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ISSUE 56 page 5

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Across EU, surveys show up inferior position of women in the workplace

The gender pay gap has been with us for a long time. Similarly the lack of women in the boardrooms and management of top companies is no longer hot news. Now a wealth of information from many EU countries has at least pointed to a better future for women in the workplace even as the effects of the current economic crisis are making things worse.

 

NORWAY STARTED THE BALL ROLLING but now an ever-growing list of countries are joining the ranks of those in favour of quotas for women in top management. The Nordic state’s 40% minimum ensures that neither men nor women can be over-represented on boards of directors and applies to all plcs and public sector bodies. While some EU Member States, notably Germany, still seem set against legal quotas, countries such as France and Spain have already followed with similar legislation while next-door neighbours the Netherlands and Belgium have taken different approaches.

The Belgian House of Representatives recently passed a law to force public bodies and stock exchange listed companies to increase the proportion of women on their boards to one third. Larger companies will have six years to reach the target and small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs) are given eight years. The method prescribed for achieving this is quite novel as the law envisages that as each director leaves, the company will replace him with a woman until the 33% mark is reached. Sanctions for those that do not achieve the quota in time will be the loss of all benefits for directors followed by the replacement of the entire board if the position is the same after a further year. Over the border, the Netherlands government has stuck to the voluntary approach in requiring 30% of boards of management and supervisory bodies to be female by 2016. They have adopted the ‘comply or explain’ principle which means that the annual reports of firms will have to give reasons if the target is not hit in time.
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improvement from the currrent 10% by next year then binding legislation would be brought forward. EU fundamental rights commissioner Viviane Reding agreed, ’If there has not been credible progress by March 2012, I stand ready to take the necessary legislative steps at EU level’, she said.
Academics from Portugal have gone a step further however in considering if, once they are allowed a seat, female managers will bring a distinctive leadership style to the boardroom table. Evidence from that country suggests that, although women seemed to place more emphasis on inter-personal relationships, there was an emergence of a ‘genderless’ style of management in which women had to constantly achieve a balance between being ‘feminine enough’ and ‘masculine enough’.

From Bulgaria comes further news of women in the wider workplace beyond the boardroom which underlines how tough condtiions are becoming. A survey of ‘Women working in precarious working conditions’ found that 20% of those asked worked in the informal economy without a contract and social security rights while more than 40% had a second job. The financial crisis is making the position worse and particularly hitting the 18-34 age group. Even among bona-fide female employees there is a problem with ‘envelope wages’ as 22% said that they had not received the salary promised. Not surprisingly women workers were fearful of the future with 90% believing that it would be ‘difficult’ or ‘very difficult’ to find another job if they were to lose their current position.

Outnumbered? Commissioner Reding wants to even things up

Although there has already been some progress in recruiting women executives (see issue 49) through such schemes as the ‘Talent to the Top’ foundation, today only 8% of all managers in the country are  female.
The Norwegian experience has been alluded to by the European Parliament as an example of the need for compulsory measures. In the two years after 2003 a voluntary approach succeeded in raising female participation in Norwegian boardrooms by only 1% to 6% but once a law was passed female recruitment shot up until a figure of 39.6% was reached in 2007. The parliament set a target of 30% of top management in the largest EU companies being women by 2015 increasing to 40% in 2020. This is to be achieved by voluntary measures although it warned that if there was no sign of an

 

 

 





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