Rising up: A Mongolian Woman’s Journey in Civil Service

March 29, 2023

Seruuntungalag Batbayar

UNDP Mongolia

“Career advancement in the civil service is a challenging journey that requires constant effort to hone your skills and expand your knowledge. However, the most crucial aspect is the courage to face the uncertainty and overcome your self-doubt.” 

These words of wisdom are from Seruuntungalag, a career civil servant with over 20 years of experience, who currently serves as the Department Head at the Provincial Court in Mongolia. But her journey here wasn’t straight forward, in fact, just the opposite. 

As of 2022, Mongolia ranked 70th out of the 159 countries on World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report but ranked 113th when it comes to women’s participation in the top decision-making levels. 

Despite comprising 51% of the population, Mongolian women are severely underrepresented at all executive and decision-making levels in Mongolia with only 17% in the Parliament, less than 30% in the local governments and less than 40% in the private sector. 

Among the long list of challenges that women face when pursuing senior roles in Mongolia, gender-based stereotypes are very challenging as they are deeply ingrained in the culture and societal norms. 

“When I was promoted to a director position, I used to encounter stereotypical rumors such as how I was probably promoted using my connections or using my gender or how women should not be in senior positions despite my years of experience and qualifications” says Seruuntungalag as she talked about how such stereotypes not only discourage many women from pursuing senior ranking roles but also hinder their self-confidence significantly.

Seruuntungalag doubted her ability to become a director for years despite being fully qualified until she discovered and enrolled in the Women Leadership Programme in Mongolia’s civil service designed to provide a comprehensive soft skills training, mentoring and coaching support which would equip, inspire and encourage women to aspire for executive level positions. 

The Programme was developed with supported from UNDP’s “Towards a Professional and Citizen Centred Civil Service in Mongolia” project, funded by the Government of Canada, and formally adopted by Mongolia’s Civil Service Council in 2021 paving the road for public institutions nationwide to include it in their human resource training and development plans. 

“I came to a profound realization that understanding and knowing your strengths and unique attributes is absolutely crucial in unlocking your full potential” says Seruuntungalag as she lists skills she mastered during the Programme, including ways to effectively prioritize and plan her tasks, ways to better coach and mentor her team, and most importantly, ways to promote positive and service-oriented culture at her work. 

As of 2022, 12 percent of the graduates of Programme, including Seruuntungalag, have been promoted to more senior roles in the civil service contributing to an even greater overall result where the percentage of women in senior roles in civil service doubled as of 2022 compared to 2016. 

“Whenever there is an issue at work, rather than being upset by it, I now see it as a positive challenge and look into how I can solve it, what I can do, what went wrong, and how I could prevent it next time” says Seruuntungalag on how she plans to use her newly found skills to be more agile and forward looking in her approaches.

 Seruuntungalag and other graduates are now well-equipped to not only pursue more senior roles in the civil service but also to enhance their citizen-centred, professional, and quality services to the people. 

“As women are often used to be an implementer, it is difficult to transition from that mindset once you become a manager. So, you need to resist the urge to micromanage and instead empower your team with clear directions that foster independence. By doing so, you create an environment that encourages growth, creativity, and collaboration towards better service to your community” says Seruuntungalag when asked for advice for other aspiring civil servants who want to advance their careers. 

“Of course, there will be challenges ahead of you including those who doubt you. And in the case of being a woman, your challenge might be greater than those of men. But to break free from stereotypes about women, it's essential to challenge the status quo and speak up against them and more importantly, continuously improve your skills and knowledge” she adds. 

Indeed, the courage to embrace your strengths and shortcomings, to anticipate the uncertainties, and to seek every opportunity to improve yourself could make a world of difference to one’s career trajectory.

Written by: 

Erdenesukh (Sukhee) Otgonbayar

Communications Analyst, UNDP in Mongolia

First Meeting of the Female Civil Administration Officials in Mongolia

UNDP Mongolia