Why don’t we practise what we preach about gender inequality?

Development will never be successful while the same power structures we seek to tackle in society, are embedded within our own aid agencies

work at a UN agency where the middle management is full of intelligent, fiery and outspoken women, who no doubt should be promoted to senior management within a few years. But part of me wonders how many will actually get there?

With only a handful of senior positions at my agency currently filled by women, I struggle to see what career progression there is for women at the top of their game here.

It’s not just my agency. In 2016, while women made up the majority of entry level staff at the UN, their representation as a percentage of the workforce continued to drop steadily the more senior the role. Less than one in three director level positions were occupied by women, and only one in five assistant director generals or undersecretary generals were women. This is despite the fact that almost 20 years ago, the UN made a commitment to achieving gender parity in managerial and decision-making roles (pdf) by the year 2000. Those at the top have repeatedly promised change, but these words rarely translate into action. Take former secretary general Ban Ki-moon’s regular assertions of progress in appointing women to high office that were then refuted by data that showed 84% of his appointments to top posts in 2015 were male. If progress in appointing women to the most senior positions continues at its current rate, one writer predicted it would take 112 years to reach gender parity.

This is not due to a lack of competent female leaders. Just look at the five highly qualified women who ran for UN secretary general last year, and Ban even made a statement saying his replacement should be a woman.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I was disappointed but not surprised when we were saddled with yet another man. To his credit, the new secretary general António Guterres immediately pledged gender parity in senior appointments across the UN. But as with Ban’s statement, this begs another question: why is it that we still need male endorsement for women to be considered equally worthy to men?

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