B Explanatory memorandum
by Ms Elena Centemero, rapporteur
2 However, in spite of significant progress achieved in the
last few decades, gender inequality is still a serious problem.
This is reflected in all areas of public life, including political
representation, and is particularly evident in the economy. In addition,
as recent studies show, the situation is evolving very slowly. In
Europe, the average difference in remuneration for similar jobs
between women and men, or the “gender pay gap”, stands today at
approximately 23%. The number of women in top jobs of major firms
3 Changing the situation is possible: figures show that inequality
levels vary widely from one country to another, and that some of
them have seen women’s participation in the economy grow considerably,
thanks to a variety of measures ranging from positive discrimination
(quotas on the boards of public companies) to measures to reconcile
private and working life, not to mention awareness raising, training
and life-long education which are certainly crucial to achieving
progress in this area.
4 It is commonly accepted that gender equality depends on a
variety of factors which are closely intertwined. The experience
of the more gender-equal societies shows that equality between women
and men in the workplace is a precondition for advances in other
spheres, including public and political life. That is why it is
crucial to ensure women’s empowerment in the economy.
5 This report focuses on the experience of women and men in
the workplace and the world of economy at large. It analyses the
different barriers to women’s progression in professional life,
their negative impact both on individual lives and overall economic
development, and how this problem could be addressed.
6 Discrimination takes place in various forms: firstly, more
difficulties for women in obtaining access to the labour market,
and in making progress in their career. Secondly, as already mentioned,
unjustified differences in pay levels for women and men are still
widespread. This is one of the most visible forms of discrimination against
women in the labour market. It has heavy consequences on the economic
well-being of women not only in the short but also in the longer
term, since lower wages translate over time into lower pensions.
7 Gender segmentation is another feature of the labour market.
Women are often over-represented in some sectors, which become “feminised”
(education, social work and health, for instance), and under-represented
in science, engineering and technology. This type of segmentation
tends to exacerbate inequalities, in particular in earnings: sectors
in which women are the most represented often offer lower average
8 In addition, women are disproportionately represented in “non-standard”
(temporary employment, part-time and on-call work, temporary agency
work and other multiparty employment relationships) and precarious work,
which generally holds fewer opportunities for professional development
and career advancement.
9 Women are still vastly under-represented on corporate boards:
data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD) show that the female share of seats on the boards of the
largest publicly listed companies in the 28 OECD member States in
2014 was only 20%.
10 Gender differences exist also among autonomous workers: 8.3%
of female and 12.4% of male workers are self-employed without employees,
the gap growing considerably when it comes to expanding the business, as,
on average in OECD member States, only 2.2% of women, versus 5.5.%
of men are self-employed with employees.
11 These different manifestations of inequality are interlinked.
At the same time they are connected to gender inequalities within
the household. This correlation should always be taken into account,
both in analysing the various forms of inequality and in identifying
2 Women employees: the gender pay gap
The gender pay gap is a critical
issue and, according to the World Economic Forum, no country has entirely
bridged it. The average gender pay gap in European Union member
States is 16.7 %.Note
difference in salaries depends on a variety of factors. Education
plays a part, since women have a high education level – higher than
men – but they specialise in subjects less valued in the labour
market. Relatively few women choose science, technology, engineering
and mathematics disciplines (STEM), which offer better perspectives in
the labour market. Maternity has been for a long time a barrier
to accessing jobs and to career advancement. This remains true,
but it is worth noting that fertility rates and female employment
rates are positively correlated. This is due to the fact that countries
where the female employment rate is higher are often those that
provide adequate support to parenting, in particular in terms of
childcare infrastructure and financial support to families.
13 Our societies feature die-hard cultural elements, such as
the division of labour within the family, which are reflected in
the world of work and contribute to perpetuating differences in
remuneration between women and men. The burden of unpaid work is
still unequally shared between women and men. The assumption that, following
parenthood, women would become less motivated professionally and
fathers would become more so, is still widespread. Gender segregation
by sector also has an influence: industries with a higher share
of women employees often offer lower salaries.
14 At the hearing held on 23 June 2016, Sam Smethers, Chief executive
of the London-based charity The Fawcett Society, indicated that
the gender pay gap amounted to 19% in the United Kingdom, but that
it was particularly high in part-time work where it reached 30%.
The pay gap had an accumulative effect throughout a working life:
eventually it translates into an even more considerable pension
gap, which amounts to approximately 40%. Figures at European Union
level are similar: the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE)
indicates that in 2012 the gender gap in pensions stood at 38%.
