With the new term of the European Commission beginning to take shape and in the midst of preparations for the Commission’s work programme in full flow, now is the time for stakeholders to open up with their expectations. What can be done at the EU level to move towards gender equality at work by breaking down both structural and cultural barriers?
UNITEE, the New European Business Confederation, and CESI, the European Confederation of Independent Trade Unions, organised the lunch time debate “Breaking Down Barriers: Towards Gender Equality at Work”, on 11 December 2014 in Brussels to discuss how gender equality at work can be promoted and on how the private sector and public sector can learn from each other in this regard.
The panel included:
The conference was opened by a speech from Adem KUMCU, President of UNITEE, and moderated by Viviane TEITELBAUM, President of the European Women’s Lobby. Klaus HEEGER, Secretary General of CESI, summarized the outcomes of the discussion in his closing remarks.
Quotas and Sanctions
Viviane TEITELBAUM stressed that more needs to be done to make the economic case for gender equality and that legislation should be put in place with sanctions as means of making real progress. Arnd BECKERS added that CESI is also in favour of binding quotas for women’s representations on boards, an issue which has been blocked in the Council for some time. Philippe KERAUDREN highlighted the role of large member states such as Germany in the EU to provide leadership on concrete policies.
Women on Board and Working Culture
Kerstin BORN-SIRKEL stressed that, due to the working culture, women do have jobs, but leadership positions are taken by men who are willing and able to stay longer at work. Philippe KERAUDREN went on to point out that cultural issues in gender equality could be addressed through education. With girls generally outperforming boys at school, there is still a gap in the transition to employment.
The Concept of Diversity
Kerstin BORN-SIRKEL underlined that the debate is broader than just gender equality and that diversity in the workplace as a whole is important. Viviane TEITELBAUM added that, despite it being important to include minorities, women should not be considered as such as they represent 52 percent of the population and should therefore not be marginalised in this way.
The Public Sector Case
Philippe KERAUDREN stressed that relying on good will alone, it will take 70 years to achieve gender equality. Social dialogue is currently not an effective enough tool to address gender equality, with the EU institutions not respecting social dialogue internally. Kerstin BORN-SIRKEL called on the public sector to lead by example. Arnd BECKERS made the case that women fare better in the public sector, not only in terms of representation but also in terms of working conditions. Austerity measures across the EU have fallen particularly hard on public services, which means that it impacted women more.
Choices and Childcare
Fiona O’MALLEY drew on her experience of the Irish workforce. She stressed how gender equality needs to start at the stage of getting the job and must continue throughout participation in the job, and how one of the greatest obstacles for women in the workplace is affordable childcare. Women leaving on time, adhering to their working hours, are too often perceived as lacking commitment to the job. The work-life balance offered by the private sector, through part-time work or flexible working hours on returning from maternity leave, are not always available.
Read the full report here.
View the picture gallery here.