DG Remarks

Roberto Azevêdo’s speeches

> Report: Women and the WTO Gender statistics

Good morning everyone.

Let me start by wishing you all a happy international women’s day.

I am very pleased to join you in marking this occasion at the WTO.

The 8th of March is indeed about celebrating. Today we honour the positive impact that women and girls have in all areas of our lives — and, of course, the huge contribution they make to this organization.

And while we should use every day to advocate for gender equality, special days like these are very important. They provide an opportunity to raise awareness on gender issues, take stock of the progress made, identify remaining challenges, and promote further inclusiveness.

That being said, we have a very rich international women’s day programme this year at the WTO.

I would like to thank all involved in organizing it — especially the WTO Gender Network.

We have two panel discussions on gender this morning, as well as a photo exhibition in the Atrium on working mothers. And we are launching a report that looks at gender equality in the Secretariat and in WTO bodies over the past 20 years. A special thanks to Council and TNC Division and HR Division for preparing it.

This report is very useful. It takes stock of the evolution of gender equality here at the WTO, highlighting achievements as well as opportunities for progress.

This topic is also on the minds of our members. At the General Council last week we had an exchange about the future of the organization and gender balance in the WTO Secretariat was raised twice.

This shows that this issue is also on the minds of members.

At the WTO Secretariat, women and men are given equal opportunity to participate in the work of the organization, at all levels.

However, at present, we still have gaps to bridge to achieve gender equality across all areas of our work.

With this in mind, we have strived to improve gender parity over the years. More than that, we are working to ensure that gender matters are always an integral part of our rules and administrative procedures.

This has been reflected in recent staff policies and practices, such as the new mediation and recruitment policy. Both our mediators — internal and external — are women. And this is not by accident. In recruitment efforts, we stress gender awareness, and strive to improve the geographical and gender balance of professional staff.

Gender is also an important element of our promotion policy.

Just last year, we had a total of 63 promotions — 37 attributed to women and 26 to men.

If we look at the 30 performance-based promotions that we had in 2016 — 18 were attributed to women and 12 to men. Looking solely at the professional level, 8 were women and 7 men.

With regard to the higher grades, out of the two available Grade 10 performance-based promotions in 2016, both were attributed to women.

So things are changing. 

At the moment, nearly 54 percent of our staff are female. Women outnumber men in the support staff category, while in the professional category we are almost at parity. And there is good progress to report.

When I took office back in 2013, 42 percent of our professional staff were female. Today, women make up 45 percent of our professional staff.  This is progress, and I believe that with continuous efforts, we will be able to reach gender parity in the near future.

However, women are also underrepresented in senior management positions. So we can’t lose sight of that.

In the last couple of months we initiated 4 director recruitment processes. Female applications made up only 23 percent of total applications.  

I found this quite puzzling but, actually, it fits with our experience.

Over the years I have often spoken to women here — and in other organizations — regarding specific vacancies. And I have often been surprised to find that they had not put themselves forward, when clearly they met the basic requirements and had the technical competence to do so.

It seems that we need a change of attitudes towards women in leadership positions — both in our communities and individually. This also includes women’s own perceptions.

We need to empower and encourage women to step forward as leaders.

A cultural shift like this will take time. But I am pleased to note that the Secretariat is organizing workshops and coaching sessions on female leadership, and also on gender and organizational culture.

In addition, I think we need to ensure that the institutional environment is supportive of female staff, so that women do not need to be torn between career and family.

This means we need fair and smart policiesat the workplace. When employers are supportive, employees can maintain a healthy balance between their professional and personal/family lives. It should not be an ‘either / or’.

This includes providing adequate maternity leave — as well as paternity leave and dependent benefits, but also ensuring that the softer mechanisms are in place, like understanding and flexibility by superiors and colleagues at the workplace.

On this, I think we do reasonably well as an organization. But of course we can do better. And continuous assessment is vital to ensure that we are on the right track. 

While this is International Women’s Day, it is important to take a moment and talk about men’s rolein all of this.

Contrary to what seems to be a widespread belief, ‘gender’ does not mean exclusively ‘women’.  Gender discussions should concern both men and women equally.

I would like to voice my support for men’s participation in discussions on gender issues, both here at the WTO Secretariat and elsewhere.

We should not be afraid of gender topics, but engage in them. I have joined the ‘Geneva Gender Champions’ initiative, which is focused on making gender a priority in international Geneva. And I think I have learned a lot in the process.

Calls for gender equality at the workplace are not ‘reverse discrimination’ — and they should not be interpreted as such. We need to keep raising awareness, fighting unconscious bias and gender stereotypes, while also providing a platform for dialogue and mutual understanding.

Achieving gender parity, and inclusiveness, is an ongoing effort.

As the title of this panel suggests, there is still room for improvement. The WTO is moving towards gender equality, and we will continue to do so. I am confident that we will get there. And discussions like this one we are having are an important step.

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