Vienna, 25 April 2022 – With the launch of the Gender Award, UNOV/UNODC is rewarding the outstanding efforts of its personnel towards the implementation of the Strategy for Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment.
Yuliyana Nice is part of the UNOV Security and Safety Services (SSS) that won the Gender Award in Category 1: Promoting an enabling work environment at UNOV/UNODC, for the initiative “Promoting a Gender Empowering Workplace”. Starting with the arrival of a new Chief in 2018, concerted efforts were made to close the gender parity gap in UNOV SSS.
As the Assistant Chief of UNOV SSS, Yuliyana Nice spoke about the genesis, challenge and achievements of their initiative that strives to close the once evident gender gap in UNOV SSS and create a more inclusive work environment.
Key Figures and Project Genesis
My name is Yuliyana Nice, Assistant Chief of UNOV SSS. Before joining the Service, I worked internationally as a lawyer in a number of law firms. My last position, as the Operations Manager in a private entity engaged in international financial crime investigations, intelligence gathering, field deployments and asset tracing, opened up my career to the security sector. Over a year ago, I joined UNOV SSS. It is an incredible honour for me to be part of the Service and I feel extremely lucky and grateful to the management and all UNOV SSS security officers who are truly inspiring for their hard work, support and inclusiveness they demonstrate daily.
The arrival of Chief Bonnie Adkins at UNOV SSS ushered in a reassessment to modernize our workplace, our policies, and all our procedures that are reflective of the UNSG reforms. She created a culture that embraces the voices of all staff members, regardless of gender, and made sure that her efforts are cascaded down through the ranks. This has really paid off as the past year marked a very important milestone for us in closing the once glaring gender gap in UNOV’s SSS. It marks the first time in which UNOV SSS management has had three out of four female managers and the first year in which 90% of the new recruits were females. Throughout the years UNOV SSS has also been consistently empowering female officers in reaching command positions and has resulted in almost 40% of our lieutenants being female. We have also consistently improved the workplace environment with mandatory trainings on “Inclusion for Greater Security and Teamwork” and “Coaching” opportunities for officers, with 100% of our Supervisors having been trained in Coaching. It is not all about gender parity. It is also about inclusiveness and accepting every difference and making the workplace a really great place to work and feel like your voice is heard.
One of the most profound examples of how empowering and inclusive our workplace has become was the gender transition of Officer Jessica Skola. For the past four years, she was living two lives: at work, she was a security officer and presented herself as a male; in her personal life, she had been transitioning for years into presenting and living as a woman. She struggled with her identity while working in a traditionally masculine environment. As she transitioned privately, there were more and more occasions which allowed her to express her true gender identity at work too, until inevitably her personal social media account was discovered by a co-worker. She was afraid when that happened because she didn’t know how colleagues would react. But she was surprised by how overwhelmingly positive the reaction was and the support she received from managers, security inspectors, and every officer in the Service. They were eager to learn; they approached her to ask questions; they were genuinely interested and supportive of what she was going through. I think this is one of the best examples of how the initiative of the UNOV SSS transformed the workplace into an empowering site and created an environment where an officer can feel safe enough to come out. It fills me with pride that Jessica is convinced that UNOV SSS was a safe place to do this and I have no doubts that she will serve as role model for us all. Nevertheless, her initial fear and reluctance to transition in her workplace should be taken as encouragement for reflection on how we can further improve the comfort and well-being of our officers so that nobody feels that they have to lead a double life, in fear of their colleagues finding them out.
An Unforgettable Moment
As a tool to diversify our workforce and create a more balanced and inclusive security service, together with UNOV Human Resources Management, we held a webinar in February, entitled “Seeking female security officers”. It was the first of its kind so we did not know if there would be any interest. It turned out to be an incredible success as we recorded more than 200 female registered participants. What was even more surprising, and something that I will always remember is that the post-seminar survey got a 100% response rate; all the 200 registered participants filled it out. That was quite exceptional and was proof of how engaged people were by the topic. The seminar was recognized by UN Women as a good practice for enhancing gender parity within the UN system as it creates an opportunity for female applicants to get a glimpse behind the door, see how our service is working, and understand the support that could be created for female security officers, especially when they're seeing female managers at the top. I'm really proud that we were able to create something like this.
Challenges Along the Way
Despite the great interest in the first webinar, I'll be honest, attracting women to the security sector continues to be a challenge as it is a male-dominated world. Another bigger challenge remains the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which forced millions of women to leave the workforce, stay at home, and take care of their families. I feel like COVID-19 has further exacerbated existing inequalities in the workplace.
To address these challenges, we will continue to host similar webinars in the future. Meanwhile, we are promoting diversity and the enablement of a secure and harmonious work environment where all staff feel safe, respected and valued. We have further developed an in-house dashboard that tracks performance and equal access to training opportunities by gender. And together with my colleague, Ms. Nansi El-Hajj, also Assistant Chief at UNOV SSS, we are members of the newly established UNOV/UNODC taskforce which aims to develop the second iteration of the Strategy for Gender Equality and Women´s Empowerment for the organization.
Our projects, our recruiting agenda and female outreach initiatives, and our trainings increase the sensitivity of our officers to issues of diversity and gender. Our workplan revisions are all driven by our aspirations and hope that our actions can serve as guide for UN security and safety services as well as other security institutions around the globe. In the end, UNOV SSS will have to be judged not by our words and policy, but by our actions, and our efforts can only be one of many steps towards achieving greater diversity and gender inclusivity in our Service to better serve and protect our UN personnel and clients.
Outlook for the Future
From our perspective as SSS management, we feel immense pride in the gender-inclusive environment created within the Service. I'm extremely proud of my teams and SSS overall, for how we as a team have handled and been open to the changes, our willingness to engage in various trainings and dialogues, and how respect has been maintained for all officers, whether male or female. We still have work to do as we are still striving for gender parity. Currently, 32% of our security forces are female, which by the way is much beyond average in the security sector. We are looking forward to continuing and further expanding these practices and sharing the lessons learned with other duty stations. We are obviously committed to reaching gender parity in our Service, but we are looking beyond simple parity. We are looking at fostering and empowering women in leadership roles, not only as parts of a particular program that we can really define as a start or end but understanding that it is a work in progress. We have already seen the results and how positive this change has been for all of us.
(c) UN Women