Closing the gap: Women leaders in public service

Closing gender gaps in public life is a critical issue for countries seeking to foster inclusive growth and build trust in public institutions. Women generally make up more than half of the population, and the public sector is an important employer in many countries. For these reasons, equal participation in public administration is a key part of strengthening the relationship between the State and society.

UNDP has been working to support women’s access to decision-making positions in public institutions since 2011. We invite you to meet some of the inspirational women we’ve met along the way, like Bratislava Tanaskovic.

Name: Bratislava Tanaskovic
Position: Former Chief of staff at the Ministry for Information Society and Public Administration, currently working with the Regional Youth Cooperation Office
Agency/Department/Ministry: Ministry for Information Society and Public Administration
Country: The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

1) Bratislava, tell us about yourself and how you advanced in your career.

My civil service career started in 2010. I first worked as a volunteer for the Ministry for Information Society and Public Administration for six months, and then as a paid intern for seven months. I was doing my master’s degree through a government scholarship at the time, and at the end of my internship, I applied and got a permanent position with the Ministry.

In 2011, I moved to the cabinet of Deputy Minister Marta Asrovska Tomovska. Working for her was an inspiration! She was my mentor, and I credit all my knowledge today to her. She also set a new example in terms of having a good work-life balance as a woman.

2) Do you feel that the public administration environment is considerate of gendered needs and concerns?

Women in public service are in what are typically called “soft sectors”, like education and health.

In the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia the entry exams are based on meritocracy, and currently more women enter civil service than men. Three of our 15 ministers are women. However, women in public service are in what are typically called “soft sectors”, like education and health.

But to answer your question, I’d say it really depends. The Ministry for Information Society and Public Administration consists of 68 percent men, and despite a higher proportion of men, I would say it is considerate.

3) Has your Ministry reflected on gender gaps and established any programmes to promote representation and participation?

Not directly. We try to attract more talent. We’re continuously working on promoting women in the ICT sector through initiatives such as the Girls in ICT Day and having a good work-life balance.

4) What are some barriers you have encountered during your career?

The Ministry for Information Society and Public Administration consists of 68% men.

I have to be honest and say that I have not really encountered barriers. At 33 years old, I am considered young for the position held but I believe I got to my former position because I worked hard and with dedication, under a female minister who truly believed in equal representation of men and women.

5) Do you feel that the barriers women face in accessing leadership positions are discussed candidly in your work environment to allow for women’s input?

There is no quota system for women in public administration in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, but I think having a woman as Minister made it easier to have a very inclusive process for cooperation and an open dialogue policy. My male colleagues were very considerate and they certainly allowed for our input.

6) Tell us more about your leadership style.

I place an emphasis on staying informed and listening to others. It is very important to engage with people you work with. I also really respect senior leaders, professionals with many years of experience.

On ICT Day, girls are invited to spend the day at an ICT company office to learn about opportunities in the ICT sector. Photo: Girls in ICT

7) Talking about senior leaders, how do you break down gender roles and connect with senior male managers that have different approaches?

I don’t think I have ever had to change my approach at work based on gender. But based on my personal experience, working under a man or a woman is very different. Although the former Minister’s male predecessor was great to work with, I find that my former Minister was much more understandable, approachable, and open to new ideas, and that’s despite her being stricter.

8) Are there mentoring networks for women within public administration?

There is gender-responsive budgeting and gender-sensitivity training for all. I also try to mentor young people and be an inspiration to others. I am part of the young leaders’ programme of the President of the Republic of Macedonia, and I used what I learned to mentor others.

UNDP works in countries around the world to promote gender equality in public administration. In Armenia, women are more likely than men to hold higher education degrees, yet they have a much lower presence in government. UNDP supports women leaders seeking to change this, starting at the local level.

9) Where do you see yourself in the next decade?

Good question! Well, I love working in public administration. The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia is in the process of reforming and innovating, and I really want to be part of that change. I am currently doing my PhD in Serbia through a scholarship from the Serbian government. I think that at some point I’m going to move into the academic sector but will be focusing my research on the modernization of public administration.

10) And finally, how do you keep motivated in your work?

I always tell myself: Bratislava, you can always do better! And remind myself to learn from and adapt to change, positive or negative.

Women participate in management training, part of a UNDP programme that aims to enhance the government’s effectiveness in fulfilling its mandate. By building the capacity of local governments around the world, UNDP supports a more inclusive and transparent public sector. Photo: UNDP Bangladesh