The theme of this year’s International Women’s Day, “Gender equality today for a sustainable tomorrow”, recognizes the contribution of women and girls around the world, who are leading the charge on environmental protection to build a more sustainable future for all. We asked five prominent women working for the Montreal Protocol what strengths and qualities women in positions of leadership bring to the negotiation table, and how they have dealt with challenges due to their gender.
What follows are their inspirational stories, sharing their experiences in support of the women of today that are helping to shape the future, ensuring a healthy planet for all. On this special day, our best regards go to former mentors and to all female colleagues in the Ozone Family whether they work nationally, regionally and/or internationally.
Liana Ghahramanyan, Montreal Protocol and Vienna Convention Focal Point, National Ozone Unit, Ministry of Environment, Armenia
As a young, vigorous female specialist, full of energy, striving to change the world for the better, it has always been my view that women bring a positive influence to the discussion table. As nurturers, I also strongly believe that “it’s not about nature belonging to us, but us belonging to nature”. This has been my personal philosophy since the beginning of my career in 2005.
It is also how I started my adventurous journey with the Montreal Protocol family. Representing my country in discussions on ozone layer protection issues, as well as serving as President of the Thirty-first Meeting of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, has highlighted the important contributions of female delegates. By nature, women are consensus builders and seek collaboration - the cornerstones of the success of the Montreal Protocol – and it is vital therefore, to have more women in leadership and positions of influence to change the world for the better, ensuring a safer environment for all.
Building a career is not always easy, especially when you are a woman. Due to gender stereotyping, or working in a male dominated field, can be challenging. Often a female’s view will be ignored by her male counterparts, of her input devalued or undermined. To forge ahead, a woman needs to employ various techniques to make her voice heard and be respected.
During my career I have been lucky to be supported both by strong male and female mentors that have helped me to realize my powers as a female professional; to be courageous and push forward initiatives. Of course, objecting to the Minister wasn’t an easy thing to do. There were times when you must gather all of your skills in order to convince in the reasonability of your proposals. In this instance, I highlighted the decreased numbers of the consumption of ozone-depleting substances outpacing the legally binding schedules. Credible data, sound knowledge and facts are some of the best tools to gain credibility and make your senior management respect and trust you.
Personally, I believe the recipe of “persistence, a strong belief in myself, strong knowledge based and honed expertise” has helped me greatly and made my professional journey a rewarding one. I would strongly recommend every woman to pick up this “recipe” and go “cooking” in positions of influence. Women are capable of doing everything that men are capable of although social stereotypes sometimes prevent them (both men and women) from realizing it. Women are capable of ensuring agile thinking in decision making processes, guiding towards creative solutions.
GUO Xiaolin, Deputy Director, Foreign Environmental Cooperation Center Ministry of Ecology and Environment, China
Advancing gender equality is one of the greatest global challenges. Men are heavily represented in leadership today, while it is well known that women can also have a big role to play in policy-making and decision-making processes, not only in the field of ozone layer protection or climate change, but across all sectors. A good leader needs to have various skills, as well as the ability to consider issues thoroughly and decisively. By nature, women tend to be more deliberate, prudent and comprehensive when addressing issues, while men tend to be more assertive and decisive. Men and women possess unique attributes, and both have their own strengths and weaknesses. Tapping into these attributes can be beneficial to different policy-making and decision-making process that affect human life and global environment. I believe when the presence of men and women are balanced in leadership, they will make the best decisions and that will benefit both genders.
Gender stereotypes are holding women back in some areas. I would like to share some of the challenges I have faced when I first got involved in the ozone-depleting substances (ODS) and hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) management, as well as the strategies for overcoming them. The ODS and HFCs production sector is an exclusively male domain, where leaders in key positions, in particularly from technology research to production management, were almost exclusively male.
The voices from women are always weak in this field. When women initially come into contact and communicate with them, they unconsciously tend to ignore their views. In this situation, it is always important for females to continuously improve their expertise in relevant areas, increase their personal ability and competence, strengthen communication with everyone and make yourself heard. According to my experience, when you propose rational and convincing comments, the audience will consider seriously rather than ignoring them. As gender mainstreaming is gradually penetrating different areas, I am confident that any woman can be as successful as a man in achieving her goals and objectives.
Dr. Marissa Gowrie, Deputy Environmental Manager/National Ozone Officer, Environmental Policy and Planning Division, Ministry of Planning and Development, Trinidad and Tobago
The view of the world through a female lens, particularly in positions of influence, is certainly something that can revolutionize the way we do things: from the decisions that are made, the way people are engaged to effect change and the way we go about our daily lives. From my experience, the Montreal Protocol has provided this platform of equity, where females are held in equal stead with our male counterparts, allowing female ozone champions the avenue to contribute in a meaningful way toward the protection of the ozone layer at the global, regional and national levels. It has allowed that space for gender diversity, and a balance in the expression of opinion where voices of women are heard and valued, and the traits of resilience, determination, attention to detail, sensitivity and multitasking - female characteristic - are incorporated into our global efforts. This has without a doubt contributed to the overwhelming success of this multilateral environmental agreement.
