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The ILO’s Deborah Greenfield: In dialogue with the Nordics on gender equality

The ILO’s Deborah Greenfield: In dialogue with the Nordics on gender equality

| Text: Berit Kvam

Deborah Greenfield was part of the transitional administration from Bush to Obama. Now, as the Deputy Director General, she is about to take the ILO into a new era. Meeting Nordic labour ministers, Deborah Greenfield is impressed with the discussion.

“What strikes me is that a key ingredient In the Nordic model is reflection and self-reflection, criticism and self-criticism and it is done without an edge or judgement. There is a stocktaking at periodic intervals about what’s working and what’s not working, and a commitment to pursue what works and to learn from each other. That is one thing that impressed me,” she says.

The Nordic labour ministers have invited a formidable guest; Greenfield has more than 30 years’ experience as a labour and employment attorney in important positions, and five years as Deputy Director General at the ILO. Yet she is still learning, she says, and enjoys getting an insight into how the ministers cooperate.

“It looks like the Nordic cooperation is continuously evolving."

It suits her well. The ILO will be celebrating its centenary soon, and has initiated a dialogue about how the organisation should develop to face the future. The centenary celebrations call for a new declaration. Its content is being thoroughly discussed by the 187 member countries; nationally, regionally and globally. The result will not be ready before the dialogue allows it to be

Deborah GreenfieldDeborah Greenfield’s areas of responsibility are policy development, research, statistics and statistics development across the field of labour and employment which the ILO addresses. The Nordic region’s desire to develop a cooperation on the gathering and processing of statistics is just up her street. Finding comparable figures is a great challenge for international cooperation.

She has a discrete charm. If there is a dress code at the ILO, which has the world as its office, she fits perfectly, elegant and ready to play professional roles anywhere in the world, faultless.

She is struck by the self-evident manner in which the Nordic labour ministers talk about the tripartite cooperation.

“It is a familiar model in the ILO sense. But I think since the Nordic countries are so close to each other and have worked together for so long, there is a comfort level with saying: look this is not working in my country.”

The work method is new to her, and the Nordic region has been part of setting up the ILO as a tripartite organisation where employers, employees and governments are equal partners in developing policies, programmes and standards for the labour market. Norway and Denmark were there from the beginning in 1919, Finland and Sweden joined the year after.

It is remarkable, she thinks, how integrated this work process is in the cooperation between the ministers.

“This grounded assumption that the social partners are and will be involved, and the solution comes from that tripartite model.

“This is not so common in the USA or other parts of the world. It is part of the Nordic DNA.”

She has a broad professional background and was also an advisor in the Obama administration. But from Obama to Trump? What does she think about that?

“I’ll refer to what Obama has said. We have orderly transitions of power and I saw it and experienced it when we went from the George W. Bush administration to the Obama administration. We will just have to wait and see.”

And in relation to the ILO?

“We don’t have any indication right now that the cooperation will be any less.”

The pressure of globalisation is felt everywhere

Globalisation seems to present the same challenges across the world, she thinks.

“When Nordic countries talk about the challenges of youth unemployment, I recognise it from discussions in many less developed countries. The problem is not on the same level or of the same size, but it is the same phenomenon,” says Deborah Greenfield.

There is an ongoing debate whether to extend the cooperation with the ILO beyond for instance national ILO committees, that Nordic countries take a place on the ILO governing body on a rotational basis and take part in all meetings with a tripartite delegation.

What does she think about that?

“The cooperation with the ILO is already very strong, not only through participation, but the Nordic countries are also generous with their development aid. But there is always room for more cooperation, particularly in terms of the Future of Work initiative, by sharing results from research and taking part in the forums which we will now have in order to develop a new declaration for 2019. Sharing which policies the Nordic countries think are viable to make sure that the work of the future is decent work. I think those are ways of deepening the cooperation.

“I also hope that it will be possible to find more ways in which to share the Nordic model. Not as the only model available, but since the Nordic countries are facing many of the same challenges as other countries, albeit not on the same scale, there are experiences worth sharing, also from other countries. We could have a fruitful dialogue here,” says Deborah Greenfield.

The future of work and gender equality

The ILO and the Nordic region cooperate on the Future of Work initiative ahead of the centenary celebrations. The dialogue will help define the content of a declaration on the ILO’s future work. Deborah Greenfield, whose areas of responsibility include research, is keen to learn from the knowledge which can be found in the Nordic region, and she would like the Nordics to contribute wherever possible.

“We wish to build a strong knowledge base, so we are keen to see the results from research in the Nordic region. It will also be possible to take part in a global commission. After 2019 I expect that the Nordic region will be playing as active a role as it wishes.”

Global Gender Dialogue is the dialogue on gender equality. What are your expectations here?

“I believe that like in many of the other dialogues we have in the ILO, the best outcome is twofold: The first is to share views, which can often be opposing ones. The second is to identify the way forward, and then to use the ILO on a global, regional and country level to actually implement policies.”

As the conference on Global Gender Dialogue shows, the Nordic region is not yet quite there either when it comes to gender equality.

If you were to contribute actively to create change, where would you concentrate your focus?

“I would push at a number of things. I think I would take a hard look at occupational segregation, because we are not only talking about getting more women into work – we must also look at where they work and where men work. So if we use wages as a measure, maybe the most important measure of equal quality of work, occupational segregation plays a huge role in that. ”

The division of labour does not work well, is it necessary to think differently? If women’s work was valued more, perhaps more men would choose differently. Perhaps we must address wage levels?

“Well. I think I agree, but I would put it slightly differently. The care economy is growing, particularly in developed economies with increasing levels of digitalisation. We must find a way to value these jobs differently, but I think before we do that, it is important to make sure these jobs carry the necessary protection – equal wage, social protection and the like."

The ILO’s centenary initiatives

Deborah Greenfield takes the ILO into a new era. The Nordic labour ministers’ meeting she presented the centenary discussions. 

The Future of Work Centenary initiative has got a lot of attention. Secretary General Guy Ryder presented a comprehensive report about how it will be executed at the International Labour Conference in 2015.

Here are the seven initiatives which after thorough debate among member states nationally, regionally and globally will make up the basis for the ILO’s new centenary convention

  1. The future of work initiative, to better meet the world of work challenges of the next century
  2. The end to poverty initiative, to eradicate global poverty
  3. The women at work initiative, to realise equality of opportunity and treatment
  4. The green initiative, to scale up the work the work with the transition to a low-carbon and sustainable society
  5. The standards initiative, to enhance the relevance of international labour standards through a standards review mechanism.
  6. The enterprises initiative, to establish a platform for ILO engagement with enterprises which would contribute to their sustainability
  7. The governance initiative, to reform the ILO’s governance structures, to evaluate the impact of the 2008 Social Justice Declaration, and act on the findings


The Future of Work Centenary initiatives

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