This is the result of a sum of gender inequalities over a lifetime:
in addition to the difference in salary, a “motherhood penalty”
(linked to the time spent out of paid work because of maternity
and childcare) and the segregated labour market also have an impact.
Today, pension systems do not reflect the nature of modern working
life, which has become fractioned. Employees tend to change job
several times throughout their life, but they often struggle to
have a pension proportionate to the length and value of their entire
15 Researcher Katie McCracken of Opcit Research highlighted that
women’s empowerment is linked to a variety of factors, some of which
are individual (subjective, personal) and some others structural
(related to the structure of society and to legal frameworks). Cultural
and family practices, media, social norms and expectations cut across
this distinction. Discrimination is also of a mixed nature, partly
individual and partly structural.
Awareness of this situation is growing and political will
to tackle it is gaining momentum. Both ethical considerations and
economic indicators support this vision. Why should someone’s work
be worth 20% or 30% less than someone else’s, based solely on their
gender? Why should a country forego the opportunity to increase
its wealth because of an out-dated segregation, traditional gender
roles and other cultural barriers to women’s access to work which
have been inherited from the past? Indeed, research indicates that
economic development would increase substantially if women and men
could contribute to it on an equal basis. Ms Smethers referred to
interesting estimates about the gross national product of the United
Kingdom, which would increase by 600 billion pounds if the gap were
closed. In other words, the gender pay gap leads to a large loss
in productivity. In the United States, economist Heidi Hartmann,
President of the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, estimated
that if women and men were paid equally, the stimulus effect would
lead to a growth of the economy of at least three or four percentage
17 While the political will is gaining new impetus, it is not
always easy for policy makers to find the best way to empower women
in the economy. As a consequence, it is crucial to identify the
measures (legislation and public policies but also self-regulation
within companies) that have proved the most effective in countering inequalities.
18 Professor Paola Profeta of Bocconi University provided our
committee with information on the policies considered by economic
researchers to be the most effective. Policies on early childcare,
for instance, have a positive impact not only on child development
but also on social mobility. They include creating adequate infrastructure
and providing accessible childcare services, but also financial
incentives, such as tax deductions or vouchers, for expenditure
related to childcare. Paternity leave policies also play an important
role, thanks to their manifold effects: on female employment, on
company culture and on people’s mindsets (besides the obvious benefits,
within the family, for the father-child relationship). Measures
should also be taken, within companies, to encourage mothers to
return to work, as a significant share of women left work for good
after the birth of their second child. Flexible work arrangements
(including teleworking and flexible work schedules) increased productivity
and improved work–life balance and the sharing of domestic responsibilities.
It should also be possible to work part-time in quality jobs (today,
part-time work is typically reserved for less-qualified positions).
Transparency obligations are also an interesting practice. Due to
lack of transparency, it is difficult for individual women to detect
and quantify the discrimination that they face at work in relation
to salary. As a consequence, provisions requiring organisations
to make public their gender pay gap and the gap in bonuses (as enacted,
for instance, in the United Kingdom) may prove a good remedy.
19 In Iceland, innovative measures in this area were introduced
by the “Equal Pay Act”, voted by the Althingi (parliament) in April
2017. The new regulations require public and private companies with
25 or more employees to have their pay system scrutinised and certified
by external auditors as gender equal. The new law introduces financial
sanctions in the case of non-compliance. In addition, companies
are exposed to possible action by the trade unions. The aim of this
law is to focus on gender equality in the development of careers
and the pay system in companies by making the criteria transparent.
The aim is also, more generally, to promote a gender equality mindset
among both employers and employees, and to encourage women to apply
for all positions, including those traditionally viewed as typically
reserved for men.
20 The respect of the standards identified in the guidelines
entitles the company to be “certified” (a special logo was created
to this end). The analysis and certification system provides for
gradual implementation with subsequent steps. At first, it will
apply to companies with more than 215 employees (large companies),
to be scrutinised by the end of 2018. The second step will concern
companies with more than 25 employees and must be completed by 2021.
Small companies with less than 25 staff members are not subjected
to these regulations, in view of the relatively high cost of the
procedure. Although a large share of Icelandic companies falls into
this category, the law is estimated to cover about 60% of the workforce.
21 The certification process involves various phases: at first,
the remuneration system used by the company's managers is analysed.