I have always been fortunate to be surrounded both in my career and personal life by males and females who have encouraged and supported me. Being part of the amazing Montreal Protocol family over the last 19 years, is certainly something that has elevated me to be the best version of my professional self.
If I had to cite an area of challenge in the course of my career, it would be not being taken seriously by a few that I have crossed paths with, since as a female, you are sometimes forced to prove your abilities and competencies to be respected. Finding that balance between work and family has also at times been an area of challenge.
I have learnt though, that professional respect is something that is earned. Being true to your word, genuine, reliable, as inclusive as possible, and ensuring open and honest communication with everyone I interact with in this field have been key elements in overcoming these challenges. This holds true for all genders. As a female though, the added ability to be gentle but firm, nurturing, empathetic, and persistent has greatly aided my positive experience. This, coupled with truly and thoughtfully listening to the needs of all stakeholders and always trying my best to improve their capacities and capabilities to contribute positively to our common cause of wanting a better world for those who come after us. I have also learned that if ever things seems overwhelming you should never be afraid to ask for help, Being able to accept support is actually a sign of strength.
I feel extremely fulfilled to be able to contribute to the work of protecting the ozone layer and be a positive example, not only to my daughter, but all young ladies who may dream of one day getting involved in saving our planet. No matter your gender, the only person who can ever limit your growth is yourself. You have it within you to be whomever and whatever you want to be!
Cindy Newberg, Director, Stratospheric Protection Division, United States Environmental Protection Agency, USA
Women make up 50 percent of the adult population, so more women should hold positions of influence. Women bring different perspectives and by including women in positions of leadership, we benefit from having those views be part of our decision-making process. Including more women will also help to resolve the wage gap and change policies that may further improve our work-home balance. This past month, I was watching the Olympics and was particularly struck by a story of a woman nearing the end of her career. She spoke about what mattered to her most – not whether she stood on the podium, but that she would serve as a role model for the next generation of women. The increasing number of women in positions of politics, business, science, technology and sports will inspire the next generation of women and men. As the mother of three independent, successful young women, I appreciate it when my daughters can identify with women in positions of influence.
I remember when I started my career, I was always conscious of being a working woman, especially when I found I was the only women at meetings. I felt it was a struggle to be taken seriously and that my views were discounted because I was a young woman. I learnt to effectively communicate and gained confidence in my contributions. I also chose to change employers. At the Environmental Protection Agency, women and men are fairly treated and I found opportunities for success.
However, as I woman, I faced the challenges of balancing motherhood with a career. Like many parents, I never felt like I had enough time for everything! Over the past 25 years, I have seen many workplace changes to support all parents. For example, there was no lactation rooms at the building I worked in when my eldest daughter was born. I borrowed a colleague’s office and put a sign on the door. By the time my second child was born, lactation rooms were available. When my youngest was born with a health concern, I reduced my hours. I made a plan to focus on a few projects where I could contribute rather than trying to maintain my full portfolio. Then, as my hours increased, my ability to take on new projects increased as well.
Maria Ujfalusi, Senior Adviser, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, EU Unit, Sweden
As quoted by the Government of Sweden: Gender equality is a matter of human rights, of democracy and of justice. It is also an engine driving social development and creating genuine change in society and in people's lives. I second that and am of the view that the benefit of diversity and gender equivalence in leadership and decision-making should not be underestimated: female leadership matters. Our democracies are stronger when women are involved as equals. Not because women are better, but because we are different. To see the world in a complete way, we need men and women. This is the only way we will be able to make the right decisions.
I have been working for the protection of the ozone layer for many, many years and it is so rewarding and inspiring to work in a forum such as the Montreal Protocol - we have so many female colleagues from across the world that are passionate, creative and are resourceful, often team-oriented, inclusive, and collaborative. Together with our male colleagues we discuss, negotiate, reach agreements, and take decisions for the good of humanity, nature, and our planet.
Unfortunately, women still have some important challenges/bias to overcome. One being that when thinking of a leader one selects for masculine traits, such as confidence, strength, and assertiveness. Traits that when used by a woman are often viewed as aggressive or bossy. Women often lead differently to men with a focus on reaching an understanding, consensus, and common goals. Rather than expecting women to think, speak, and act like men, our differences should be recognized as strengths that complement each other.
One of the challenges that I encountered in my early days working with the Montreal Protocol was working with representatives from the military, maritime and refrigeration sectors that are traditionally rather conservative and male dominated. I had to overcome the “good girl syndrome”, that a good job is automatically rewarded. To progress in my career, it was not enough to do a good job, I also had to show what I was capable of and allocate time to networking. Fortunately, I had a very good mentor, Mrs Ingrid Kökeritz, who established the first network for ozone officers in Southeast Asia, and supported me in every way in my work.