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Informal Leadership Key to Promoting Gender Equality in Organizations

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Panellists discussed the role of informal leadership in promoting gender equality. (Photo: D. Calma/IAEA)

Everybody, not only top managers, can inspire action and demonstrate leadership in organizations towards promoting gender equality, participants heard at an IAEA General Conference side event focused on the role of leadership in promoting gender equality today.

Moderating the event, Mary Alice Hayward, Deputy Director General and Head of the Department of Management, said: “Senior managers know the importance of leading by example, demonstrating high-level commitment, and setting the tone for the organization. But the fact is, we can all demonstrate individual leadership in our own settings. This process of individual influence is just as important as high-level, hierarchical leadership.”

Panellists at the discussion focused on the concept of viewing leadership as a behaviour rather than simply a position or title, delving into the role each individual can play towards the collective goal of gender equality in both the traditional hierarchical sense and through informal channels.

Informal leadership

Jörg Dietz, Professor of Organisational Behavior at the Faculty of Business and Economics at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, challenged the common myth that people either do or do not have leadership skills. He highlighted the often under emphasized role of informal leadership present in all individuals, explaining its key traits as being able to motivate and enable others, and to provide an inspirational work context.

“It is often tempting to use command and control to get people to do things,” he said. “In some ways that’s not really leadership. There is a common element in the various definitions of leadership, which is influencing people to do things which they otherwise might not do.” Referring to inspirational leaders, he said: “How we see their behaviours are themes that could be part of anyone’s daily activities.”

Gwen Parry-Jones, Director of Nuclear Operations at UK energy company Horizon Nuclear Power and the first female nuclear plant manager and station director in the UK, said: “The industry that I work in came from a place where command and control and hierarchical leadership was the mode of operation in terms of a safety critical environment.”

Highlighting what she termed ‘servant leadership’, Parry-Jones said: “Particularly for me, in terms of preserving nuclear safety, the more views we can get in, the better decision we can make as long as have a system to work it in. I see a shift away from this traditional hierarchical, directive leadership into a much more collaborative style.”

Cultivating leadership skills

Ambassador Alicia Buenrostro Massieu, Representative of Mexico to the IAEA and co-Chair of the Group of Friends of Women in Nuclear, highlighted the importance of cultivating leadership skills. “Being a leader is not only about being smart and what you are doing on a daily basis on foreign policy, it’s also about being well grounded in terms of being able to handle a whole group so that it's motivated. For me it is very important, for example, that my team is motivated and that they can excel as much as they can.”

Speaking about the challenges of moving from the role of an expert into a leadership role, she said: “The only way to move forward and become a better leader is to release things, to delegate, to trust and to try to see things from a macro perspective.”

Gender parity at the IAEA

The IAEA has increased the representation of women in the organization over the years, with women making up 29% of Regular staff in the Professional and higher categories.

Yukiya Amano, IAEA Director General, and Ms Hayward became International Gender Champions last year as part of the Vienna chapter of the International Gender Champions Initiative, which brings together decision-makers to break down gender barriers and provides a platform for stronger action to promote gender equality.

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