At this stage, possible unjustified differences in wages between
women and men may emerge. In a second phase, companies must set
up a Gender Equality Action Plan that is subject to the control
of the Centre for Gender Equality (a national body established by
the Ministry of Welfare). Subsequently, the company enforces gender
equality policies to tackle the possible unbalances that may have emerged.
The analysis of the wage system is conducted by external auditors,
based on guidelines approved by the Ministry of Welfare. Auditors
follow specific training, also supervised by the government.
22 The Gender Pay Act was designed thanks to extensive negotiation
and co-operation with the social partners (both trade unions and
employers’ associations). It is the latest development of a long
process, following a number of gender equality laws and policies
that paved the way for it over the last few decades. They include
measures of reconciliation between work and family life, such as
a parental leave scheme, and a law on gender quotas on the boards
of large companies. As the enforcement of this piece of legislation
has just begun, it is too soon to assess the impact of the new regulations.
The first results will not be available before 2019.
23 The gender pay gap is a complex issue, requiring interventions
in various areas. The measures I have mentioned seem to me a good
mix of cultural, social and economic elements. Policies in support
of gender equality are a good investment for any country. They add
value to the economy and, as mentioned earlier, contribute to economic
growth. They generate a virtuous circle by leading to an increase
in the share of women in decision-making positions, both in the
economy and in politics, which in turn contribute to eradicating
the remaining forms of discrimination. Gender equality policies
should be allocated adequate funding and be high on the priority
list of leaders. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
quotas in senior management of companies
24 In 2006, Norway introduced
radical measures to improve gender balance in the high-level management of
large companies, namely a 40% quota reserved for female directors
of listed companies. The new regulations came into force in 2008
and provided harsh sanctions, including the forcible dissolution
of non-complying firms.
Nine years later, a comprehensive study on the effect of female
based on the answers given by 404 top managers
to a questionnaire sent to 127 companies, provided a mixed image
of the impact of these regulations. Public limited companies, to
which the law applies, rapidly reached the minimum 40% female board
members prescribed. This share has remained constant since 2009.
However, the number of public limited companies decreased from 452
when the law was introduced to 257 in 2013, as many of them changed the
company type. In any case, these companies are large, but there
are not many of them. On the contrary, there are over 250 000 private
limited companies, which are not covered by the law. In this group,
the share of female board members is much lower, approximately 20%,
and has remained virtually unchanged over the last decade. This
shows that without relevant legislation – and sanctions – no change
26 An often-mentioned side effect of the quota law, the fact
that the few experienced executive women ended up cumulating seats
in multiple companies, has declined and has now almost disappeared.
In 2013, women had 2.46 board seats on average and men had 2.25.
27 The impact of the quota law on the general public’s mindset
has not been automatic and in some respects it still appears limited:
managing the work–private life balance, for instance, is still more
challenging for women executives than for men, according to respondents
of the questionnaire I mentioned. This can be interpreted as a sign
that a heavier burden of home and care tasks is still shouldered
by women. In addition, while the number of women board members has
increased remarkably, there has been no change regarding the chief
executive officers: none of them in Norway’s 60 largest companies
is a woman.
28 In spite of some shortcomings, Norway’s quota law is recognised
as a turning point and has triggered interest at European and global
level. Legislators in a variety of countries, including Belgium,
France, Germany, Iceland and Italy, have taken inspiration from
this model. Portugal joined fairly recently: a law passed in June 2017
introduced a 33.3% gender quota in the administrative and supervisory
bodies of public sector companies from January 2018, and of listed
companies from January 2020
I had the opportunity to learn more about the French quota
January 2017, through a fact-finding visit that I conducted in the
wake of the deadline for the minimum threshold of 40% to become
applicable. This law, initiated by Mr Jean-François Copé together
with our fellow committee member, Ms Marie-Jo Zimmermann, was voted
in 2011 by a large, cross-party majority. It is aimed at companies
listed on the stock exchange and non-quoted companies with at least
500 employees and a €50 million turnover over the previous three
years. In addition, it applies to public companies regulated by
commercial law, such as industrial and State-owned companies.
30 My interlocutors in Paris, who represented private companies,
the professions and public gender equality bodies, agreed that the
law has produced substantial positive effects. Not only has the
threshold been reached in most of the target companies, thanks to
a generally compliant attitude, but qualitative changes may also
be observed. Diversity has generally had a positive effect on company
boards: members are now on average younger and better educated.
