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12 6 2016

Interview with Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security Ambassador Marriët Schuurman

NATO has had a Special Representative for Women,Peace and Security since 2012. Ambassador Marriët Schuurman is the second woman in NATO's history to hold the prestigious position.

She took up the position in 2014 and has been working tirelessly since to promote greater gender balance within NATO Ambassador Schuurman's office, where we held this interview, is bright and cosy with comfortable armchairs. When we met her she looked fresh and trendy, and welcomed us with a big smile on her face.

How did you become the Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security to the Secretary General?

Pretty much the same way anybody gets a position at NATO. I went through the same recruitment process like anybody else, after being asked by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs whether I was interested in applying. I was announced as a Special Representative by then Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen as one of his last acts in office during the 2014 Wales Summit.

I'm sure it took quite a competition to get there. What do you think made you the right 'man' for the job?

They asked me at the interview what the measure of my success would be. I said, if I made myself redundant by the end of my term, I would be really successful. To be successful in acting as a reminder to policies, promoting diversity and integrating gender perspectives a lot of changing of mindsets is required, it does not happen overnight. So, I have to say, three years are not enough to make myself redundant. But, what I would like to see is that gender-awareness is a normality and is seen as a marker of professionalism for everybody who works here.

When people hear NATO, most of them instantly think of armed forces and operations. Military is still a profession, which in most of the countries is a dominantly masculine trade. How are women represented in the Alliance's armed forces?

We have been receiving national reports about women in the armed forces since 2000. The NATO Committee of Gender Perspectives is a committee which includes representatives of all Allies, as well as representatives of partner countries and focuses on balanced workforce in the national armed forces. We constantly urge national contributions to missions to send mixed teams, to have mixed troops, and to pay special attention to gender-balance in groups when interacting with locals.

Do you have specific figures?

Among the Allies there is an average of 10.3% represented by females in the national militaries, while 5.6% are deployed in NATO-led operations. Even though this rate is really low, the United Nations (UN), which it the most alike international organization to NATO has never managed to raise it above 4%, either. In order to improve this, we keep sharing best practices with the UN and regularly discuss our strategies on gender-balance.

How about NATO civilians?

Since 2000, there has been an increase of the number of women holding decision-making positions in NATO, but for three years now this number has been stagnating. We constantly need to seek for the best and the brightest, and if our finds are not balanced, it is not because the pool is not balanced. It is because we lack the effort to look further.

Where do you see your role in changing this at NATO?

I'm trying to be a platform, travel a lot and present best practices. There are great events raising awareness on women in uniform all over the world, be those video recruitment campaigns or a photo exhibition. It is really interesting to bring these initiatives together, to learn from them and share them in NATO.

Does such a unique international military setting as NATO come with an elevated number of harassment reports?

I don't have statistics on reported harassment, but I know there haven't been a single one report in the last year. Now, not having any complaints usually means that your complaint mechanism is not working. Harassment on the scale from bullying to sexual harassment happens everywhere.

Do you know of plans to enhance the policy, to make it more visible, more precise?

NATO HQ is working on a new version of both the 'Prevention and management of harassment, discrimination and bullying at the workplace' policy and the code of conduct to make them more visible and to let everyone know about the 'what to do if'. The major problem with the existing documents is that they don't specify what you have to do or who you should contact if you witness or suffer harassment. They don't guarantee securities and don't explain the 'report investigation consequence' procedure. We are contributing to a Human Resources' project of updating the current harassment policy with our insights and experience.

Interview with Special Representative for Women, Peace and Security Ambassador Marriët Schuurman

If a woman would like to build a career at the NCI Agency, she would not only have to tackle the military quality of the organization, but most likely work in the field of technology, which is in 70% dominated by males world-wide. What would you tell those who would like to make it in the IT sector?

The number of female graduates in science and engineering in the Allied countries is shockingly low (34%), so it starts with convincing girls to carry on their studies in the field of Information Technology.

The increase of female graduates, however, won't automatically mean that your organization will employ more women. There still are many invisible and visible barriers. Not only young women but young men also get discouraged, when they see a long, bureaucratic job description phrased and structured very much out of their world, basically an invite to an old men's club. If we want to have the best and the brightest, we need to speak their language and need to take their preferences into consideration. They want to work in a dynamic environment, which is flexible and allows them to cater other priorities of their lives.

What can I as a staff member do to raise awareness on potential imbalances?

First of all, prove to everyone around you that you indeed are the best choice. Do your job as well as you can, make yourself recognized by what you do and happily ignore prejudice.

Don't let anyone get under your skin, don't let them affect your decisions. Just prove prejudice wrong.

Do you see NATO starting to welcome this approach? Are we soon ready to challenge Google in terms of recruitment policies and working environment, applauding individuality and promoting alternative working means?

We want to be an A-label on the job market. Obviously, it's hard to compare NATO to a business like Google, but when we look at our benchmark international organizations like the EU or the UN, yes, we definitely want to be the most attractive, most modern and most advanced among all of those. Unlike any business, though, we not only have to appeal to potential candidates, but also to the people who gave us mandate to operate, the nations. We need to stay trustworthy to them. NATO has never been as necessary as it is today, and we need to use our networks, also the informal ones, through young people to make sure this message is delivered. I don't think there has been a better time to work at NATO than today.

How can traditionally rather bureaucratic NATO stay relevant in such a rapidly changing environment?

We need to change rapidly and to adjust constantly, too. Changing the organization means changing the mindset. Our recently started change in organizational culture programme also serves this purpose.

What would you say a good example is in this programme?

One example, changing the mentality from 'sitting on knowledge' to 'sharing knowledge', or going even further: creating knowledge. In order to achieve this, we not only need teams of creative people, but mixed teams in terms of gender, age and culture.