We are stuck on gender equality, so let’s change the game!

On the 21st October, the European Women’s Lobby organised a very interesting event in the European Parliament, hosted by MEP Catherine Bearder, on advancing gender equality in business.

Even though it was great to be listening to the panellists either recount personal experiences or company practices on the issue, and to hear that the reconciliation of work and family life is still a major issue (as we have been saying for many years), the mood was rather that of  puzzlement: what are we still doing wrong?

The timeliness of the conference is evident, as unfortunately Europe started to stagnate, or even decline in some of the gender indicators. In Europe only 3% of CEOs are women, they are clearly underrepresented in the decision making bodies in business – hence the discussion on the quotas for Women on Corporate Boards, either in general, or on publicly listed companies.

Several aspects are contributing to the frustration. On the one hand, there is very compelling evidence out there, that a more diverse workforce, and a balanced decision making body composed in equal parts of women and men make total business sense.

gender pyramidEven in sectors, where the majority of employees are women (healthcare, education, social services), there is a gender pyramid (as shown in this figure illustrating the US workforce), the higher we advance in the hierarchy, the less women are there. Only 10% of female top-managers in the healthcare sector.

It was also staggering to hear about France, where the gender paygap is very small, yet in senior management positions women still earn 30% less than their male counterparts. Why is that? Because at these high levels of corporate decision making, salaries, bonuses, perks and benefits are negotiated at individual levels. So as soon as we move from middle-management to top-management, the paygap opens again. Women perhaps value time over money, and are much more likely to negotiate their working hours and time in general, than their male colleagues.

Unfortunately, even civil society and international organisations haven’t quite mastered equality, with women only making up 30% of the directors and CEOs.

What next? It is clear, that we need to be more creative and find some new entry ways to advance women in decision making. But nothing will happen, unless we change the game, unless we change the structures and the framework that govern these posts and jobs. Especially in global companies, the toll on managers’ time is very heavy, managing and meetings between time-zones, a lot of travel and claim for time, way, way beyond the 9-to-5.

It is clear, that unless we change these extremely gendered workplace norms, and make it more accommodating to women, they won’t take that next promotion or opportunity, because the trade-off is simply too big. Nobody wants to choose between work, family, or life. We want them all. Just not one at the expense of the others.

What next? The European Commission launched the Fresh start initiative, which promises a fresh look at what is already out there, and how to advance even further.

We have published our European Reconciliation Package in March, and the recommendations and examples still hold true.

And of course, we want to hear from you, and get your ideas, what will make it easier for women to have both fulfilling careers and satisfying family and private lives? Over to you!

More information about the EWL event here

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