They also appear to be more independent and more open to innovation. Ms Brigitte
Longuet, an experienced lawyer with a deep knowledge of the world
of liberal professions and of the situation of women in other economic
sectors, shared with me a very positive assessment of the law. The change
in mindsets within large companies was clear. The increased diversity
in senior management is unanimously recognised as an asset.
31 Some of the people I met highlighted the shortcomings of this
piece of legislation: in particular, its lack of sanctions for non-compliance.
In fact, the law does not even indicate clearly which authority
would be in charge of monitoring its enforcement. Changes have been
brought about by the compliant attitude of the companies involved,
but are not secured. In addition, the scope of the law is limited
as it does not cover small and medium-sized companies. Some of these
shortcomings may be addressed by slightly amending the law. Last
year, an assessment of its implementation was carried out jointly
by two equality bodies, the Haut Conseil à l’égalité entre les femmes
et les hommes and the Conseil Supérieur de l’égalité professionnelle
entre les femmes et les hommes. The report provides a range of recommendations,
mainly aiming to make the enforcement of these regulations easier
and more effective.
32 Ms Elisabeth Richard, a manager at the large energy company
ENGIE, was appointed as the person in charge of “the place of women”.
She explained to me that her company had introduced a variety of
measures to increase women’s representation at all levels in the
wake of a visit from a member of the French Government, who had
enquired about the situation in this area with the top management.
These efforts by various stakeholders and their impact are encouraging.
The “quota law” remains, in my opinion, the most effective of all
measures adopted in the last few years. The positive impact it appears
to have on corporate culture, and in the longer run on the mindsets
of the public at large, makes it particularly useful and necessary.
33 In 2011, similar regulations were introduced in Austria, Belgium,
Italy and the Netherlands. As previously mentioned, our committee
had an exchange with Ms Lella Golfo, a former member of the Italian
Parliament and one of the initiators of Law 120/2011, which set
a 20% gender quota on the boards of listed companies to be attained
by 2012, to become 33% by 2015. When the preparation of the bill
started, in 2009, only 5,6% of members of these boards were women.
Urgent, radical measures were needed, and the Norwegian system was
chosen as a model. Under this law, quotas are designed to be temporary:
they only apply to three mandates of the management boards, equalling
nine years in total. CONSOB (the public authority in charge of monitoring
listed companies and the functioning of the stock market) and the
government’s Department for Equal Opportunities have the mandate
to monitor the enforcement of the law. They are also in charge of applying
sanctions for non-compliance, which include a fine of between 100 000
and 1 million euros and the dismissal of the entire board.
34 According to Ms Golfo, the law had a remarkable impact, exceeding
expectations not just quantitatively, but also qualitatively. Women
in the top management of target companies increased from 5,6% to
over 30%, as prescribed. The quality of boards also improved: as
I discovered in France, the quota law led to management boards being
composed, on average, by younger members with higher education levels.
35 Women’s rights organisations carried out intense awareness-raising
and lobbying work for the quota law to be adopted as opposition
among parliamentarians was strong. Female members of parliament
were fewer than they are now (not to mention that not all of them
voted in favour) which shows, if necessary, how political representation
of women is linked to the situation of women in society at large.
The Marisa Bellisario Foundation, chaired by Ms Golfo, worked also
to raise awareness among large companies. It reacted to the objection
that there were not enough women prepared for top management roles
and distributed a compilation of 2 500 curricula vitae of female
candidates with relevant profiles. In Italy, like in other countries,
the quota law has triggered a cultural change: even many former
opponents now agree that its impact has been positive. The similarities
between quotas on boards of public companies and electoral quotas
are striking. In both cases, the choice of introducing quotas was
the result of a long, hard campaign to combat the representation
gap. In both cases, it may be useful to consider quotas as a temporary
measure. In both areas, the impact is rapid and conspicuous, and
it is accompanied by cultural changes that can be expected to last
in the longer term.
36 In November 2017, the European Union Commissioner for Justice
and Gender Equality, Vĕra Jourová, announced new proposals to promote
gender quotas on company boards. Companies where female non-executive
directors are under-represented (under 60%) would be required to
prioritise women in considering candidates for this kind of post.
I welcome this initiative and I hope that European Union member
States will support it (in the past, several of them have resisted
previous similar initiatives, on various grounds).
