On 29 April 2020, the International Gender Champions network held its second session of a new webinar series entitled "COVID-19 & Gender Equality: Living up to the Challenge".

This webinar series provides an opportunity to International Gender Champions and their teams to better navigate the immense choices facing decision-makers in light of the COVID-19 crisis and its disproportionate negative impact on women. Throughout the series, participants discussed and explored how to embed better policies and practices, both within our organisations and in our programmatic work.

The second session entitled "'Get fit for the challenge': The need for organisations to lead by example" was moderated by Ambassador Athaliah Molokomme of Botswana (Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva). Some key takeaways from the panel discussion are highlighted below: 

Dr. Thomas Greminger, Secretary-General, Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe

  • An inclusive and gender-responsive organisational culture is key to meeting current challenges.

  • The OSCE launched a Gender Parity Strategy in 2017 which covers three key areas: talent management, leadership and accountability, and enabling work environment. Since the adoption, significant progress has been made in terms of parity, staff trainings have been held to tackle issues such as gender bias or harassment; managers are obliged to report on gender objectives.

  • With the Covid-19 crisis, remote working is likely to continue, raising work-life balance issues. To better adapt to this disruption, the OSCE issued guidelines on gender-sensitive management and remote working, in addition to webinars on psychological and physical well-being.

H.E. Mr. Marc-André Blanchard, Permanent Representative of Canada to the UN in New York

  • In 2018, the Canadian Mission to the UN put in place a Gender Pledge on inclusivity in the workplace – including flexible working, working methods, panel participation, representation, sexual harassment.

  • In order to ensure diversity within an organisation, culture is key – initial opportunities are important but so is retention of staff – and this comes from giving leadership opportunities and balance.

  • In recent years, huge demands placed on the mission made work-life balance for staff extremely important, which is even more relevant with the Covid-19 crisis. To deliver better on this aspect, the mission has tried to limit emails after certain times and to ensure that breaks are fully taken. As New York was the epicenter of the pandemic, there was a significant mental health concern for the Mission’s staff. Staff surveys and check-ups are held to identify both teleworking and stress issues.

  • One of the lessons learned from this crisis is that telecommuting works and the importance of being physically present in conference rooms for long hours should be reevaluated.

  • Domestically, Canada has also worked on including a gender lens in its Covid-19 stimulus package, with a view to shaping a more inclusive post-Covid-19 society. Income support has also been introduced to cope with economic hardships brought on by the situation.

Ms. Henrietta Fore, Executive Director, UNICEF

  • Flexible and family friendly policies are something UNICEF had already worked on pre-Covid-19. Parental leave exists for both men women as do equally compensated time off and flexible work arrangements.

  • With the pandemic, increased childcare demands have been a significant burden for women. UNICEF has discussed with managers how to be more flexible and understanding in terms of expectations for colleagues. There have also been arrangements made for backups for jobs and meetings have remained short in order not to overload staff (average of 30 minutes).

  • Counselling is also available to support staff and surveys are being taken to understand their needs. UNICEF has promoted a Speak Up Culture to ensure that staff can speak without fear.

  • In terms of the return to work, this will be done flexibly taking into account care responsibilities and potential exposure to risk.

  • The organisation also launched the “Humans of UNICEF” project whereby staff can nominate managers and supervisors who demonstrate core values so they can serve as role models.

  • Ms. Henrietta Fore signed an opinion piece for the International Gender Champions on “COVID-19 & Gender Equality: At work, at home, across our programmes”.

Ms. Nazrene Mannie, Executive Director, GAN Global Apprenticeship Network

  • One and a half billion young people are unable to attend school or university, which will have a direct impact on these young people’s entry into the labour market, especially young women and girls. There is a risk that this crisis will increase current gender divides in the labour market.

  • This highlights the need to ensure that women and girls have access to digital tools and are equipped with the necessary skills to be employed.

  • The crisis will have long-lasting impacts on business models and practices, hence the need to ensure that no one is left behind and the youth (especially young women and girls) are part of shaping the solution.

  • Working from home has not always improved work-life balance – it may be now that people are having to be part of digital meetings outside their working hours. It is important to ensure there are boundaries and structures and to look at how meetings fall within this. In addition, with many fathers at home, there can be an opportunity to decrease the domestic burden on women and to ensure that this continues in the future.

Over 90 participants dialed in across the six IGC hubs (Geneva, New York, Vienna, Nairobi, The Hague and Paris). The recording of the panel discussion is now available on Youtube.

Two other sessions were held on 22 April and 6 May 2020. More information can be found here.