Diana Torres, Gender and Development Adviser at CoreWoman
I worked for the United Nations (UN) Headquarters in New York for about 5 years. I joined the UN because it was the organization that best fitted my values and principles: a world free of discrimination with equal opportunity for all. After five years of service, my contract ended when I was six months pregnant. According to the UN’s rules and regulations, a contract extension was not possible because it had a limited duration of two years. I was told that the regulations did not contemplate instances of pregnancy, so from an administrative point of view, nothing could be done to protect my job security and maternity rights.
I was a mid-level career female working at the international level. I was left without social security, health insurance, and income in a country that was not my home. But what I found more frustrating was the answer given by my female managers about my contract and pregnancy. The top two female managers in my department recommended to me that being unemployed in the last stage of my pregnancy was actually a “blessing” because I would be able to just focus on my baby. This could be true, but how is that going to impact my career or even worse, my financial independence at home? I also approached the Director of Human Resources and she promised to get back to me with an answer. Three months later I am still waiting for it.
Ironically, this was the response of the high-level managers in an organization that promotes women’s equality and empowerment and that released the following statement on International Women’s Day:
“Addressing the injustices will take resolve and flexibility from both public and private sector employers. Incentives will be needed to recruit and retain female workers; like expanded maternity benefits for women that also support their re-entry into work, adoption of the Women’s Empowerment Principles, and direct representation at decision-making levels.”
My point here is that simply having more women in leadership positions is not enough if they are not committed to take bold steps in making organizations more inclusive and protective of women’s rights. Only women know what kind of institutional environment, arrangements, and policies are required to enable our full potential to succeed as professionals, mothers, and women in the workplace. We are the ones that need to be in the driver’s seat of change. Unless we are able to secure women’s commitment to support and protect each other, real changes in terms of power dynamics and equal opportunities for both women and men are going to be difficult to achieve.
We need to play bold and ensure that major shifts happen at institutional, collective, and individual levels. For example:
Promote gender mainstreaming, both in private and public organizations, by ensuring that women’s perspectives are important at all levels: decision-making, human resource policies, resource allocation, planning, implementation, and monitoring of programs and projects.
Government and non-governmental organizations like the UN need to undertake comprehensive gender assessments of its rules and regulations to identify discriminatory provisions concerning the status of women and gender diversity.
In this field, the Government of Sweden is playing a remarkable role. This month the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Margot Wallström, announced their Feminist Foreign Policy that aims to strengthen women’s rights, representation, and access to resources in the areas of peace, security, and sustainable development.
Similarly, tech companies like Twitter and Spotify have launched action plans to increase women’s representation and wellbeing in the company based on the review of their people and practices. These are actions that women should be leading in small, medium, and large companies in order to capitalize on the benefits of women’s participation.
Women in support of each other. Different studies have shown that both men and women are biased against women’s leadership in the workplace. Overcoming women’s unconscious bias against other women is imperative if we want to succeed. This can only happen if we are all committed to support each other and put in place practices and strategies to protect women’s voices and rights.
To be successful we need to craft collective strategies to address gender equality issues in the workplace, i.e. maternity rights, women’s representation, equal access to training and promotion, etc. There is enough evidence to demonstrate that women in public decision-making are most likely to succeed when they advocate together for better laws and legislation aimed at protecting women’s rights and voices.
Be confident and speak out about women’s priorities. The confidence gap between men and women is a major impediment to bridging the gender gap. Data shows that regardless of the culture, men tend to have higher levels of self-esteem than women. This means that they tend to speak out more, and they are willing to take more risks and negotiate better to improve their own conditions. Women are still afraid of negotiating better conditions when it comes to maternity rights, promotions, and higher responsibilities. We tend to associate women’s needs and priorities as weaknesses and thus we prefer to not discuss them.
Gender equality requires more empowered and confident women with respect to their value and contributions to society. In conclusion, we need women that dream and play bigger. This is, then, our main responsibility to making gender equality a reality for all.
References https://www.theguardian.com/business/economics-blog/2013/dec/06/gender-equality-women-stereotypes-stop-progress https://www.forbes.com/sites/margiewarrell/2016/01/20/gender-confidence-gap/#36f49da31efa Picture Designed by Freepik Graphic Designed by Freepik
Remarkable and troubling story, Diana. Thanks for sharing it. What it brought to my mind is the lack of solidarity among women in multiple curcumstances where you would think women in leadership positions would make gender equality a must. It does not happen, not even in UN-like organizations who have an official gender equality set of policies. Building commitment with such policies seems to be a necessary start and the presence of women leaders should not be interpreted as necessarily leading to sisterhood solidarity.
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