37 In view of the similarities I have mentioned between quotas
in corporate management and electoral quotas in politics, and as
a strenuous supporter of the latter, I cannot but promote positive
discrimination in the senior management of companies. Both the reasoning
that led to their adoption in a number of countries and the observation
of their impact prove that they are effective and necessary measures,
in particular in the short term.
38 Women not only work for companies,
whether at executive level or otherwise, some also create their own
businesses. Gender differences exist also in this area. As Ms Valerie
Frey, a researcher at the OECD, explained to our committee, cross-national
comparative data are scarce, but statistics on self-employment help to
shed light on the situation. As far as small businesses are concerned,
about two thirds of entrepreneurs are men and one third women. It
appears that fewer women than men wish to be self-employed. The
reasons are partly subjective: some women seem to lack the necessary
self-confidence (I find this element striking and I will comment
further on it). Objective factors also contribute to this entrepreneurship
gender gap. More difficult access to financing, as shown by research
in several OECD member States, plays an important role.
39 Differences between male and female-run businesses also concern
the size (on average, women create and run smaller companies) and,
sadly, earnings (the gender gap in this respect is even bigger than
in salaries). Even women entrepreneurs bear a larger burden of unpaid
work than their male partners and therefore find it difficult to
strike a balance between household and paid work. The business areas
also tend to be differentiated: women are often entrepreneurs in
the industries that are traditionally associated with female employees,
such as care services. They tend to have a higher level of education
than male entrepreneurs, but in fields not necessarily linked to
their business. On a more positive note, companies’ survival rates
were similar in the two groups.
40 One of the most interesting parts of my mission to France
was the visit to the business incubator Paris Pionnières.
Dozens of “pioneers” share a working space to create new companies.
Today the Paris start-up scene is thriving, and it is encouraging
to see that an organisation inspired and managed by women is at
the forefront of this phenomenon. This “girl power incubator” as
it defines itself, provides not only a physical space, but first
and foremost technical support, training activities, legal advice
and other services to its members. Ms Marie Georges, its current
President, is a highly educated professional who created her own
business ten years ago, thanks to the support of this organisation.
She made clear that the services they provide are not reserved for
female entrepreneurs. On the contrary, the key word is “diversity”: Paris Pionnières itself, and the start-up
companies that are created thanks to its support, benefit from the
ideas and the work of women and men belonging to different generations.
I had the opportunity to meet representatives of three new companies. One
of them, currently developing a smartphone application, explained
that the input from one of the associates, a man in his sixties,
was crucial to create a tool that may be used by young and older
41 The experience of this incubator is a good practice that deserves
to be shared and whenever possible replicated in other contexts.
It shows that while public authorities have a duty to adopt measures
to empower women, individual entrepreneurs and companies also have
a role to play. Indeed, they can make a difference.
42 As regards what legislators and policy makers can do, the
OECD formulates a range of recommendations to its member States.
Ensuring equal access to finance for women and men should be a top priority.
Good practices in this area may also be found in non-European OECD
member States: in Korea, for instance, a special fund was created
for female entrepreneurs, while in Mexico a fund had preferential
rates for women. Policies to support the internationalisation and
innovation of firms are also advisable, as innovating often means
challenging traditional cultural schemes and gender segregation
in business. Awareness-raising campaigns, training, mentoring and
coaching programmes are also recommended by the OECD.
43 Once again, I have to note that subjective and cultural factors
are stumbling blocks on women’s way to empowerment. It is disappointing
to hear that women are prevented from establishing independent businesses to
the same extent that men do through lack of self-confidence. The
stereotyped roles subtly and persistently imposed on them by society
from an early age are difficult to shake off and clearly have a
long-lasting impact. I consider this as a confirmation that education,
awareness raising, vocational guidance and a consistent fight against
gender stereotypes should all be part of women’s empowerment policies.
gender digital divide
At the 61st session of the
United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), in March
2017, the issue of the gender digital divide was often referred
to. The notion that access to the internet is unequal, with wide
differences across geographic regions, social-economic groups and
between men and women is well-known to stakeholders. The fact that
women are particularly affected by the digital divide has been acknowledged
by research and political debates in the last five years and was
recently confirmed by the International Telecommunication Union
(ITU) annual report released in early 2017.Note
this report also indicated that the gender digital divide is growing.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
(UNESCO) established a Working Group on the Gender Digital Divide
in September 2016. The decision to create the working group stemmed
from the worrying finding that the gap in male and female access to
the Net was 11% globally (it has since reached 12% according to
ITU) and 29% in the least developed countries. About 200 million
fewer women than men worldwide own a mobile phone, the most common
tool to go online in developing countries.
