We asked Geeta Narayan, UNICEF’s Principal Adviser on Organizational Culture, and Lauren Rumble, UNICEF’s Associate Director for Gender Equality, to share the constant evolution the organization experienced on gender balance, diversity, and inclusion, and which role those elements have had in their broader sustainable agenda. Read more on how the EDGE certification journey contributed to bringing more credibility to the change inside the organization
How did the business case for gender balance and DEI evolve over the last 18 months?
Ms. Geeta Narayan: “The conversation around gender parity and gender equality has continued to evolve at UNICEF. After a very active period where we released new policies and frameworks to combat gender-based harassment and sexual harassment in the workplace following the #MeToo and #AidToo movements, we are now making every effort we can to adopt a more intersectional approach, analyzing patterns of exclusion and inclusion in our workforce based on gender but also on differences in race/ethnicity, age, disability or nationality. As an organization, we also began to look much more closely at issues of racism, including anti-black racism. We have also examined the impact of Covid in workplace satisfaction and attrition rates by gender. Building on the previous EDGE Action Plan, by late 2020 we had released a system to capture data from exit interviews. So we could pinpoint some of the issues that were being reported upon separation, in a moment when many families didn’t have access to childcare support and when travel restrictions abounded. This helped us work further on workplace flexibility, for example.”
EDGE Certification brings visibility and credibility to the change happening inside the organization. At the same time, it creates the premises for diverse talent to thrive at work. Tell us some stories about how your employees benefit from the EDGE Certification journey of your organization.
Ms. Geeta Narayan: “One of the most important aspects of the previous EDGE Action Plan was the push to achieve gender parity at senior levels. Following the previous EDGE Certification, we developed what we call ‘Temporary Special Measures’ to achieve gender parity at the P5 (‘Chief’) level, widely considered the first senior management level at the UN. We implemented these Measures during 2021 and part of 2022 with astonishingly good results, moving from 42% to 48% women at that level, for the first time.”
What do you think workplace gender balance, diversity and inclusion mean to the next generation ?
Ms. Geeta Narayan: “UNICEF is a large organization, working in 190 countries and territories. Issues of gender and diversity are very much embedded into countries’ social fabrics and local cultures, and to achieve progress we have to consider local dynamics and histories carefully. While UNICEF’s top leadership is committed to gender equality and DEI in general, we need to ‘trickle down’ that commitment into daily behaviors everywhere. This is one next step. In addition to this, our youngest members of the workforce and the new generations in the labor market expect more work flexibility and a higher level of harmony between their work and their personal lives than ever before, regardless of gender. This is something we’ll need to work on in the future, for example by making sure that staff deployed in humanitarian emergencies, often without their families, are given the chance to rotate to family duty stations. We also know that younger generations of the workforce are looking for more values-based leadership, for organizations that ‘walk the talk’ when it comes to DEI. So this inspires us to keep up the momentum in this work so that we continue to attract and retain the best talent for UNICEF.”
What’s the place of gender balance, diversity and inclusion in your broader sustainability agenda?
Ms. Lauren Rumble: “Gender equality at the workplace represents who we are and what we stand for as UNICEF. Because of its unique mandate and leading role among international organizations to fulfill the rights of children and families, UNICEF is especially well placed to role model what change looks like in our everyday workplace practices and policies. The EDGE Certification is part of what we call an ‘Institutional Transformation for Gender Equality: UNICEF believes that gender equality and the empowerment of all girls and women are at the heart of everything we do, and fundamental to a more inclusive, peaceful, and sustainable future for all. Therefore, our culture and how we work, including our processes, policies, and internal management practices, must exemplify those principles.”
What are your personal commitments to advance gender balance, diversity, and inclusion inside and outside your organization?
Ms. Lauren Rumble: “As a feminist leader of people and teams, I believe in inclusive decision-making and nurturing teams that are purposeful and powerful. In everything I do, I try to create a positive working environment where everyone’s views are equally respected, where there is trust, where individuals are supported to be their best, and where there is mutual accountability –to each other and to those whom we serve. That means working hard to not only achieve our very best programmatic results but also support each other to do so in respectful and empowering ways. I am proud that our global network of regional and global Gender Advisors is diverse –geographically and culturally– and that we regularly share ideas, debate, laugh, and make decisions together, as a team. I am committed to growing our network of gender professionals across the organization; supporting programmes and leaders to live up to the bold promises we have made in our Gender Policy and Action Plan. We still have so much to do; women and girls continue to confront a myriad of complex and seemingly insurmountable challenges. But my team and I will continue to fight for change, and never give up.”
What do you consider the most important business benefit of your organization being EDGE Certified?
Ms. Lauren Rumble: “EDGE signifies a renewed commitment to gender equality internally. Our new Strategic Plan articulates several ambitious programmatic and workplace targets for gender equality, and to achieve these we must be unwavering and relentless. One thing we have learned going through the Covid crisis is the importance of gender intentional actions in every new policy or initiative. These actions must be measurable, costed and aim at tackling underlying barriers for sustainable change -or what we’d call moving from ‘gender blind’ to ‘gender transformative approaches. UNICEF, with its global footprint, is not immune to unequal gender social norms and must always aim to promote gender-equitable policies and services in the countries we operate. But at the same time, we can’t support gender transformative practices if we’re not ‘walking the talk’ internally. EDGE helps us bridge that gap by providing us with an independent assessment, widely recognized, that sets high standards for gender equality in our workplace.”