IGC-Vienna 5 Years – A podcast with the founding Champions Amb. Holgate (USA), Amb. Solano Ortiz (Costa Rica) and Amb. Žvokelj (Slovenia)

In this podcast, IGC-Vienna warms-up for its 5th-anniversary celebration. Listen in to this conversation with the Troika Group champions Amb. Barbara Žvokelj of the Republic of Slovenia, Amb. Alejandro Solano Ortiz of Costa Rica and Amb. Laura S.H. Holgate of the United States of America, talking about the history of the IGC Vienna Hub, its spirit, current status and mission, and future vision.


INTGenderChampions · Vienna's 5th anniversary – A podcast with the IGC Vienna Hub's founding Champions Amb. Holgate (USA), Amb. Solano Ortiz (Costa Rica) and Amb. Žvokelj (Slovenia)



Ms Deniz Iskendarova:

Welcome to this special edition of the International Gender Champions podcast. I am Deniz Iskendarova, hub coordinator of the Vienna-based Gender Champions. In the capital of the Republic of Austria, our Champions and Alumni are about to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the hub. Today, we are bringing you an episode with the ambassadors of Costa Rica, Slovenia and the United States of America. These ambassadors are also the founders of the hub, or, in other words, the members of the Troika group. Your Excellencies, welcome to this episode. Today, we will talk about the past, present and future of the hub.

I'd like to start with Her Excellency Laura Holgate, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the international organisations in Vienna. Throughout your career, Her Excellency Holgate has been an avid supporter of gender-related initiatives. Your Excellency, first of all, congratulations on being reappointed to Vienna and on chairing the upcoming fifth anniversary. Five years ago, you were one of the three ambassadors who laid the cornerstone for the hub. Allow me to ask you to turn back time and walk us through its establishment. How did you come to this idea? What was the aha moment that led you to this?

H.E. Laura Holgate:

Well, thank you very much, Deniz. And you're right, my history with the International Gender Champions dates back a number of years. To tell the story right, I have to go back one year before the founding of the Vienna hub, to the founding of the International Gender Champions in Geneva. I remember when my colleague and one of the founding Champions there for gender and diversity issues, Ambassador Pamela Hamamoto, was ambassador to our US Mission in Geneva. She worked with the then director of UN Geneva, Michael Møller, and with Women at the Table, CEO Caitlin Kraft-Buchman, to found the transformative International Gender Champions network in 2015. This came out of a series of dialogues that they had had among leading ambassadors and heads of international organisations, that really recognised that the bottom-up, inside-out work, that women had been doing among themselves to enhance their skills, relationships, networking, experience-sharing and storytelling, hadn't achieved the outcomes of balance and equity that was desired and necessary. Thus, the goal was to add the role of top-down requirements and top-down Championship from leaders of organisations, whatever their gender.

That insight, to me, was the aha moment that leadership is what matters to add to – not take away from – all of the work that has already been going on. And it was natural because, throughout my whole career, I have been looking to increase the presence and visibility and impact of women in non-proliferation, nuclear deterrence, security and so on. Therefore, seeing this model really inspired me to say, well, that has its Geneva origins, but what could the Vienna piece look like? How could that be adapted to the different realities that we have here in Vienna? And I was fortunate, during my first posting here in 2016, to find common ground with many ambassadors who were here at the time.

As I left in 2017, we hadn't quite gotten to that point of founding the Gender Champions in Vienna, but my colleagues Andrej Benedejčič and Pilar Saborío de Rocafort were so helpful to pick up the baton, carry it forward, and found the hub, with the support of the team at the US embassy that was still here and very active. I was really grateful to them, and I am so pleased to have a chance to come back now, five years later, and to be part of this celebration.

Ms Deniz Iskendarova:

Wow, what an inspiring story. It is terrific to finally have you as an International Gender Champion. We hope you're proud of what the hub turned into and its accomplishments so far. Speaking of which, let me address the next question to Her Excellency, Barbara Žvokelj, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Slovenia to the international organisations in Vienna. Her Excellency has been contributing to shaping the hub's narrative and building its spirit together with other champions.

Your Excellency, over the course of recent years, the hub has made so many great achievements in advancing gender equality and the empowerment of women in entities and beyond in our society. Would you be so kind to share some of them with our audience today?

H.E. Barbara Žvokelj:

Yes, thank you Deniz one more time for your question. And thank you, Laura, for being there at that time and preparing everything for the three countries to then start up this hub in Vienna. Now we actually have hubs in New York, Geneva, Vienna, Nairobi, Den Haag, and Paris.

I was reading last night a little bit about the IGC here in Vienna and I understand that we have 51 Champions and 49 Alumni – and the former Champions probably continue their good work on gender equality issues back home, or wherever they are. I think our hub started with 13 champions, so we are really much further now. Also, all the heads of UN organisations and agencies here in Vienna are part of our Champions or were part of IGC. We even have the first female head of UNOV, Ghada Waly, and every organisation I have read about yesterday has about over 30% of women in high-level positions, some are very close to 50%, and some are just a little bit over 50%. So, we're getting in the right direction. I have to admit that my team is a bit unbalanced on the female side, as we have more females than men. And now, we have Alejandro, who is a man, as one of the Troika members. I am convinced that we must have men involved on the issue of women empowerment and gender equality to reach our goals.

