Representative Noda meets with people of Laamu Atoll on a trip with Goodwill Ambassador Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, to see the effects of climate change on Maldivian communities and the islands. © UNDP Maldives / Umair Badeeu.

UNDP has recently undergone a major reorganization to align the organization with SDG 5 — gender equality — and to bring it in line with UN Development System reform.

Women and men now hold an equal number of posts in senior leadership.

To mark this historic achievement, we spoke to some of UNDP’s female leaders about the lessons they’ve learned in their careers, and what advice they would give to others.

Here’s what they said.

Shoko Noda, UNDP Resident Representative, Maldives

“The typical challenge that I face is that my counterparts are mostly men. That means that it takes more time for me to build rapport with them.

“Often I’m asked: ‘What is my husband doing in the Maldives?’ And I often wonder whether the same question would be asked if I were a man.”

“Gender is absolutely important because getting [a critical mass of] women in parliament is one of the most important pillars of our work. We have to walk the talk. I am very proud that UNDP has reached gender parity at the Resident Representative level.”

“I was not born a natural, extroverted leader. I have learned it’s okay to be an introvert leader. An introvert leader brings many advantages, such as listening to all team members and building harmony and consensus. We are also often more patient, and we can lead from behind.”

Silvia Morimoto, UNDP Country Director, Argentina

“My advice to young women is, ‘Don’t wait around to have these support systems built [for you]. Be proactive and confident, push yourselves, build it yourselves. Network, network, network — get out of your comfort zone and build alliances. Speak up and don’t be timid about highlighting your achievements. Seek advice and guidance from people you respect and trust. Always help others, and of course, support other women in the workplace.”

“I once had a boss tell me that I was too inclusive and accommodating because my leadership style is very inclusive. I was confused because I could see that my leadership style was effective, as proven by the results of my team. I believe in a flat structure [and] empowered people who can challenge the status quo to get better solutions.”

“I believe in teamwork, empathy, and helping others. As nice as it sounds, it sometimes annoys and threatens senior colleagues. I did not change my style, of course, because I believe in it. However, I made efforts and was more mindful and explained to traditionally-minded colleagues why taking time to include everyone is more effective in the long term.”

“I learned that to be a transformational leader you have to bring along your team to a common vision. Inclusivity and empathy are key stepping stones to achieve this.”

“The worst advice that I ever had was to [embrace] a more masculine look. I did it. I cut my hair short, I stopped wearing long earrings, and started dressing in black. But as I became more confident, I realized that people would respect me based on my results and my achievements and not on my looks. In the end, it’s all about being confident and strategic and delivering results. The best advice I received was, Pursue your passion, always add value, be humble, and focus on what is important in your life and your career. Trust your intuition. This will make you happier.”

Agi Veres, UNDP Resident Representative, China

As a senior professional and a woman, [I often hear people ask] when they know I have a family and three children, ‘How do you do it? How do you balance all of this?’ I don’t think that men with three children are asked the same question.”

“We need to be conscious whom we are inviting to the table, is it men or women, what kind of message that sends, whom are we asking to go out and represent the organization, whose opinion, whose input, we are requesting, and how we are managing these interactions, [internally and] externally.”

“I think the best advice I’ve gotten was, ‘Go in there, knowing what you are and what you can offer, and don’t worry who is around the table.’ And I have in several instances walked into the room and I am the only woman around the table among 15 people. You can’t make a first impression twice. So when you go in there and contribute, make sure you know what it is that you’re adding.”

“As women leaders, we have an extra responsibility to young professionals who are women, who are going through the same thinking process and insecurities we had in an earlier stage of our careers. [We] were not held back by stereotypes, misperceptions, and other issues associated with gender.”

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