45 “The internet empowers the people who have access to it”,
states a study published by Betterplace.lab, an online project that
set itself the mission to “spread knowledge, inspire through stories
and fight for a digitisation that benefits humanity” and was represented
at a side event organised by the German Government at the Commission
on the Status of Women. In other words, while information technology
has changed the world faster than any previous technological revolution,
with a deep impact on the economy, public administration as well
as creativity, political participation and social inclusion, this
unfortunately does not apply to everyone.
46 Betterplace.lab’s report “Bridging the digital gender gap”
is based on research carried out in six countries ranking very differently
in the human development index scale, from Ethiopia to Germany.
Research found that this specific type of gender gap is more pronounced
in developing countries. However, in different forms, it also exists
in wealthier nations. Even in Germany, 6th country out of 188 for
human development, with a 126,6% mobile coverage (over 126 mobile
phones per 100 inhabitants) and 75% of the population having mobile broadband
internet access, “the playing field is not even when it comes to
gender and the digital world”. Although in everyday life access
to information technology is equal for everybody, women lag behind
men in terms of internet literacy.
47 Substantial differences are also to be found in the Information
Technology industry. Women make up just 15% of all employees in
mathematical and technical professions, the study recalls, and just
20% of all IT graduates. Maren Heltsche, a programmer and board
member at Digital Media Women, a network for women in the German
digital economy quoted in the report, says that the IT industry
is a completely male-dominated work environment, in which women
feel uncomfortable. “It’s not enough to simply motivate women to
undertake IT studies, they also need to be encouraged to stay in
the industry after completing their studies”, she concludes. In
addition, the gender salary gap in this industry is 24%, as opposed
to 20% in German industry in general.
48 The start-up world is also male-dominated. Hans Raffauf, co-founder
of the company that developed Clue, a women’s health app, found
at the time of recruiting staff that women deemed themselves unsuitable for
the job and he had to convince them of their skills. In this area,
women’s lower self-confidence meets a lack of belief in women’s
skills by the banks: women have less chance than men of getting
funding from private lenders to create start-ups.
To counterbalance the obstacles that women meet in accessing
and prospering in the IT world, specific support is needed, to be
provided both from the public authorities and on a peer to peer
and network basis. Dozens of networks are active in this field.
To mention just a few of the biggest ones:
- Women Who Code (WWCode), a global non-profit organisation
“dedicated to inspiring women to excel in technology careers” has
established local networks in a number of European capitals but
also in smaller cities such as Belfast and Bristol (United Kingdom)
or Cluj-Napoca (Romania);
- Digital Media Women is based in Hamburg and has branches
all over Germany;
- Fintech Ladies Europe defines itself as an “exclusive
circle of C-level women working in the financial and fintech industry”.
Its first networking events took place in the form of dinners in
financial capitals Zurich, London and Frankfurt;
- Paris Pionnières, which I visited in January 2017, has
a more general mission, but a vast share of those who take part
in its activities are involved in IT-related start-ups;
- QVC NEXT Lab, a mentoring and support project launched
by the Italian branch of American multinational QVC targeting women-led
start-up companies was launched in Milan on 4 May 2017. I attended
the official presentation event and I found this initiative very
- European Women in Technology, held in Amsterdam in 2016
for the first time, has become an important yearly event and aims
to provide European women in the IT community with networking opportunities.
50 I would also like to mention an outstanding example of multi-stakeholder
partnership, the European Centre for Women and Technology (ECWT),
launched in 2008 and based in Norway. The ECWT gathers together
over 130 organisations as well as individuals from government, business,
academia and the non-profit sectors. They all work to increase the
participation of girls and women in technology in general, and information and
communication technology in particular.
51 Public policies and funding should promote and support such
women’s networks, which have proved effective in a variety of contexts.
52 The visibility of women in technology is also a major issue.
It was observed that textbooks and science museums present women
inventors as unusual or exceptions to the rule. Today, although
women represent a minority among researchers and engineers, they
are nonetheless a significant minority. Their contribution to research
and innovation should be made visible through unbiased information.
