaging male champions in shifting the gender disparity of women in decision-making bodies?

Initiatives such as the International Gender Champions initiative have been instrumental in mobilizing heads of international organizations, Permanent Missions and civil society to pledge to break down gender barriers. In Vienna, we joined the International Gender Champions with a well-publicized ceremony in June. In addition to our concrete commitments to advance gender equality, it is also important to use such initiatives to raise awareness. 

4. What potential challenges do male champions face in being active and vocal supporters of women’s empowerment?

An important challenge we all must address is perhaps a lack of understanding of what women’s empowerment or gender mainstreaming means. That is why raising awareness is so important. 

Being a meaningful advocate for women’s empowerment also requires achieving a better understanding of the challenges women face. Collecting disaggregated data and gender statistics is therefore essential if we want to understand conditions, needs, and contributions of women and men and address inequalities.  

5. What can be done to catalyze and encourage more male champions of women’s empowerment?   

Male champions can use their position and their voices to call for change, and to take and communicate concrete steps within our organizations to address inequality where found. For example, as part of our commitment as International Gender Champions, we signed the Panel Parity Pledge to ensure gender balance on conference panels. 

For my personal commitments, I chose to highlight the importance of advancing gender equality both within our organization and in our work. I pledged to raise awareness of programmes promoting women’s empowerment on country visits, and to encourage flexible working arrangements at the UN Office at Vienna and UNODC to further promote an inclusive organizational culture. 

These concrete and measurable commitments can help to show how we can all do our part to advance gender equality, and in this way encourage more male champions to step up. 

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