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Improving equality between women and men is essential to the EU's response to the current economic crisis, according to the European Commission's latest annual report on gender equality. The report looks at progress over the past year in tackling the remaining gaps between women and men in employment, the economy and society in general. While some progress has been made in increasing the number of women in top jobs in business and in narrowing the gender pay gap, major challenges remain. EU countries need to get more women into the labour market if they are to meet the EU's overall objective of 75% employment rate for all adults by 2020. One of the way's of improving Europe's competitiveness is to obtain better balance between women and men in economic decision-making positions. Studies have shown that gender diversity pays off and companies with higher percentages of women on corporate boards perform better than those with all-male boards.
"The economic case for getting more women into the workforce and more women into top jobs in the EU is overwhelming," said Viviane Reding, Vice-President of the European Commission in charge of Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship. "We can only reach our economic and employment goals by making full use of all our human resources – both in the labour market as a whole and at the top. This is an essential part of our economic recovery plans."
Today's report on progress made during 2011 on equality between women and men is part of the Commission's broader report on the application of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights in the past year (IP/12/370). It highlights the main developments at both national and European level across the five key areas in the EU's overall gender equality strategy for 2010-2015, namely: the economy, equal pay, decision-making, gender-based violence and gender equality beyond the EU.
In the labour market, the employment rate for women is 62.1%, compared to 75.1% for men, meaning the EU can only reach the overall Europe 2020 target rate of 75% employment with a strong commitment to gender equality. Under the Europe 2020 strategy, the Commission has highlighted the need to promote a better work-life balance, in particular through adequate childcare, more access to flexible working arrangements, and by making sure tax and benefit systems do not penalise second earners (IP/11/685). These can all help to make sure more women enter and remain in the labour market.
The gender pay gap has narrowed slightly across the EU. On average, women earn 16.4% less than men for every hour worked. The gender pay gap is caused by multiple factors such as labour market segregation and differences in educational choices. The second European Equal Pay Day highlighted this issue and the potential solutions (IP/12/211). Slow progress in narrowing the gender gap in company boardrooms led the Commission to launch a public consultation on possible measures at EU level to address the problem, which risks holding back innovation and growth in Europe (IP/12/213).
Finally, the Commission took an important step towards the goal of ending gender-based violence by proposing a package of measures to strengthen the rights of crime victims (IP/11/585). This included a series of measures specifically aimed at helping women who fall victim to domestic violence.
Promoting more equality in decision-making is one of the goals set out in the European Women's Charter (see IP/10/237), which was initiated by President José Manuel Barroso and Vice-President Reding in March 2010. The Commission pursued these commitments by adopting a Gender Equality Strategy in September 2010 for the next five years (see IP/10/1149 and MEMO/10/430). The Strategy sets out a series of actions across four further areas in addition to equality in decision-making: equal economic independence; equal pay for work of equal value; dignity, integrity and ending gender-based violence; and gender equality in external policies.
A growing body of evidence points to significant economic benefits stemming from a better gender balance in economic decision-making. Having more women in top jobs can contribute to a more productive and innovative working environment and improved company performance overall. This bolsters competitiveness. Women account for 60% of new university graduates but few make it to the top of companies. Opening the door to senior positions acts as an incentive for women to enter and stay in the workforce, helping to raise female employment rates and making better use of women's potential as human resources.
For more information
European Commission – DG Justice newsroom:
European Commission – Gender equality:
Video clip - gender pay gap:
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner:
Matthew Newman (+32 2 296 24 06)
Natasha Bertaud (+32 2 296 74 56)
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