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Christian Friis Bach

Bach's Blog

The Executive Secretary's Blog

Fortune favours the bold

Behind a grand wooden desk, a row of smartly-suited men strike a pose, pens in hand, to sign an important new policy into law; in the brightly-lit board room of a major transnational company, the chairman congratulates directors —these men have spearheaded another good year; in a pristine lab, a team of computer scientists gathers around the screen to examine their code as the team leader explains his ideas.

These are familiar scenarios. When we see any of these situations in the news, or experience them in our daily life, nothing about them would strike us as unusual. However, there is something wrong! None of these scenarios features women. 

For all the progress that has been made over the past decades, the workplace still reveals striking gender inequalities. Women are underrepresented in positions of power, such as in politics and on boards of directors. A wide gender divide persists in certain industries, such as science, computing and engineering. Across the countries in our region reporting data for 2015, women made up only 22 per cent of all government ministers, 22 per cent of central bank board members, and 18 per cent of heads of universities. That is not good enough!

Every year on 8 March, we celebrate International Women’s Day. This year the call to action is ‘Be Bold for Change’. And indeed, we will need to be extremely bold to live up to the vision of a world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and faces no barriers to her empowerment, as outlined in Sustainable Development Goal 5, and beyond in all the SDGs. This can only be attained through the cumulative effects of bold actions by organizations, companies, and governments, and from each one of us as individuals. Legislation is needed, but we cannot simply rely on legislation to end gender inequality. Because much of it stems from our own unconscious biases and beliefs, from the stereotypes, cultural practices and ideas that girls and boys learn from at an early age on. To really make changes we have to be bold enough to question the status quo and start doing things differently.

In the case of gender equality, fortune really does favour the bold. Gender equality benefits everyone: women and men, girls and boys. A greater role for women in the workforce promotes economic growth for all. Companies with a more even gender balance tend to be more successful than those with uneven sex ratios among their employees. Moreover, evidence shows that greater gender equality in a society typically goes hand-in-hand with better measures of well-being for men as well as women.   

In UNECE, we work with the International Geneva Gender Champions initiative to advance gender equality. We have achieved one of the highest ratios of female managers - seven out of our 11 senior managers were women in 2016. We have adopted an ambitious UNECE Gender Policy and strengthened gender mainstreaming in several of our projects and in our Strategic Framework. We are also leading work to improve gender awareness in standard setting – because it matters when we develop the many standards that influence our daily life. For instance, a seatbelt in a car designed for a man may not appropriately protect women, who, on average, are not as tall. We will continue to challenge ourselves to improve gender equality.

There is a need to mainstream gender awareness throughout every aspect of our work. In addition, there is a need to focus on gender in our personal behaviour every single day. We can take so many actions. From mentoring and promoting women to tackling our own beliefs and biases that may stand in the way of gender equality. Let us get it done.

Let us all #BeBoldForChange!


If you wonder why the animal accompanying my blog is a cow, it is because cows are fascinating animals; the cows of our host country, Switzerland, are famous for their quality; and because I am still a farmer, and miss the cows I had in Denmark. Now I got one back.