53 In 2016, the University of Catalonia’s research team on Gender
and ICT organised a seminar on “Academic sexism and ethical implications
of women’s under-representation in technology”. Professors Montse
Serra and Mireia Farrús argued that increasing the share of women
in technology is not enough. In fact, the goal should be “feminising
technology”, which means integrating elements traditionally regarded
as feminine, such as empathy, protection and care, into scientific
research and technology. This would make the technology workplace
more attractive for women and, they add, contribute to improving
gender confidence gap
Various sources suggest that
women and men have different attitudes in the workplace. Women are
said to be more hesitant to speak up in meetings, apply for jobs,
negotiate their salaries and take the initiative to start a business.
Research shows that women underestimate their skills and are less
willing to compete. It also shows that confidence is a driving factor
in women’s education and career choices. A number of these studies are
referred to in a publication of Harvard University of 2015.Note
This work, moving from the premise
that “making progress towards understanding the nature of the confidence
gap is an important step to removing remaining barriers to gender
equality” found that even at top management level women are less
confident than men. Breaking through the “glass ceiling”, in other
words, does not automatically lead to overcoming this specific barrier.
55 A study conducted by American and European researchers for
the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology on
women and men from 48 countries, showed that the patterns previously
observed in the western world (the average level of self-esteem
is lower in women than it is in men, and it increases for both genders
with age, from adolescence to mid-adulthood) can also be found in
other regions. However, the magnitude differs: the gap seems to
be wider in more industrialised countries than it is in the developing
56 These works leave various questions pending, including whether
someone’s level of self-confidence is a pre-determined personality
trait, or rather a reflection of the environment and in particular
of traditional gender roles. As a consequence, it is not clear whether
women’s lack of confidence is a consequence of discrimination in
the labour market, or one of its causes. I find it more plausible
that, as The Guardian journalist
Jessica Valenti observes, “the confidence gap is not a personal
defect as much as it is a reflection of a culture that gives women no
reason to feel self-assured”.
57 I strongly agree with all those (including economists and
entrepreneurs) who believe that bridging the gender confidence gap
may help to reduce discrimination in the workplace. The question
is how to achieve this. Since the issue is largely of a cultural
nature, cultural instruments are best-suited. We should, in particular through
education, create a culture that values self-assured women. Role
models certainly have a positive impact. Successful women should
be given the opportunity to share their story and should not hesitate
to do so. The exhibition #InspiringWomen, organised by the Committee
on Equality and Non-Discrimination in April 2017 in Strasbourg (committee
members presented women who had inspired them to undertake political
work) is a good example of role modelling. The exhibition proved
very successful and could be replicated in other contexts, contributing
to the Council of Europe’s work to raise awareness in this area.
58 Samantha Cristoforetti, an engineer, fighter pilot in the
Italian Air Force and European Space Agency Astronaut who took part
in mission Futura, became very popular in Italy during the 199 days
she spent on the International Space Station, between 2014 and 2015.
In addition to the scientific work conducted on the Station, the
ESA and Cristoforetti did an excellent communication job, with outreach
activities aimed at children and young people, videos regularly
posted on YouTube about the astronauts’ everyday life and regular
tweets through the @Astrosamantha Twitter account. Astronaut Cristoforetti
became a role model. This does not mean that women should be expected
to have her extraordinary physical and intellectual skills to expect
to succeed in life. However, the story of a woman who not only broke
through the glass ceiling, but also flew thousands of kilometres
higher, is an example that may inspire and reassure many women and
59 Media, both on- and off-line, may also contribute significantly
to changing mindsets, by conveying a non-stereotypical image of
women. At present, this is made more difficult by the limited presence
of women in leading positions within media outlets. I would like
to mention an interesting action promoted by FKA, Iceland’s women
business leaders association. A National Day of Women in the Media
was launched in 2016, with the aim of reversing the disproportion
between women and men for one symbolic day. Women make up about
38% of interviewees on Icelandic radio and television (against a
global average of 25%), the remaining 62% being men. For one day,
in October 2016, media deliberately swapped these figures. The initiative
triggered a debate among the Icelandic public and contributed to
raising awareness. Replicating this experience at international level
would be timely and useful. The Council of Europe is probably in
the best position to promote a European or International Day on
women in the media.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education
60 The demand for professionals
in Science, Technology, Mathematics and Engineering (STEM) is growing worldwide.
These fields of expertise are crucial to industry, research and
development and most other areas. They are also central when it
comes to meeting modern challenges related to sustainable development.
The growing demand for professionals in this field is generally
met with a significant labour shortage. This limited supply, combined
with the high education levels required, place STEM professionals
among the most sought-after in the labour market, which means more
opportunities and better pay.
