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SIS Alumna Creates Safer Workplaces for Women

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Sexual harassment and misconduct in the workplace are widespread issues around the world. Women are disproportionally affected by misconduct and violence in the workplace, with an average of eight percent of women experiencing some form of harassment or violence, according to UN Women.

Protecting women and creating safe workplaces takes action and effort at every level, from federal governments to individuals. Over 140 nations have some form of legislation that addresses workplace misconduct and violence, but operationalizing those rules and establishing accountability takes many people, including people like Livia Mueller, SIS/BA ’10, SIS/MA ‘13.

Mueller is currently working as a Protection from Sexual Exploitation and Abuse (PSEA) and Sexual Harassment (SH) Specialist with UN Women. We caught up with her to discuss her current role, her SIS experience, and how UN Women is setting a precedent—and setting the bar high—for safe and inclusive workplaces.

Finding her place at SIS

When Mueller was searching for the perfect fit in a college, she knew that she wanted a school that had a good reputation, prioritized an international focus, and offered multiple viewpoints on topics discussed in the classroom. SIS met each mark and exceeded her expectations once she began her undergraduate degree.

“I was interested in exploring different, more innovative ways of thinking about problems around the world, and I thought AU was cutting edge for that. It was my number one choice, and the experience did not disappoint,” said Mueller.

When Mueller was looking to continue her education at SIS, she began to search for a graduate program that would both challenge her and allow her to focus on particular interests. Thanks to her involvement in the University Honors Program, Mueller was able to take some graduate-level courses while still an undergraduate, and that exposure led her to develop an interest in the ethics and philosophy of peace. The Ethics, Peace, and Global Affairs program (now the Ethics, Peace, and Human Rights program) seemed to be a perfect fit for Mueller’s graduate studies.

“The EPGA [EPHR] program equips you with unique skills in how to look at a problem, how to understand it, and how to design a solution for it. It teaches you hard and soft skills that complement each other and gives you a perspective that not many other people can have. The “ethics” part allows you to also understand your own biases, and it challenges the way we view the world from a much more philosophical point of view,” said Mueller. 

Building a career

Following her graduation from SIS in 2013, Mueller began working at the Inter-American Development Bank in their education division as a consultant. The IDB is the primary long-term financial partner for nations in Latin America and the Caribbean. This position was the perfect way to start her career, as her master’s focus was on Latin America and Indigenous approaches to peacebuilding. Soon, Mueller found herself moving from consultant to project coordinator and, ultimately, to senior analyst within the IDB.

“I think the academic rigor that SIS required helped me to show a work ethic and a quality of work that was appreciated,” said Mueller.

As Mueller continued in her career, she found herself drawn to the intersection of ethics and international perspectives. After several years with the IDB, Mueller began a new position with UN Women, where she serves as a PSEA and SH specialist. In her role, she focuses on addressing sexual misconduct perpetrated by UN-affiliated staff and personnel and promoting an inclusive and empowering workplace culture.

“This position is exactly that intersection of international work with ethics, and it puts those two worlds perfectly together now. I am using all of my experience and perspectives from SIS on a daily basis,” said Mueller.

Supporting Safe Workplaces at UN Women

UN Women is the UN entity dedicated to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. Teams inside the organization focus on various initiatives that deliver programs, policies, and standards that uphold women’s human rights and ensure that every woman and girl lives up to her full potential. To ensure that all personnel are afforded the opportunity to reach their fullest potential and empowered to deliver the best possible results for those whom UN Women serves, Mueller’s team specifically focuses on the creation and maintenance of an inclusive, diverse, productive, and positive work environment in UN Women.

“Sexual misconduct, as a form of gender-based violence, is something that goes against the ethos of our organization, which fights for women’s equality and the empowerment of women. It’s a kind of behavior that is inadmissible and that represents a profound betrayal of our mandate,” said Mueller. “As such, UN Women cannot tolerate SEA and SH being perpetrated by our own personnel, and I am the technical lead for  their effective prevention and response, which form a priority for our organization.”

Beyond protecting and holding UN Women employees accountable, Mueller and her team have an interagency focus that connects them to other UN agencies around the world. There are numerous working groups and task forces that call upon specific agencies to contribute their experience, leverage their knowledge, and collaborate to build better system-wide approaches to put an end to SEA and SH once and for all.

“My team and UN Women bring the gender equality lens to these discussions, and we work together to tackle issues and make sure we have a robust system in place that protects everyone,” Mueller said.

Global Perspectives on Safe Workplaces

A global perspective is key for organizations like UN Women, which operates in 82 countries. Approaching the issue of workplace harassment and violence with a global mindset allows Mueller and her team to establish the most effective protocols, educational programs, and prevention programs for the organization based on the needs of its personnel in various locations.

“We need to understand the different contexts that we work in. Contextual factors are key to the effectiveness of any program that the UN delivers,” said Mueller. “So, whenever we do work in different countries, we need to understand the different realities that they work in; the different risk factors that might be at play; the different dynamics; and the different ways that things need to be communicated, structured, and implemented.”

Mueller’s work focuses on the protection from SEA and SH within UN Women and across the UN system, but the real impact of her work can be felt in the ripple effect it creates. To effectively tackle sexual misconduct, a culture change that challenges individual attitudes, beliefs, and practices, as well as broader social norms around gender and violence, and their systems and structures, is vital.

By promoting such a culture change within UN Women and contributing to the same across the UN system, a workplace environment of respect and safety is created that reaches the people UN Women serves and beyond – thus contributing to the positive change UN Women and the UN system seek to evoke in our world.