The European Union is lobbying hard for gender equality in boardrooms. The target is, equal shares or at least a considerable increase of women in “responsible” or “top positions”. In this vein, Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission and EU Justice Commissioner delivered a rather tell tale speech at ECBs headquarters in Frankfurt. The speech was about “The European Commission’s Gender Equality Strategy”, though, arguably you could say that the ECB should have more pressing issues to address than gender equality in boardrooms.
Nevertheless, Reding gave that speech and said, amongst other things the following: “The topic of gender balance in boardrooms is high on the agenda at the ECB and the European Commission”. This elevated position of the boardroom gender balance issue originates from the observation that women, though they make-up 60% of university graduates in the EU (which – by the way – should be a worrying sign, given that Ms Reading is responsible for “gender equality”, however, the advantage in this case seems to be the wrong way around), they lack when boardroom composition is scrutinized. “Women represent roughly 1 out of 10 board members of the largest publicly listed companies in the EU”. This, so Mrs. Reding, needs improvement. But how? Well, Vice-President Reding is not in favour of quotas, however, her not-in-favour-statement is followed by a number of examples that show how well a quote worked for Sweden, Spain and other European countries. Stubbornly standing ground against her own line of argument, Mrs. Reding is in favour of voluntary action. (Big) companies should make a “Women in Boardroom Pledge”. However, in March 2012, Mrs. Reading will see “which and how many companies have signed up to the “Women in Boardroom Pledge”. Supposedly, if the number of companies fails to satisfy Mrs. Reading, she will swap the carrot for the stick.
Before doing so, however, it would be rather advisable to take counsel with those, the female Vice-President is lobbying for: Women.
In 1995, Catherine Hakim published an article in the “British Journal of Sociology” titled: “Five Feminist Myths about Women’s Employment” . Amongst other things she showed:
- Female employment-rates are stable since 1851;
- Women favour more traditional role models than men. Especially women working part-time prefer part-time work or no work at all: „In effect, the adult female population divides into two fairly equal sectors. The first group of women are committed to careers in the labour market and therefore invest in training and qualifications, and generally achieve higher grade occupations and higher paid jobs, which they pursue full-time for the most part. The second group of women give priority to the marriage career, do not invest in what economists term ‘human capital’, transfer quickly and permanently to part-time work as soon as a breadwinner husband permits it, choose undemanding jobs ‘with no worries or responsibilities’ when they do work, and are hence found concentrated in lower grade and lower paid jobs which offer convenient working hours with which they are perfectly happy“ (Hakim, 1995, S.434).
- Child care does not prevent women from participating in the labour force, rather child care is the result of a decision taken by women in order to either resort to part-time work or to abandon work altogether.
As Hakim’s results show, a sizeable group of women does not want to work full-time (or at all). Contrary to men, women can exit the labour market and retire to child care. Hence, if Vice-President Reding’s intention is not to establish part-time CEOs, she would be well advised by taking her clients interests into account .
Hakim, Catherine (1995). Five Feminist Myths about Women’s Employment. British Journal of Sociology 46(3): 429-455.