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Speech by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio,
Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe

Workshop for women managers:
“Women in management – gender equality –
Why and how to do it?”

14 November 2011

 


Dear colleagues and friends,


Welcome and thank you for having accepted to participate in the first initiative of this kind in the Secretariat.

You might ask yourself why there are only women around the table.
I think that if we want to improve gender equality, the first we should listen to are women. Of course, one of our challenges is to get our male colleagues on board, and I am sure you will come with some ideas on that.

You have seen that our agenda is quite heavy today. So,
I count on each of you to share your ideas and experience on what can be done in our Secretariat to improve gender balance? What kind of possible obstacles do we still have to face to attain gender equality? How should managers be more involved in the equal opportunities policy and agenda? As I have already said, how can we have more men involved in these discussions? These are types of questions that I would like you to address today. It is my experience that translating policies and the best intentions to actions and real, concrete changes is often not so easy, so I ask you to bring above all practical suggestions and ideas. These can be for small, or bigger changes; both are necessary.

I have asked Anette Steen Pedersen to facilitate this workshop. I met Anette for the first time when she applied to the function of Mediator to the Council of Europe. I felt that her background and experience as a senior expert on gender equality could be very useful to the Equal Opportunities Board. She met the Board and we had fruitful discussions with her.

I am grateful, Anette, that you have accepted to run with us this workshop.

I have learnt that the call for participants in this workshop was very successful. We had to limit the number of participants today, but we will certainly organise another session for all the other women managers interested and that we couldn’t invite today unfortunately.

The starting point for our discussions should be the Equal Opportunities Policy that was adopted for the Secretariat in 2004. It was important to set up such a policy, but 7 years after, I realise that it is certainly not sufficient to remain at that.

We have an Equal Opportunities Board, which I chair and which has the mandate to monitor the EO Policy. Eleni Tsetsekou, who is a member of the current board, will present to you this morning some of the Board’s actions as regards gender equality.

There is also the Equal Opportunities Officer in DHR, but Renée can not of course assume alone the improvement of gender equality for the whole Organisation.

This is why the Secretary General and I decided to adopt the Policy statement on gender equality last 8 March. The aim was to give the EO agenda a new impetus, but also to ask managers to take their own responsibility in the implementation of the EO policy. This policy statement will certainly be at the centre of our discussions today.

In this paper, we committed ourselves to increase the share of women in middle and senior management for the next three years. We asked the management to take into account the gender issue in recruitment and selection processes. We expect from managers that they behave as role-models and manage their teams with respect for gender equality and diversity.

We also asked DHR to reform the recruitment and selection processes in a more gender neutral way. Francis Dangel will join us this afternoon to present the state of this reform.

Some senior women managers will also join us in the afternoon to share their own experience.

Gender equality and gender mainstreaming is also a priority for the Organisation’s agenda and activities. It has been decided recently that each intergovernmental steering committee would appoint a rapporteur on gender issues responsible for maintaining gender mainstreaming in the agenda of the committee.

The Secretary General’s annual report on equality in the Secretariat presents each year the progress made in the whole Organisation in terms of gender mainstreaming and gender balance in committees and boards. But there is still much to be done to convince member states that gender equality is an important human rights issue.

This means that staff members responsible for programming activities should be aware of the importance of gender equality and be trained for it. I would like to mention a good initiative that was taken by the Secretariat of the Parliamentary Assembly last year. The whole team, including B and A grades, did a training on gender awareness. I think that this kind of initiative should definitely serve as an example for other teams.

Finally, before we start our fruitful discussions this morning,
let me share with you some of my own thoughts about my own experiences as a working woman and what has struck me over the years. Maybe some of this will strike a chord with you. Of course, everyone is different and we all have different perceptions - but still, having discussed these questions over many years with many colleagues and friends, I think that there are some commonalities.

I must say that in my early life, at home, school and university, the question of equality - or rather inequality - did not really strike me.
I was maybe lucky in having very open-minded parents, who simply encouraged me to do whatever I wished to do and took it for granted that I would be able to do it.

So the question of gender equality for me was first of all an academic one rather than one which I felt as part of my own life. I started to study the question of sex discrimination in the workplace from the legal point of view, and learned that the question of equal pay for equal work was by no means something which went without saying - but still, for me I had no first hand experience of what this meant.

Then I started my career, at the Council of Europe, and discovered that this was not just a legal thesis - it actually existed!

I have to say that this was a real shock to me. When I first started here - and for some time after - the model was very much of a male bastion, with only male managers, women often carrying out the supporting roles (as they still often do today, despite a huge increase in women among managers).

And there was even some blatant discrimination enshrined in the Regulations. For example, when I married my husband I learned that my expatriation allowance would be stopped as I was marrying another expatriate. It was also part of the regulations that women could not be considered as "heads of household". Hard to imagine this today.

At the time, then, I could not really see many other women in the Council of Europe who could be a role model for me, because there were simply hardly any women among the management!
Today, I am convinced that having role models or mentors among other women is something which can be of enormous support and inspiration.

So how did I manage? Looking back, I don't think I had any big masterplan, I progressed in my career little by little by working hard, probably making some sacrifices, and certainly not by thinking that anything was due to me. Maybe this is one area where women do differ from men - I sometimes have the impression that men do expect career progression almost as their due, whereas women are more likely to take nothing for granted.

As you probably know, I have a family and this is certainly the most important thing in my life and always has been. Progress has certainly been made in work-life balance over the years, but even today I am pretty sure that many of you bear the largest burden of keeping family life together. I was lucky that my husband was ready and happy to share family responsibilities, but I certainly made sacrifices, including long hours and absences.

Yesterday when I was putting some order in my papers I found a note which I kept from my 7 year old son which he had put on my pillow when I was out late for work: "mamma I have lost a tooth, went to bed at 9 30 , waiting for your message". It made me want to cry: how many important moments for my children did I miss?

I hope I got it right on balance, but who can tell?

What I do know is as we advance in our career and as we move up the ladder in a man's worlds we are under the microscope: pushed to be masculine, vilified as hard, expected to be feminine and disqualified as not tough enough.

We are walking a tightrope: to find the balance between assertiveness and being demure. I am convinced that there can be a way of managing in senior positions as women which does not mean adopting male models of management, but the "playing field" and the rules of the game are still those set by men and it is not always easy to change the rules.

For women, as I have said, I think there is less feeling of entitlement, and it is difficult to move away from feeling we need to prove every day that choosing us for the job was justified. And this gets more and more difficult the higher you go.

It is a truism that we will not have full equality until a woman can be as incompetent as a man in a senior position without it being put down to her sex!

But I am optimistic when I look at the wonderful female colleagues working around me, at all levels of the Organisation, and also when
I realise that attitudes among male colleagues are changing too, at least sometimes.

At the end of the day what matters is that you should believe in yourselves and in what you do and go for it. You should share your passion and your enthusiasm for your work and believe that you can make a difference, by acting as an example for others and for supporting the women working around you. I hope this workshop will be a positive step in that direction and will give you positive energy and motivation.

To conclude my introduction, I will look forward to the conclusions of this workshop and to your recommendations, which I intend to present and discuss afterwards with the Secretary General and with the Senior Management Group.

I will not be able to spend the whole day with you because of my very heavy schedule. However, I would very much like to have a first hand account of what you have accomplished, and so I would like to propose that two or three of you come to see me after the workshop to share the results. This would also be an opportunity for me to meet some of you whom I know less well than others, so, if you don't mind, as I see you have name plates in front of you,

I will ask some of you who I don't know well if you could come to a meeting with me in a few days time to report back.