UN chief sets out gender parity goals

By on 23/11/2017 | Updated on 04/02/2022
António Guterres, ninth secretary-general of the UN

The head of the United Nations, secretary general António Guterres, has launched a new strategy to achieve gender parity among its senior leadership by 2021 and across all grades by 2028.

The system-wide strategy lays out a “roadmap” of measures, benchmarks and timeframes for hitting the targets, and all bodies and agencies within the UN system have been tasked with developing implementation plans by the end of this month.

Each agency is also expected to set up a system for monitoring progress towards gender equality at all grades, and to regularly publish gender statistics on its website. Agencies have to report on their progress twice a year to the UN system’s senior management group.

The goals of Guterres

Launching the strategy in September, Guterres said gender parity at the United Nations – a goal requested by member states for three decades – is both an “urgent need” and a “personal priority”.

“The targets are bold but realistic,” he said. “Most of the measures in this strategy come under my authority, and I will be calling on member states to agree on the others urgently so that we can begin implementation right away.

“The changes needed are not just to recruitment systems and staff rules but [also to] our own attitudes and approaches. We must lead by example, with a cultural shift to a working environment that embraces equality, inclusivity and diversity and enables us to capitalise on the potential of all our staff.”

Where we are now

Across the UN system, women made up 47% of employees in professional grades and 32% of those in senior management grades at the end of 2015, when the latest figures were published, according to the strategy report.

The gender gap was wider within the UN Secretariat than other bodies at all levels, and there were sharp falls across the board in women’s representation between professional grades P2 and P3, and grades P4 and P5. These indicate “blockages in the pipeline”, the report states.

Appointments to some senior management posts are decided by the secretary general, and since taking office Guterres has appointed 17 women and 15 men to leadership positions – bringing the female representation in the senior management group to 44%.

Mapping out the way forward

Under the strategy, UN bodies are expected to adopt the latest head-hunting techniques for senior management positions, and to maintain a database of eligible women along with “projection tables” giving the number of new female appointments required each year to meet the target.

Boosting the advancement of women in the middle to senior management grades, where the drop in representation is sharpest, is another key focus of the strategy. It calls on UN bodies to immediately implement a set of “temporary special measures” until parity is achieved.

These measures, the strategy says, should include the following:

  • All hiring managers being required to recommend 50% female and 50% male candidates for vacancies of all types, including senior appointments;
  • Restrictive requirements, such as the length of time a candidate has been in a relevant post, to be suspended from job descriptions for all applicants;
  • Hiring managers being required to provide written justifications outlining their outreach efforts towards female candidates, if job advertisements fail to yield at least 20% female applicants.

Other steps called for under the strategy include mandatory training in eliminating unconscious bias for managers recruiting staff at directorate level and above; mentoring programmes for female staff; and the loosening of restrictions on internal appointments.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.


  1. Peter Freeman says:

    I find this unreasonable focus on the genitals an individual has to be both slightly disturbing and unhelpful in putting the best individuals into positions. Obviously remove any biases or unfairness but equality of opportunity should be the principled goal, not equality of outcome.

  2. Jennifer Walker says:

    instead of enforced quotas, why not just remove any identifying gender signifiers from applications so that candidates are judged on merit and competence alone? This level of supposed progressivism only serves to create unnecessary friction between the genders.

    If I got the job I would want it to be understood that I received it through my own merit and not to meet some female quota.

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