Watch: A conversation with UNHCR HR chief Catty Bennet Sattler

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While UNHCR is no stranger to emergency response, this has been an “unprecedented situation” according to the UN Refugee Agency’s director of human resources, Catty Bennet Sattler, “putting us in response mode, reflection mode, and action mode all at the same time.”

Still, “88% of staff are fully remote or teleworking in some modality” and “we are fully functioning,” with colleagues being “creative and innovative in how to respond in different ways,” Bennet Sattler explained.

Candidates with combined skill sets in working with refugee and migrant populations and health care or pandemic response are likely to be in demand, as are those with broader skill sets that can adapt to different contexts.

“Emergencies like this tend to give opportunities to those that are willing to be creative, those that are willing to step outside of their comfort zone,” Bennet Sattler said, as she stressed that soft skills such as empathy, agility, and flexibility are more critical than ever. In addition to embracing new technologies, professionals who adopt a mindset of “if I can't deliver as I've always been able to deliver, what might be the alternative," she said, are those that are rising to the occasion.

The future of work is “right now” she added, providing a chance to “reexamine some of the things we’ve held as a given for a long time,” dispelling fears over remote and flexible work arrangements almost overnight.

As the UN Refugee Agency thinks about what a “new normal” may look like, it’s not hard to imagine technology allowing for innovations in delivery models.

"Maybe we'll have virtual duty stations in the future," Bennet Sattler suggested, on areas the agency is looking at experimenting with in the future.

Recruitment continues as usual with new hires starting jobs under telework arrangements and a need for flexibility for all concerned as to when they can be deployed to new duty stations.

As the agency looks to the medium- to long-term response and needs, candidates with combined skill sets in working with refugee and migrant populations and health care or pandemic response are likely to be in demand, as are those with broader skill sets that can adapt to different contexts.

Bennet Sattler is optimistic that this challenging moment will accelerate at “warp speed” the work that was already happening on modernizing the United Nations for a new era, allowing for more opportunities, flexibility, and “work-life integration.”

Watch more from the series:
IOM HR chief Michael Emery discusses the pandemic's impact on the workplace and careers.
RTI International's Bucky Fairfax talks about the opportunities to build in inclusivity and equalize access to leadership.

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About the author

  • Kate Warren

    Kate Warren is Executive Vice President and resident talent and careers guru at Devex. With 15 years of global development recruitment experience advising international NGOs, consulting firms, and donor agencies, she has a finger on the pulse of hiring trends across the industry and insider knowledge on what it takes to break in.