Roundable Debate “Promoting women’s leadership in both the public and private sector”

On March 19 2013, Silvana Koch-Mehrin attended a roundtable debate on “Promoting women’s leadership in both the public and private sector”, organised by the “Parliament Magazine” in association with Ernst & Young.

The “Parliament Magazine” reported about the event:


EU must do more to tackle ‘invisible barriers’ to gender equality


By Ruth Marsden


The benefits of a balanced gender mix across the public and private sector may be widely accepted, but women still face “invisible barriers”, a Parliament Magazine roundtable debate has heard.

The event on Tuesday, organised in association with Ernst and Young, brought together MEPs and stakeholders to look at the current gender balance in public sector leadership roles and the importance of women in these leadership roles.

Uschi Schreiber, Ernst and Young’s global government and public sector leader, said, “We’ve had policies in place for a really long time, so we should have made a lot more progress.”
Schreiber added, “A long time ago we thought education was the answer. Get women into education and everything else will fall into place. Then we thought it was social policy.
Schreiber stressed that while these policies had “helped move things along”, there is still “much more to be done”.

Women face “invisible barriers”, Schreiber argued, adding that many people, women included, hold “perceptions about what women can and cannot do”.
”There are not enough female role models in senior positions to become sponsors to other women in senior roles,” she said, stressing that women “have an obligation to look after other women”.
Schreiber also highlighted the importance of maintaining a gender balance when making important decisions, saying, “Governments are dealing with the most complex issues of the 21st century, so to not have balanced decision making is silly.”

Françoise Le Bail, director general of the European commission’s DG justice, told participants that securing an equitable gender balance “is a long-term battle and a fight we should not stop”.
Things are beginning to move along in the commission, she said, adding that, with the women on board proposal receiving backing, it has been a very important few months.
”The vice-president [for justice in the commission Viviane Reding] actually talked to the business community the year before, saying she was happy not to legislate as long as they moved forward themselves. And a year later not much had happened.
Company boards which feature only 16 per cent representation by women are “not normal”, Le Bail argued.

Reding, the EU commissioner for justice, fundamental rights and citizenship, finally succeeded in securing adoption of the women on board directive in November last year, meaning a legally binding quota of 40 per cent of women on non-executive boards of public listed companies must be introduced by 2020.

Le Bail, however, was critical of the response to the directive from businesses, saying, “The reaction we got from companies was always the same, ‘we have been looking for women but can’t find any, and if we do, they don’t have the right qualifications’.”

”However, we’re targeting non-executive members,” she said, “so the profile does not have to be specialised in chemistry – for example, if it is a chemical board.”
Le Bail concluded, “We will continue fighting for this. We believe there is a strong economic case for having women in the private sector.”

Danish MEP Britta Thomsen told the debate that work must be done to combat “much more complicated barriers” that contribute to underrepresentation for women.
Thomsen then cited the situation of female professionals in Portugal and Denmark, explaining that career possibilities for women are extremely different in different countries.
”In Denmark it is much easier to become a minister than a secretary-general, but in Portugal it’s the other way round,” she said.
”In Denmark, we have direct elections so women can actually vote for women. The Danish parliament is filled with women – 39 per cent – and we have a woman prime minister,” the S&D deputy added.
”There is still a lot to do, not only in the public sector, but also politics,” she said.

Carol Rosati, a co-founder of Inspire – a business network for senior board level women, said that women “should inspire each other and put each other forward for positions, rather than men”.
There are different things that can affect whether a woman gets a job or not, she said, adding, “Women have to help themselves.”
Rosati, also the director of global recruitment consultancy Harvey Nash, warned that another barrier for women is the interview panel.
”If a senior woman going for a senior job is not met with a senior woman in the other side she is unlikely to get past the first stage.”
However, Rosati said that having asked women about quotas in the past, the majority were against imposing them on companies, but were still keen for action to be taken.
”In real terms, has enough progress been made? Not really. It’s still appallingly slow,” she concluded.