Falling between two stools: the dangers of over-burdening gender advisor roles

By Laura Davis

We are pleased to see that the process is finally underway to recruit an occupant for the empty chair that is the Principal Adviser on Gender for the EEAS position (thanks to pressure from Hannah Neumann MEP and colleagues). 

We are, however, concerned that the new role will be Principal Advisor on Gender and Diversity. 

The EEAS needs to be more representative of European society –and urgently – and it needs, also urgently, to ensure its dealings with the rest of the world avoid racist and Othering approaches. However, combining responsibility for all of this and for forwarding gender equality in one post is not the way to make this happen.   

The EEAS needs to take inclusion seriously – recruiting, promoting and retaining under-represented groups, and particularly ethnic minorities, within its structures. Rather than showcasing difference through ‘diversity’,  it should demonstrate inclusion: ensuring it engages with non-establishment points of view and that these influence decision-making. 

Addressing how the EU acts in the world is not a natural off-shoot of a more inclusive staff. Gender equality within institutions does not in itself lead to more gender-sensitive external action, so we cannot assume that a more representative staff could make external action more inclusive. Just as the burden of making institutions more gender-inclusive cannot fall to women alone, so making the EEAS more inclusive in its external action cannot fall to ‘diverse’ staff members. 

Increasing equality within the institutions and in how the EU acts in the world is a massive undertaking. This is the responsibility of HRVP and senior management, and is not to be delegated to a lone advisor (especially one with such a small team). 

Gender and inclusion are different and overlapping challenges that should each have a Principal Advisor, each supported by a full team. Bundling gender up together with ‘diversity’ is to undermine both – and to set the new incumbent up to fall between two stools and be unable to advance either gender equality or inclusion more broadly within the EEAS and in how the EEAS engages with the rest of the world. 

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