The International Women’s Day on March 8 traditionally celebrates women’s economic, political and social achievements. On the occasion of International Women’s Day 2012, time is ripe to ask why gender gaps persist in many fields. Gender quotas in business and politics would help overcoming these gaps.
The UN theme for 2012 is “Empower Women – End Hunger and Poverty” – a theme that is shared by many organizations aiming at reducing gender inequality in developing countries. At the same time in developed countries, several organizations call for more political action to reduce the enduring gender gaps in political and economic participation. Even though women’s labor market participation has been increasing constantly over the past decades in developed countries, all OECD countries are still marked by important gender wage gaps and an underrepresentation of women in decision-making bodies in politics and business.
The average gender wage gap in the EU (27) adds up to 17,5% – a level that has practically stayed unchanged over the last years. In 2012, women still make up only 11.7% of boards at the top 3001 European companies. Women’s share in national parliaments is somewhat higher in most European countries, but no country reaches the 50% threshold (for example: France 19%, UK 22%, Germany 33%).
The persisting barriers for women to climb the career ladder in business and politics are mainly explained by pointing to difficulties for women to combine work with child rearing. However, many countries have been increasing their efforts to improve the work/life balance of parents over the recent years, for example by investing more and more in public child care services. In Europe, these investments have been particularly encouraged by the European Commission (“Barcelona objectives”). These efforts have certainly increased women’s supplied working hours, but no or very little change can be observed for the gender gap in occupations by sector and by status. However, differences in occupations are the major cause for the persisting gender wage gap. Some ask for patience now by claiming that a reduction of occupational and wage differences between men and women simply will set in with some time delay. Others are less optimistic and blame continuous gender discrimination for the persisting underrepresentation of women in parliaments, managerial positions, advisory boards etc.
In any case, it is time to give women’s decision making power a shot in the arm. How? The most efficient way is to introduce gender quotas in decision making bodies. The International Women’s Day 2012 is widely used to promote the idea of introducing gender quotas in politics and the economic sphere and more and more doubters are ready to overcome their reservations.
Germany, for example, is in the midst of a debate over gender quotas at newspapers. Female journalists in Germany sent an open letter to 250 editors and publishers demanding a quota that would ensure that at least 30 percent of all executive positions in media enterprises are filled by women. The letter states that now only two percent of those positions are held by women.
This year’s World Economic Forum also made a commitment to increase the visibility of women by instituting a gender quota. The forum has requested from their strategic partners that for every five executives that are attending the meeting, one of the executives must be a woman.
The European Commission currently consults on mandatory quotas for women on company boards of large European companies to tackle the persistent lack of gender diversity. The majority of commissioners state that self-regulation of companies so far has not brought satisfactory results. The lack of women in top jobs in the business world is considered as seriously harming Europe’s competitiveness and hampering economic growth.
Several EU member states including Belgium, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Spain have already introduced rules on gender quotas for company boards. Unfortunately, introducing gender quotas for regional and national parliaments is rarely on the political agenda in Europe. It is high time that Europe breaks the glass ceiling that continues to bar female talent from getting to the top, not only in Europe’s listed companies but also in politics.
Source: Angela Luci’s own contribution
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