"Seek those whose voices are not heard, listen carefully, speak up on their behalf"

Christine Nylander, Chief of Learning and Development in UNICEF's Division of Human Resources in New York, focused on supporting and empowering her team

23 March 2021

On March 8, it's International Women's Day. This year’s theme is "Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world", celebrating the tremendous efforts by women around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. At UNICEF, we want to celebrate the achievements of women in leadership positions, and also those who display leadership qualities.

Throughout the whole month of March 2021, the Women's Month, we publish the stories of only a few of the many women who make a difference in UNICEF every day. Today, we host the interview of Christine Nylander, our Chief of Learning and Development, in UNICEF's Division of Human Resources.

Portrait photo of Christine
Christine Nylander
Since the onset of the pandemic, Christine focused on team empowerment and well-being, ensuring that all voices are heard, and all concerns are addressed.

Be courageous, try out new things, innovate.
Offer help. Offer your time so that you can learn new skills.
It’s okay to make mistakes if you learn from them! Ask for help if you need it. Try to build your networks, connect with peers and senior colleagues. Lookout for other female staff (Junior and senior) - mentor and help them, Care for yourself to maintain personal and professional fitness!

Christine Nylander

Chief of Learning and Development, Division of Human Resources, New York

Who are you and what is your role at UNICEF?

I'm Christine Nylander - Chief Learning & Development

How did COVID-19 impact your life, both on professional as well as on personal level?

Covid-19 was stressful and fraught with many challenges because of the additional pressures of workload it brought for our team. Nonetheless, it was also an opportunity to enhance our learning offerings. We rapidly converted some of our programme modules to virtual delivery e.g. Management MasterClass (MMC) and created new learning offerings to support staff to effectively deliver during the context of the pandemic when facing multiple pressures (Leading Remote teams, Pressure and Priorities etc). We also created learning paths for both staff and managers. It was also a great opportunity to bond as a team, getting to know ourselves better enhancing our ability to meaningfully connect and support each other.

For me personally I found the physical isolation and uncertainty somewhat difficult - being away from close family and friends and far too much time to think and be fearful did not help! So, I began to apply the additional time I had gained into thinking through strategies for enhancing the impact of our programmes, applying it to personal development, cooking and spiritual growth. I also used the time gained to reach out to others, including team members, to support them as best as I can. 

Do you think that the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionally impacted women, mothers and girls' lives, and how?

I saw some of the negative impact of COVID-19 on the lives of friends and their kids. I witnessed how overnight, some of the husbands of nurses from Sierra Leone were losing their lives to COVID-19.

Christine with her family
Christine Nylander
Christine Nylander, first from left, with her mother and sisters.

I also personally lost two cousins who left widows behind. Losing heads of households or the second provider in the family, as wives worked long hours in hospitals was tragic. Some female colleagues also suddenly became tutors, having to balance work, family life and teaching their kids. The pressure became high. Daughters had to help more at home with chores and looking after siblings where mothers had passed. Life had suddenly changed forever.

What do you believe are women's strengths, and what are the advantages of female leadership in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic?

Most of the countries that did well in the early days of COVID-19 had female leaders. As a female leader I have tried to: Show empathy and compassion for team members – try to see the world from their perspective; Support others as best as I can – when you take care of others you would always reap the benefits; Think of the collective and not myself; 

Create safe environments for colleagues to speak up – listening well; Provide safety – psychological and otherwise so that the team can grow, speak up, make mistakes and learn from them; Seek those whose voices are not normally heard, listen carefully and where appropriate speak up on their behalf especially on inequities, etc; Share information on my personal failures so colleagues can see that we are all human - the important thing is what you do after; Communicate, communicate, communicate; Share with honesty, be honest and authentic; Be decisive in my decision making; Improve self-care.

What is your advice to women navigating their careers during a health crisis, as well as in a post COVID-19 pandemic world?

“The world is your oyster – grab it”. Take advantage of opportunities – there are many needs from the pandemic, seize the many growth opportunities the arise. Be courageous - try out new things – innovate. Share the idea. Offer help – Offer your time so that you can stretch and learn new skills. It’s okay to make mistakes if you learn from them! Ask for help if you need it Try to build your networks – connect with peers and senior colleagues. Lookout for other female staff - junior and senior - mentor and help them. Care for yourself, to maintain personal and professional fitness! Look after yourself to prevent burn out. Remember, it’s okay to not feel okay! Be yourself, be authentic. Do not rush into any job because of status – find what you enjoy, focus on it and the rest will follow. Try to achieve some sort of balance between work and family life. Staff with strong family support seem to be more resilient and excel. Work should never be at the cost of your family.