Remarks by UN Women Goodwill Ambassador Anne Hathaway to the International Civil Service Commission

Date: Friday, March 22, 2019

Mr. Chairman, Members of the International Civil service commission, Representatives of the organizations and the staff federations.

Thank you for your invitation to join today’s session here at the UN. It’s not lost on me that it is in these chambers where important decisions that affect vast populations across the world are made, and so I was honoured to be asked. Then it was explained to me how rare it is for someone like me to be invited into this process and I became double-y honoured.

First of all, please let me congratulate the ICSC Chairman on his election to this position. 

When we met last week, I was inspired and heartened by his commitment to an inclusive and diverse working environment and by his declared support for gender parity. Truly, this is what leadership looks like.

I understand that congratulations are also due to newly elected Commissioners Mr. Bangali of Sierra Leone, Mr. Kurer of Libya, Mr. Winid of Poland as well as Mrs. Gardner of Jamaica and Ms. Marie-Françoise of France who have been re-elected. 

These days we all recognize how important it is to achieve a diverse workforce that represents the world, and an inclusive work environment that supports them. 

The predominant focus of my work as a Global Goodwill Ambassador has been on the steps that can be taken by governments and businesses to break barriers to gender equality.

I have felt the power of the UN behind me as I have engaged with this work, and I am proud to be a modest representative of the UN’s vast, cutting edge thought leadership as a global champion of equality. That work has led me back here, today. That work, outlined and emboldened by the UN has raised the question, “are we at the UN ready to take our own advice? Are we ready to turn the critical lens of equality upon ourselves?”

When I met with Secretary-General Guterres last week, he was very clear in reiterating his commitment to reaching gender parity among UN staff. 

We spoke about the ‘enabling environment’ that he is determined to achieve here in the UN, across all levels and locations, with workplace flexibility, family-friendly policies, and high standards of conduct. Those ideals come to life when they are reflected in the terms and conditions of service for UN staff. 

 It is clear, the Secretary-General believes the UN is ready.

I share in the Secretary-General’s recognition that these are key assets for the UN, to reach its ambitious and laudable goals of gender parity and equality, and to remain a competitive employer in the changing world of work. 

I applaud the ICSC Chairman and the Commissioners for your leadership in driving towards the changes that are needed to keep the UN at the forefront of employers.

We need diversity in the UN, at all levels, to ensure that the organization reflects the populations it serves, brings varied experience to decision-making, and informs the way needs are recognized and taken into account. 

We’ve learned time and time again, from the private sector and from the UN itself, that in the fast-changing world, it’s not enough to recruit enough women; we must acknowledge that equality is more than the numbers we achieve, it’s also vital to create the conditions that make it viable for all people to stay, and to thrive in the workplace.

We know from private sector experience that the culture of an organization is a very significant factor in enabling both women and men to thrive. In some cases, it’s the culture that discourages women to become part of these organizations; and the culture that makes it difficult to be retained. But this can be turned around. To take just one example, Google found that when it increased maternity leave by 33 per cent, the rate at which mothers quit was halved.

And paternal leave similarly brings benefits, beyond all the positives for the father that come from caring for his children. For instance, it can also help to close the gender pay gap. A Swedish study found that a mother’s earnings rise by about 7 per cent for each additional month her spouse takes off work.

Most pressing for me personally, time with parents is good for children. A study of European leave policies by the University of North Carolina found that paid-leave programmes can substantially reduce infant mortality rates and improve a child's overall health.

We all look to the UN to be a leader in all aspects of life, including in creating an inclusive work environment. We also look to the UN to authentically and transparently embody the equality it promotes. 

I’d like to suggest to you that strong, gender-neutral parental leave policies and child care services are critical to the UN’s role as a standard setter and promoter of equality.

I understand that the organizations here will request the ICSC to review its policy on parental leave and hope that this can be achieved this year. 

I would be honored to be your partner in working closely with Member States so that other institutions, organizations and governments can follow suit.

I therefore ask that you, through your deliberations, come up with parental leave and child care policies that take the United Nations forward as an exemplary employer, setting the standards of inclusivity, diversity, and flexibility, that we would want to see in a truly gender equal world, ready to accomplish the aims of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Because, esteemed members of the ICSC, like the rest of the world, the UN is ready.