Strategies and tools

Several common tools and strategies help improve the status of women in the UN system. They are briefly described here, accompanied by the most recent UN Women data on usage, as well as examples and other resources.

Gender balance strategies

A gender balance strategy is designed to improve gender balance and the status of women through targeted organizational actions. These may include steps to increase gender awareness, enhance monitoring and accountability, and improve the work environment through appropriate human resource policies.

Gender balance strategies are a performance requirement of the UN System-wide Action Plan on Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN-SWAP), but only 14 of the 32 UN entities had one in 2011. Of the 18 that did not, just over half (10) had plans to introduce one. Two entities noted that they did not have their own strategies but followed those of the UN Secretariat. Only eight entities reported that their strategies specified accountability mechanisms.

An example of a gender balance strategy is the one adopted by the International Labour Organization.

Gender balance scorecards

The gender balance scorecard is a monitoring system using gender balance data for an entire entity as well as its larger units. A common tool among UN entities, scorecards effectively and regularly track progress towards gender parity.

In 2011, 10 entities reported having a scorecard in place, an increase since 2009, when only seven had a scorecard. An additional four entities have equivalent reporting mechanisms on gender balance data.

Fewer entities now populate their scorecards with real-time data—50 per cent compared with 71 per cent in 2009. This limits the potential identification of negative trends in the early stages, when corrective action is most effective.

See an example of a gender balance scorecard template.

Temporary special measures to improve the status of women

Special measures can help accelerate the achievement of gender parity. As stipulated in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, they are temporary because they will be discontinued when gender parity has been achieved and sustained for a period of time. The United Nations Administrative Tribunal has upheld the legality of special measures, noting that they are fully compatible with the objectives of Article 8 of the UN Charter.

Special measures can include targeted recruitment and promotion, training programmes for women and numerical targets. All are aimed at ensuring gender balance in recruitment and promotion, and at rectifying past and current discrimination against women.

The number of entities with special measures has increased from 15 in 2009 to 19 in 2011, meaning for the first time, the majority has them in place. This trend is expected to continue, with an additional nine entities reporting that they intend to implement some form of special measures over the next two years. Four of these entities do not currently use any special measures for gender parity.

See also the Secretariat policy on Special measures for the achievement of gender equality (ST/AI/1999/9).

Staff selection systems

Staff selection policies can be used to increase the proportion of qualified female candidates and eliminate bias in the hiring process.

Very few entities use special measures in recruiting women. Only nine require a woman to be included on the list of recommended candidates. Only four stipulate that hiring managers request permission from their human resources department to select a male candidate over a qualified female candidate in departments with a low percentage of female staff.

Fifteen entities use a roster for candidates that have not been selected so that they may be selected for similar posts, but only four have a provision that specifies that female candidates be retained on the roster longer than male candidates, and none have a gender-specific roster. Of the entities that have rosters, eight have reported that they are “not used very often” for selection and placement of female candidates. Half the entities that keep women on rosters for a longer period than men use them “quite often” to select and place female candidates.

Regarding promotions, 15 entities have reserved posts for which only internal candidates are considered. Nine include less than 20 per cent of professional and higher posts in this category, although three entities include 40 per cent and one includes 80 per cent. Eight entities consider women serving in other parts of the UN system as internal candidates for promotions and appointments at some levels.

Of the 16 entities with systems that factor in projected staffing changes in the next five years, only half are informed by an assessment of the number of men and women who will need to be hired to achieve parity, broken down by grade. Eighteen do not stipulate either female or gender focal point representation in their hiring review bodies, and 17 do not specify either on their interview panel.

See also the Secretariat policies on staff selection measures, ST/AI/2006/3/REV.1 and ST/AI/2010/3.

Exit interviews

Surveying departing staff provides insights into organizational barriers to staff recruitment and retention. In 2011, 23 UN entities reported conducting exit interviews, either in person or electronically. While five entities initiated exit interviews, five discontinued the practice altogether. Eight entities review their exit interview data annually, one biennially and two biannually.

In 2010, the UN Chief Executives Board designed and distributed a standardized exit interview questionnaire to strengthen the practice and facilitate central data collection, including on gender. In 2011, only 5 of the 13 entities that provided samples of their exit interview forms used this, however.

Work-life balance and flexible work arrangements

Successive UN General Assembly resolutions have called for strengthening flexible working arrangements, requesting that the UN Secretary-General and the executive heads of entities ensure that work-family policies accelerate achieving gender parity. The Secretary-General reiterated the importance of work-life balance policies most recently in a message to mark the 2012 International Day of Families.

In 2011, all 32 entities offered flexible working arrangements. The majority offered part-time work, staggered working hours, telecommuting and scheduled breaks for extended learning activities. Only nine provided financial support for mothers travelling with a child. The biggest improvement over 2009 was in relation to scheduled breaks for extended learning activities, with seven new entities offering this arrangement. Less progress occurred in arrangements that particularly benefit women with family care responsibilities, such as compressed work schedules and telecommuting.

Although the majority of entities offered flexible working arrangements, usage remained disconcertingly low. The increased usage rate between 2009 and 2011 was minimal, although more significant for women at 3.3 per cent than for men at 0.7 per cent. Of the entities that monitored usage, the vast majority had less than 10 per cent staff participation; many had below 1 per cent. The options with the most participants were staggered working hours, telecommuting and part-time work arrangements.

Across the UN system, usage was higher among women than men for all arrangements except staggered working hours and scheduled breaks for learning activities. Women remain more likely to have childcare or elder-care responsibilities that require them to take advantage of flexible working arrangements.

Related UN Secretariat policies include:

Policies on organizational culture

Some organizational policies promote a more gender-sensitive organizational culture.

In 2011, all but one entity reported having policies that prohibit discrimination and harassment; 19 indicated that they had special measures for protection from sexual exploitation and sexual abuse; 28 noted that they had an ethics office, an increase of 7 since 2009.

Twenty-eight entities also reported having policies for conflict resolution and against retaliation, an increase of four since 2009; 29 reported having an adoption leave policy; 28 indicated that they had a breastfeeding policy.

With regard to care for ageing relatives, an increasingly relevant issue given global demographic shifts, 26 entities indicated that they accommodated such demands mostly through special leave without pay.

Examples of UN Secretariat policies include: