Achieving progress on gender equality is a joint responsibility and employers are a crucial factor in making gender equality a reality in the world of work. It is at the company level that EU gender equality laws are ultimately applied. Therefore, companies’ and employers’ understanding of and support for gender equality measures is essential to change matters on the ground.
The COVID-19 pandemic has not made the quest for gender equality easier. On the contrary, it has a disproportionate impact on women’s lives. We have seen a surge in domestic violence cases but women in the labour market have also been hit hard, as they are overrepresented in sectors worst affected by the crisis. Furthermore, the lockdowns had an adverse impact on work-life balance and care responsibilities. However, the crisis is an opportunity to change the status quo. Now, it is more important than ever to intensify our efforts to overcome the dramatic impact of the crisis on gender equality.
While the EU is a global leader in gender equality and has made significant progress in the last decades, gender-based violence and stereotypes continue to persist. In the world of work, large gender gaps continue in employment, in pay, in decision-making. The European Commission is working to tackle these gaps; nevertheless, there is still a lot of work to do for that to become a reality.
In the beginning of March last year, just before the pandemic hit, the European Commission adopted the Gender Equality Strategy for the period 2020 – 2025. This Strategy is our framework to promote gender equality, equal opportunities. With the crisis, the implementation of this strategy has become more important than ever.
In March 2021, the Commission presented a proposal to address one of the great injustices that women still face: the gender pay gap. Women in Europe are paid, on average, 14 % less than men. This is simply not right. The right to equal pay is a cornerstone for gender equality in the workplace and a prerequisite for women’s economic empowerment.
The workforce of tomorrow is expecting more from employers in terms of inclusion and fairness. Pay transparency is a critical component of a fair compensation that is good for business beyond equity and regulatory compliance. Organizations who take the time now to develop standards and philosophy around compensation and pay transparency will thus be well-placed to attract top talent and be leaders in the future.
Still, even if pay transparency is a first necessary step – the start of a process creating a mind-shift in the workplace, challenging gender stereotypes and bias – alone it is clearly not enough.
One essential factor holding women back is the gender care gap. The recent COVID-19 pandemic only exacerbated the pre-existing inequalities in the area of household and care responsibilities, where the women’s share of unpaid work is still disproportionately high compared to men. The European Work Life Balance Directive aims to improve this situation by promoting a better sharing of care responsibilities between women and men. It encourages working parents and carers – women and men – to take family leave and work flexible hours.
From the perspective of employers, work life balance measures and flexible work arrangements may at first sight impose additional administrative and organisational burden. However, I would argue for a more strategic perspective and embrace the new rules as a chance for your businesses. Companies that provide an inclusive environment supporting work life balance and flexible work arrangements will eventually succeed in retaining talent and gain a competitive advantage.
As we are slowly moving towards recovery, it is important to ensure that women are part of this recovery and new measures are gender responsive. It is crucial that women’s voices are heard and this can only happen if women are part of the decision-making. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought painfully to light that women were not represented in task forces and other bodies taking decisions that directly affect their lives.
Despite their capabilities and educational achievements, women continue to struggle against long-held and systemic entry barriers into corporate boards and leadership positions, the so-called glass-ceiling. The persisting gender inequality in economic decision-making is incompatible with the principle of equality between women and men. Moreover, it is also a lost opportunity in terms of human resources and potential. In this regard, I am pleased that the in Romania is relatively low compared to EU-average.
The Commission has been pushing for more gender-balanced leadership through more transparency in selection process of board directors for a long time. We have presented, back in 2012 a proposal for gender balance on corporate boards. Unfortunately, although being supported by majority of Member States, this initiative is still pending before the Council of the EU.
Transparency of selection of managers and gender-balanced management is crucial for each company to attract top talent. As our society is undergoing important transitions, stakeholders are also demanding more transparency, accountability and responsibility from corporations and their leaders.
Finally, tackling work-related harassment of women is another important aspect of a gender equal future of work. Tackling sex-based harassment is part of the Commission’s work on combating violence against women. This is a top priority under the EU Gender Equality Strategy. All forms of gender-based violence and harassment will also be covered by a new legislative initiative, which we will adopt at the end of this year.
The Commission has been committed to promoting diversity and inclusion and to combatting discrimination in the workplace for a very long time. That is why, via the EU Platform of Diversity Charters, we are also working closely with companies, private and public, to foster their diversity policies. Because to make a true change, and speed up progress, we must work together. Companies play a key role in promoting equality, diversity and inclusion. Furthermore, businesses that continue to prioritise diversity and inclusion will bounce back from the crisis better due to the financial and innovation benefits of diversity.
In this regard, I welcome the Business Review Inclusion, Diversity & Gender Equality initiative to share knowledge and exchange best practices in these key areas. I wish you inspiring ideas that will push for more and faster progress to promote gender equality not only in business, but also in every walk of life.
Irena Moozova, Director for Equality and Union Citizenship, The European Commission