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Paving the Way to Empowering Female Leaders

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By Ourania Roditi *

This is the first in a series of reports on the Vienna UN Conference from January 10-12, 2018, which discussed actions and challenges linked to the Sustainable Development Goal 5 (SDG 5) and in the spirit of SDG 17. The Vienna Liaison Office of the Academic Council on the United Nations System (ACUNS) organized this Conference co-ordinated by Heather Wokusch. – The Editor

VIENNA (IDN) – “We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.” This profound remark by the 16-year old 2014 Nobel Peace Laureate Malala Yousafzai underlines a self-evident truth, which has yet to be reflected in global reality.

It is widely acknowledged that women are far less associated with leadership positions. Even in cases in which women make up more than 50% of the human resources capacity of an organisation, in the upper echelons their numbers drastically reduce. In other words, when it comes to policy- and decision-making positions, female presence lags considerably behind that of their male counterparts.

In fact, women make up only 28% of all parliamentarians, 11% of heads of state, 18% of all ministers (with a special affinity for family, social and cultural oriented portfolios) and 5% of all CEOs.

This is the breakdown of female global leadership positioning as presented by Martin Kreutner, Dean and Executive Secretary of the International Anti-Corruption Academy, at a recent SDG-5 related conference at the UN Vienna. Kreutner noted that, in contrast, 99.9% of all educational staff associated with kindergartens in Austria is female.

Undoubtedly, embedded forms of social stereotypes and pre-conceived ideas of the role of a woman in society have their place in the collective psyche when making choices about career and professional orientation.

Empowering women leaders has become a focus for the private and public sectors, international organisations, educational institutions and think-tanks. Analysis has been produced, studies have been commissioned and research papers have been published. What all of them have in common: deeply embedded structural deterrents interfere with women’s chances and ambitions in progressing up the leadership ladder.

To remedy this, Caitlin Kraft-Buchman, Founder and Executive Director of Women@TheTable, which co-founded the International Gender Champions, has singled out three straightforward responses. First, ‘fix’ the number of women through direct and affirmative action; for example, encourage recruiters to systematically raise the female quota in their organisation or head-hunters to sign a code of conduct whereby they are committed to target women, or simply ensure that conference panels respect gender balance in order to promote the visibility and influence of women in expert discussions.

Second, ‘fix’ the institutions through a holistic and grassroots shake-up of the system. While pursuing a career, women come up against an ‘inhospitable’ environment; as a result, organisations should ‘optimise’ their structures, through adopting flexible policies which stimulate excellence. For example, striving for a balance between work and life is an everyday challenge for both men and women. Policies and regulations which do not facilitate flexible working hours will have a disproportionally negative impact on women.

Lastly, ‘fixing’ the knowledge directly pertains to conducting further research and gathering expert information on the situation of women in their place of work in order to identify aspirations, obstacles and innovative actions.

At the UN Vienna Conference, Corinna Milborn, Head of Information at ProSieben Sat. 1 PULS 4 Media in Austria, seconded the importance of ‘fixing’ women-related knowledge. She emphasised the imperative of including women not only on televised discussion panels but also in media management positions.

For Dr. Martina Gredler, who holds the Chair of the NGO Committee on the Status of Women in Vienna, education is key to advancing gender equality and reversing stereotypes. Finding and initiating strategies that induce change in thinking will redress the gender balance for managerial positions.

Extending the debate to all stakeholders in the society was highlighted by Kreutner, who also spoke of the ‘transformative potential of equality’ since empowering female leaders has economic, social and political advantages for the society as a whole.

A cross-cutting theme in relevant debates and publications is the role of female mentors. To this end, Peri Lynne Johnson, Director of the Office for Legal Affairs with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), referred to the Agency’s mentoring programme aiming at familiarising young scientists with its work. She also reiterated the IAEA’s commitment to mainstreaming gender in all of its activities, programmes and operations.

Both Johnson and Kreutner reiterated their respective organisations’ commitment to increasing the female ratio of their staffing table and working towards the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goal 5 pertaining to achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls.

Concluding on a positive note, Kraft-Buchman mentioned the Buenos Aires Declaration on Women and Trade announced at the World Trade Organisation’s Ministerial Conference on December 11, 2017. The Declaration reaffirms the link between women and trade and emphasises the role that women can play in the global economy.

Another positive development, greeted by all, was the UN Secretary-General’s launch of a new strategy on gender parity in September 2017. The strategy provides a roadmap to reach parity at the senior leadership level by 2021 and ultimately in 2028 across the board. Guterres said: “This goal is not just about numbers, but about transforming our institutional culture so that we can access and capitalize on our full potential. It is about creating a working environment that embraces equality, eradicates bias and is inclusive of all staff’.”

Ourania Roditi*Ourania Roditi holds a doctorate from the University of Sussex, UK. A human rights advocate for the past fifteen years, she worked for 10 years with the OSCE missions in Kosovo and Bosnia and Herzegovina. Since July 2016 she works on the integration of refugees in the Vienna area. In November 2017 she joined the ACUNS, Femicide team. [IDN-InDepthNews – 26 January 2018]

Photo: A general view of Vienna Conference Session on Empowering Female Leaders: Systems and strategies for ensuring equal opportunities for women regarding leadership at all levels of decision-making on January 10. Credit: Robert Bosch AG/APA-Fotoservice/Schedl

IDN is the flagship agency of the International Press Syndicate.

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