I would like to say a couple of words about how we developed during these five years, as you asked me. There are basically three elements that we are working on. One is the two pledges that all the champions share. The first is the panel parity pledge, which pretty much requires no explanation, to sum it up single-sex panels are boring. So much that now we have to look for men panellists to have equal panels, i.e., panel parity. The other, newer one, is the gender-based violence pledge, where we are striving for zero tolerance for gender-based violence, sexist attitudes and behaviours. In essence, we are ensuring that workplaces are safe and that people are treated with respect.

Besides these two pledges, each Champion has to commit to two smart commitments that usually are about good governance, leadership, organisational culture, and work-life balance. I always have one on work-life balance. As a working mom, I understand that people need to go home to their families. I'm always trying not to schedule any late meetings or early staff meetings. And we also made sure that during the COVID times, my team got all the necessary equipment to work from home. Before COVID, I was also committed to mentoring and shadowing. And I actually didn't expect that this was going to be such a two-way street. There were some female professionals who seemed to be drinking each and every word that I said about what women should do. And on the other side, I have learned so much from these young colleagues that are still striving to do something in their careers.

Then, the other important work that we do here concerns the Impact Groups, of which we have two now. One is on representation, where champions analyse the share of speaking time of men and women at events. This is information that should be shared and improved. And the other one is on gender equality and nuclear regulatory agencies, where heads of those agencies address gender issues. The number of these agencies that are involved in these projects has grown from 9 to 23. This is actually one of the sectors where you need a highly skilled labour force. One has to engage with all available talent because - and I say this all the time - one cannot win with only half the team. That is my motto.

To conclude, what I feel is that our work is appreciated, practical, effective and efficient. At the same time, I also think that we need to do much more, and here I will stop. Thank you.

Ms Deniz Iskendarova:

Thank you, Your Excellency Žvokelj. These are truly great examples of the important and transformative work that the hub has been doing. Now thinking ahead and looking into the future: what is next? Let me pose this question to His Excellency Alejandro Solano Ortiz, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Costa Rica to the international organisations in Vienna. His Excellency Solano Ortiz has been actively reaching out to fellow ambassadors to increase the representation of the Global South in IGC.

Your Excellency, scanning the horizon, what is the hub's vision to continue fostering gender equality and the empowerment of women?

H.E. Alejandro Solano Ortiz:

Thank you very much, Deniz. Costa Rica, Slovenia and the United States of America, as founders of the Vienna-based International Gender Champions, are proud of the hub's achievements. As my colleague from Slovenia and you just mentioned, there is room for more to be done. And what I mean by that is that together, united to achieve SDG 5, our Champions need to strive for a more transformative impact that our hub has been producing and bringing more. For this reason, the Vienna Steering Group has set various goals for the future to continue fostering gender equality and empowerment of women.

One is diversification amongst members. Along the way, we have started implementing this goal by bringing more representatives from the Global South. What else is needed is what Barbara just mentioned: an increase of male Champions, we need to be involved in women empowerment and gender equality activities. Besides the tripartite nature of the network allows only diplomatic missions, international organisations, and civil society to be part of it. Perhaps we could also benefit by involving those prominent private companies well-known for their strong stance on diversity, quality, inclusion, and any other intersections or areas.

In addition to its future diversification, the hub will aim to build a stronger collaboration between Champions, hubs and other gender initiatives, based on commitments and areas of interest. Let me paint you this scenario: imagine the possible impact on communities if we increased the inter-hub collaboration with Champions and Alumni from Geneva, Nairobi, New York, Den Haag and Paris. Together, we are a network of more than 300 Champions and 200 Alumni across the world. How about we start to meet up with these members, based on our common gender-related goals and commitments. That could be a very good starting point. There is an example of such collaboration in the capital of Austria. Up to this point, some of our Vienna-based International Gender Champions, through their commitments, support other gender initiatives, such as the Group of Friends of Nuclear and the UNODC Group of Friends for Gender Equality. It's a delight to see such support for each other. In the future, we hope to increase this kind of collaboration and bring it to another level.

Apart from this, since the creation of the hub in Vienna, there have been discussions about how to establish and fund a permanent Coordination Office of the hub. We are currently exploring ways to make it happen. For that, we call for the cooperation of Champions and various other stakeholders, As a temporary measure, the hub coordinator position has been rotated between four international organisations. However, it would be better to have a permanent coordinator to achieve our goals, make the work more efficient, and preserve institutional memory and context. This would also facilitate how we are dealing with the growth of membership and the implementation of our plans.

Last but not least, I would like to refer to the fact that the Vienna hub is working on the development of a new Impact Group on the nexus between climate and the nuclear field. We will also continue to support them for the development of our existing Impact groups, the Vienna Representation Impact Group and the Impact Group on Gender Equality in Nuclear Regulatory Agencies. Now, Deniz, it's time to move from vision to action. Let us witness another five or more prosperous years of the Vienna-based International Gender Champions now. Looking forward to seeing you during our fifth anniversary next month.

Ms Deniz Iskendarova:

Wow, thank you so much. That was a great explanation of the road ahead. Well, you're right, the time has come to move from vision to action, and also the time has come to wrap up this conversation. I would like to thank our special guests today for walking us through the history of the IGC Vienna Hub and explaining its role in Vienna and beyond. If this discussion has inspired you to think about how you could contribute to the mission of the IGC Vienna Hub. You may find the information on our website: genderchampions.com. And follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Thank you for tuning in and being with us here today.