Engaging Men in the Gender Equality discussion: an interview with Mr. Peter Sands, Executive Directo

Mr. Peter Sands is the Executive Director of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, and was formerly the CEO of the Standard Chartered Bank. Women in Global Health’s Executive Director Roopa Dhatt and Senior Fellow Ann Keeling sat down with Mr. Peter Sands to ask him some questions surrounding his experience in working towards gender equality.

[Women in Global Health]: What was your experience of gender equality in your career before joining the Global Fund? Can you tell us about any policies or programs you have led to advance gender equality?

[Mr Peter Sands]: At Standard Chartered Bank (SCB), I came into an organization that somebody described as a bit ‘pale, male and stale’ and I was keen to develop more diverse management teams, not only in gender but by nationality. So l instructed that every short-list for external recruitments had to include female candidates and introduced various forms of flexible working that were unusual in some of the countries SCB operated in. The aim was to make it easier for people at mid-career stage with children. In some of our new buildings we added creches, not limited to women but probably benefiting women disproportionately who were often the primary carers. We set up women’s networks and mentoring relationships where senior women and external women mentored women earlier in their careers. By the time I finished as CEO of SCB, 50% of the top business roles were occupied by women, inspiring change and creating role models. At the time, very few banks in the world could have said that. In that sector there are far fewer women coming through the pipeline than there are in global health. I was lucky because I found and helped mentor some extremely talented women. It's easier in some fields and countries to attract and retain women. Some cultures make it easier for women to maintain their careers throughout motherhood but there are paradoxes. We think of the Middle East as a region where it is harder for women to pursue careers but in SCB we found a large number of very talented women from that region. They were attracted to foreign companies partly because it was more difficult for them to work in government.

[Women in Global Health]: Of all the measures that you put in place were there any you would say were most effective?

[Mr Peter Sands]: It was several measures combined but also that we said from the outset we were interested in solving the problem. Career development in an international bank means being mobile and that can be a particular challenge for women. So we had to problem solve around the issue of children’s mobility and mobility of spouses. It was a combination of measures plus signals that we were serious about gender equality and prepared, for example, to fire anyone guilty of sexual harassment.

[Women in Global Health]: And did you find it straightforward to engage other senior men in this?

[Mr Peter Sands]: Yes, a number of the strongest mentors of women were men who saw it as an important objective. I sold it to the Board, shareholders and senior management team not as political correctness but about recognizing underrepresented female talent. If SCB could make itself attractive, we would get disproportionately good people (women) in a field, banking, which is completely talent-based. Some male managers felt threatened and there was resistance but it proved to be a good business decision.

[Women in Global Health]: You recently took up your post at the Global Fund, what are your initial impressions of gender equality in the work of the Global Fund and also in the internal management of the Global Fund?

[Mr Peter Sands]: I have been struck by the importance of gender inequalities as drivers of disease. The most striking example is HIV infection among adolescent girls and young women. Women and adolescent girls in some parts of eastern and sub-Saharan Africa face multiple risks. The underlying root causes are a mix of sexual violence, exploitation, economic disempowerment and educational gaps. We recognize gender inequality as an important driver of HIV and must address it to beat HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria. But its not as simple as supplying the latest antiretroviral drug, this means dealing with issues beyond classical clinical solutions.

[Women in Global Health]: This question isn’t new so how do you feel the Global Fund has addressed it to date?

[Mr Peter Sands]: Correct, it isn’t new. We have had success addressing HIV/AIDS in specific target populations such as sex workers and men who have sex with men but now we need to scale up prevention. The growth in young populations means a growth in the number of girls in younger age groups and therefore, a greater number of girls to protect. The problem with prevention is that it is easier to measure the impact of treatment and this may bias programs towards treatment.

GF has launched a program called HER - HIV Epidemic Response - including HER Voices, empowering adolescent girls and young women. PEPFAR has done good work in this area, via their DREAMS program and we work closely with them. The most successful interventions involve the young women themselves and peer education. These programs have to be nationally led and locally owned.

