Gender balance and diversity in NATO

  • Last updated: 22 Jul. 2020 17:18

NATO is an equal opportunities employer committed to valuing everyone as an individual. Gender balance and diversity efforts have been mainstreamed in NATO Headquarters (HQ) policies and practices since 2002. They aim at addressing issues such as imbalance in gender, age and national representation in the International Secretariat (IS) of NATO.

General view of meeting

Recognizing diversity means respecting and appreciating those who are different from ourselves. Today, there are approximately 1200 civilian IS members in NATO HQ. Another hundred civilians serve in the International Military Staff (IMS). They all operate under Civilian Personnel Regulations, which provide that members of staff shall treat their colleagues and others, with whom they come into contact in the course of their duties, with respect and courtesy at all times. They shall not discriminate against them on the grounds of gender, race or ethnic origin, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation.

  • Principles and priorities of gender and diversity at NATO HQ

    During the Prague Summit in November 2002, member countries tasked the IS to form a Task Force that would recommend to Council ways of improving gender balance and diversity in the NATO IS and civilian IMS workforce.
    Under the direction of the Deputy Secretary General, the Task Force started work in February 2003. The first report proposed an Action Plan, which was noted by Foreign Ministers on 2nd June 2003. In consultation with national delegations, the IS and the IMS, the Task Force defined four guiding principles for actively pursuing a diversity policy at NATO HQ:

    • Ensuring fairness in recruitment and promotion;
    • Ensuring the high quality of NATO personnel;
    • Respecting the diversity of all Alliance members; and
    • Agreeing only to set goals and use methods that embody a reasonable challenge.

    The Task Force therefore recommended a pragmatic approach with achievable goals. It focused on diversity issues that could be objectively defined and started its work by addressing the question of gender balance. It agreed no quotas would be set since recruitment in NATO is merit-based, and proposed the following objectives:

    • To increase the overall number of women employed in the IS;
    • To increase the overall number of women applying (especially to A and C Grade positions);
    • To increase the overall number of women in managerial positions.
  • Framework, monitoring and reporting

    A NATO-wide policy

    To substantiate the above-mentioned decisions, NATO adopted a NATO-wide Equal Opportunities and Diversity Policy in 2003, applicable to the IS and civilian personnel in the IMS, as well as civilians in all NATO bodies and agencies.

    Separate policies against discrimination and harassment at work exist in NATO and several NATO bodies. Annual Progress Reports and Monitoring Reports are produced to outline achievements and trends and to put forward recommendations.

    Some numbers

    Currently¹ 1178 people serve in the NATO IS of which 37.2% are women. Female personnel represent 31% of the A-grade staff and 22.5% of the senior management in NATO. Of the civilian personnel in the IMS, 43.9% are women. The PDF Library on this page provides a more detailed breakdown of gender, age and national representation in the NATO HQ’s civilian workforce.

    Mainstreaming diversity

    A series of practical initiatives have been implemented in-house and continue to constitute a priority for NATO’s services: the NATO Organizational Development and Recruitment services reviewed all job descriptions and vacancy announcements in order to ensure gender neutrality in their formulation. In addition, for senior posts at grade A.5 and above, an external assessment centre may be used, which guarantees an additional level of culture-neutral professional assessment in line with NATO’s merit-based recruitment principles.

    The Talent Management services work constantly on the personal and professional development of the NATO HQ workforce and provide specific training opportunities for women, as well as awareness-raising events for the entire IS. The team in the Personnel Support services is responsible for the general well-being of the NATO IS, whose health and balanced lifestyle are their priority.

    In 2004 the NATO Internship Programme was established, allowing young graduates to bring to NATO HQ their share of diversity and enthusiasm. The success of the programme led, in 2009, to its extension to all NATO bodies and agencies.

    1. The numbers above are as of 30 January 2012.
  • Action Plans

    Bearing in mind the current demographic trends in NATO member states, and the vast number of international public and private institutions competing for quality candidates, it is crucial for the Organization to position itself well in order to remain, and for some to become, an employer of choice.

    As the Organization changes in line with evolving political requirements and tasks, it is essential that NATO diversify qualifications and competencies of its workforce. The key to triggering sustained institutional change is mainstreaming the process of change, i.e., to fully weave it into the very fabric of the organization. This is why, for instance, the first Action Plan covering the period 2007-2010 identified the three following objectives: to establish and maintain a NATO Diversity Framework and Policy; to improve the NATO work environment; and to promote and improve NATO’s image as an employer of choice. For each one of these objectives, annual targets were set within the Action Plan and the Progress Reports monitor developments each year.

    The next Action Plan should aim to shift work and efforts from diversity to inclusion. Diversity can be measured in numbers, but should not limit efforts to achieving balanced statistics. Rather, the aim would be to mainstream inclusion, which effectively means that efforts will be made to ensure that the diverse workforce will work well together.