61 Women are significantly under-represented in STEM. Lower participation
starts in education, with fewer girls choosing scientific studies
at school and at university (on the other hand, the gender ratio
of law, business and medicine graduates is almost equal). The gender
imbalance increases further after their studies, when only half
as many female STEM graduates choose a STEM career as their male
UNESCO estimates that women account for only 28% of researchers
across the world, with the gap deepening at the higher levels of
decision-making. The European Union “She figures 2015” reportNote
confirms that women
are under-represented in science and technology occupations in Europe.
However, it also contains some encouraging information: for instance,
the propensity of integrating a gender dimension into research content
is increasing in European Union member States.
63 In view of the shortage of qualified labour on one hand and
women’s under-representation on the other, promoting the study of
STEM among girls and the choice of careers in the area after the
studies is clearly the way to go. In addition, this would promote
women’s access to a better paid job, with the effect of reducing
the current gender salary gap.
64 Public education policies in this area are crucial and international
organisations provide useful indications to governments. The Council
of Europe intervened already ten years ago with Committee of Ministers
Recommendation CM/Rec(2007)13 on gender mainstreaming in education
(educational and career guidance section), which gives practical
tools to promote gender equality in and through education, with
the aim of countering negative gender, sexist and sexual stereotyping
and, ultimately, achieving gender equality benefiting society as
65 The OECD’s 2015 publication “The ABC of gender equality in
education – Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence” provides useful indications
to this end. The study depicts a “worrying situation”, as it appears
that girls are not encouraged to pursue scientific studies and their
teachers show less belief in their skills than in those of boys.
As a result, girls are less motivated and even the highest-achieving
among them have lower levels of confidence in their ability to solve
science and mathematics problems. “Gender disparities in performance
do not stem from innate differences in aptitude”, says the report,
“but rather from students’ attitudes towards learning and their
behaviour in school, from how they choose to spend their leisure
time, and from the confidence they have” the report said.
66 Awareness-raising activities may contribute to improving the
situation. UNESCO, for instance, promotes an International Day of
Women and Girls in Science (11 February) as a yearly opportunity
to take stock of the situation and launch positive initiatives.
UNESCO also manages the SAGA (STEM and Gender Advancement) project,
which aims to improve the situation of women and reduce the gender
gap in STEM fields in all countries and at all levels of education
and research. To do so, an inventory of gender equality policies
in this field was undertaken. This project also provides tools for
evidence-based policy making and carries out capacity-building activities
in member States for data collection on gender in STEM.
67 I would like to mention a particularly good practice from
the Netherlands: the “Long Term, Interrelated Interventions to Increase
Women’s Participation in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering
and Mathematics): the deployment of role models”. This action targets
the whole chain of education, from primary to higher education,
as well as the labour market. A database of over 200 female role
models was set up and these women meet and share their experience
with girls from schools at all levels.
68 In the United Kingdom, a national programme called HE STEM
took place in England and Wales between 2009 and 2012. Its aim was
to increase participation in STEM disciplines and enhance the skills
of the national workforce in this area. Over 90 higher education
institutions took part in the programme. The aim of the programme
was to experiment new ways of recruiting students and of teaching
these disciplines. A preliminary evaluation, carried out immediately
after the end of the programme, concluded that the main goals had
been reached, particularly in terms of raising awareness among students.
It would be interesting to assess whether the impact of this programme
is continuing in the medium term.
69 The promotion of STEM studies is carried out in a variety
of contexts to tackle the qualified labour shortage and is not necessarily
aimed at women and girls. However, it is important to integrate
a gender dimension in the information and awareness-raising activities.
The message that should be conveyed is that science and technology
are vital for the advancement of society and good for all those
involved in these domains.
70 Discrimination and inequalities
based on gender have multiple facets. The research carried out to prepare
this report, the contributions of experts gathered through a large
number of hearings and the elements collected though fact-finding
visits have all made it evident that there is no simple recipe to
counter discrimination and achieve equality. A variety of measures
are necessary, ranging from quotas on companies’ boards to transparency
on remuneration, to education and training. Promoting STEM disciplines
is crucial, as it contributes to countering gender segregation by
sector and inequalities in remuneration. Measures to facilitate
the reconciliation between work and private life are also necessary.
It should also be noted that necessary measures may vary from country
to country, and priorities depend on their specific social, cultural and