[Women in Global Health]: What role can you play as a male champion for gender equality?

[Mr Peter Sands]: My biggest speaking engagement during the World Health Assembly this year was at an event the GF hosted where I talked about the scale of the challenge preventing HIV in young women and the opportunities to address it. We have to be prepared take risks and try things that are a bit different. I think we are furthest behind on the young men who are infecting these very young women. Interventions have been focused on girls/women but we also need to get to the young men who do not show much interest in health messaging. The average young man thinks he is immortal and data shows their access to HIV testing tends to be lower than any other social group.

[Women in Global Health]: Can we turn to the GF and ask your initial impressions on gender equality in GF management after a few months in post?

[Mr Peter Sands]: Women are over half GF staff, 44% managers and 21% of executive management. It is not bad but we have some way to go in senior management. The Global Health 5050 report put us in the top ten in their ranking. GF is going through the process of getting certification on Gender Parity from the Equal Salary Foundation. We have gender parity on the GF Board members and alternates, which is good. And 40% of our Country Coordinating Mechanism (CCM) members are women or transgender.

[Women in Global Health]: Generally, in global health organizations we see a similar pattern with women forming the majority of staff but under represented at senior levels. Have you considered following the precedent set by DG WHO, Dr Tedros who has appointed a senior leadership team with 60% women?

[Mr Peter Sands]: I have decided to approach it differently - as a longer term process developing talent, mentorship and sustainable leadership.

[Women in Global Health]: In the case of SCB you talked about making the organization attractive to female talent to get women into the pipeline. Global health, however, is a majority female profession and talented women are in the leadership pipeline. Would that change your approach?

[Mr Peter Sands]: No because a lot of the talent I am looking for is not classic public health talent – we need more women in technology, data analytics, financial control and procurement in global health. Those fields are less gender balanced than global health.

[Women in Global Health]: Universal Health Coverage (UHC) is the most visionary global health goal. Women are 70% of the global health workforce so will be critical to delivering UHC. How will the Global Fund address gender equality in supporting UHC?

[Mr Peter Sands]: The Global Fund’s Gender Equality Strategy has been in place since 2008. We are working hard to weave gender equality into individual grants eg where we are funding community health workers (CHWs), who are mostly women. We get involved in compensation and equality in pay. Many CHWs work under insecure conditions and many are unpaid. The ethos of the Global Fund encourages active involvement of CSO partners in all aspects of our programs from CCMs to our Board. Human resources for health are a critical success factor for health systems and gender issues are part of that. The Global Fund can make an important contribution to gender equality with partners but we can’t solve it alone since we are just one player, with a particular focus. We can have an important influencing role for women delivering UHC.

[Women in Global Health]: You will be aware of the #MeToo campaign which has brought to light sexual harassment in all sectors, including the aid sector. How will you ensure the Global Fund has an organizational culture that respects gender equality and has zero tolerance for harassment of women at all levels?

[Mr Peter Sands]: Even before joining the Global Fund, I asked for a comprehensive review of this area. We have taken a range of measures and have others in hand including updating our code of conduct, brown bag sessions, workshops and reviving the employee handbook. We are asking donor organizations and bilaterals to work with us as it will be much more powerful to adopt common approaches. I have made it clear that we do not tolerate any form of harassment or bullying in the GF. We are setting appropriate expectations with partners but that is more complex than working on internal GF processes which we control.

[Women in Global Health]: What role do you see for NGOs like Women in Global Health (WGH) in supporting the work of the Global Fund?

[Mr Peter Sands]: I see NGOs like WGH supporting the work of Global Fund by holding us to account and surfacing the issues women face. I am familiar with the banking sector but it will be helpful for me to hear how these issues play out in global health. Medicine is more hierarchical than many of the sectors I have worked in. In the private sector, performance and talent are paramount and oddly, that means at times it can be easier for women to advance to senior posts. I will think more about the points you have raised on women frontline health workers. Your focus on these issues is very positive and can highlight issues we need to think about at the GF.

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