International Women’s Day is celebrated on 8 March every year. The celebration has its origins in the early 20th Century, when no country in Europe (with the exception of Finland) allowed women to vote in national elections. Women’s rights have obviously increased substantially since then, but there is still a “glass ceiling” keeping them from the very top positions.

In 2003, the European Commission started keeping a database to monitor the numbers of men and women in key decision-making positions in Europe. The statistics show that only 3% of the largest publicly-listed companies in the EU have a female CEO, whilst only 7% have a female chairperson of the board. In politics and finance, the statistics are only slightly better – there are only two female presidents and four women prime ministers in the EU-28, whilst only one central bank governor (Cyprus’ Chrystalla Georghadji) is a woman.

What is keeping women from top leadership roles in Europe? We had a comment sent in from Silke from Germany, a woman in the middle of her career. She told us that in almost every job interview she’s had, she has been asked whether she plans to have children (the implication being that she would not be hired if she did). She said this is almost unbelievable, and this attitude seems to be one of the biggest challenges holding women back professionally.

To get a reply, we took Silke’s comment to Valérie Kinoo, a Women Entrepreneurship Facilitator at transforma bxl, and author of an article on increasing female participation in the European labour market in the latest issue of Europe’s World.

What would she say to Silke?

kinooWell, I totally agree with her. It’s a really big problem that women often face in their careers, and that’s why it’s good that the European Commission has a Directive to protect pregnant workers. But we should also be encouraging men to take more paternity leave as well, and we should be talking about “parental leave” instead of just “maternity leave”, so that men are also taking care of children.

Because, at the moment, employers only ask such questions to women and not to men, and this shouldn’t be the case. So, it’s about protecting the rights of pregnant workers, encouraging men to care of children as well, and having more care services available for children.

We also had a comment come in from Peter, who argued that, on average, women often earn less money for performing exactly the same jobs as men. He believed that measures need to be put in place to promote greater transparency in relation to pay rates, in order to close the gender pay gap.

We put Peter’s comment to Francesca Bettio, Professor of Economics at the University of Siena, Coordinator of the European Network of Experts on Gender Equality (ENEGE), and author of an article in Europe’s World arguing that better gender equality in Europe’s workforce would boost economic growth.

What would she say to Peter?

bettioTransparency policies have been put in place in some European countries, and there are various tools available where women can disclose their salary to see if they are being paid less than men. However, this on its own does not solve the problem.

I think one has to go to the root of the problem, which is the division of labour within the family. And, here, I must say that men have got a huge role to play, meaning they should be more willing to share housework and especially care work, and sometimes even at a small, temporary cost to their careers. So, I believe that the role of men at home is as important as transparency in the workplace.

Finally, we had a comment sent in by Tiago, who said he was worried that unreasonable expectations are being placed on young women today. Tiago believes that women are being made to feel like failures if they decide not to pursue a career, and that women should be given autonomy to do what they want, including not pursuing a career.

How would Valérie Kinoo respond?

kinooIf a woman wants to stay at home and wants to take care of children, then it’s her decision. If she wants a career, then our society should give her the opportunity to do so.

I would agree with Tiago that there is a lot of pressure on young women today, and they’re increasingly facing problems that were not common in the past. For example, more and more young women are suffering from stress and related health problems, and burn-out. A lot of young women today are facing unemployment and high personal debt, because they borrow money for their education, but I do not agree that this means women don’t want careers. Instead, I think society should work to take this pressure off women and offer them solutions.

And how would Professor Francesca Bettio reply?

bettioI can tell Tiago that there is actually a great deal of pressure from the other side: pressure to stay at home and be a mother. So, I absolutely agree that women should be free to choose what they feel like. They should be free to choose to be mothers and to work, just as men should be free to choose to be fathers and to work.

So, I agree in principle, but I would like to turn the question on its head, because this is a question that is always asked about women. People always underline that women should not be pressured to be workers, as if it is only women who should fill the role of parenting instead of working, whereas actually men have two roles as well. Very few people raise the question of whether there is too much pressure on men to work, and whether they are made to feel like failures if they do not have a career. It is just assumed that men will work. Why don’t we ask ourselves whether men are really free to choose whether they want to stay at home or have a career?

Why are so few women in top leadership roles in Europe? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below, and we’ll take them to policy-makers and experts for their reactions!

IMAGE CREDITS: CC / Flickr – Arbeiderpartiet

141 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar
    Miguel Rodrigues

    Another interesting question is: what type of women are the (few) ones that actually have managed to achieve top leadership roles?
    I see top women leaders having, in general, strong typical masculine personality traits, more than average men: “Yeah, she is a woman, but she’s manlier than most men – she’s one of us!”.

  2. avatar

    One issue that is often overlooked is that males are forced into stereotypes by society as well. I think that a big part of the issue that women have to take care of the children is that the fathers are expected to have a job and earn the money. If you don’t, others will look at you like you are a failure. So men *have* to take a full-time job, otherwise they aren’t real *men*. And if men have full-time jobs, women are forced to take care of the children. Thoughts on this?

  3. avatar
    Malik Sajjad

    Because majority of the leaders and politicians want his son come on his position they don’t want his daughter or sister or wife come onhis position
    I think women are must be empower

  4. avatar
    Richard Osborne

    What a lot of tripe. The old boys clubs are a thing of the past. If women aren’t in top jobs it’s because at the time the job was available, the bloke was a better match. Yes there are more guys in senior management and govt positions, but for about the last 10 years or so most developed countries have employed on skill and team matching. So if a guy and girl have equal skills but the bloke is a better character match, then he’ll get the job. If the girl is a better match, then the job goes to her. This sexist rubbish died in developed countries a decade ago.

  5. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    Because male dominance is entrenched and is not willing to include women. Neither is it interested in sharing power. The king is naked!

  6. avatar
    Dimitris Stamiris



  7. avatar
    Yordan Vasilev

    Biologically the women are mothers, but men – leaders. I am agree, that for the same job both men and women should receive the same salary.

  8. avatar
    Ainhoa Etxebarria

    Because we can’t! We too many responsabilities, inside and outside and we have to chose, and we chose our familie because is very hard say ‘no’ to our children, we are their hole world

  9. avatar
    Ivan Burrows


    After the debate you started the other day I can only assume more ‘Europeans’ & commentators on here prefer women to be prostitutes & not in the boardroom.

    Makes me proud to be ‘not European’.

  10. avatar
    Matt Kennedy

    I think the question is also applicable to the U.S. The difference between the Americans and Europeans is our allies on the other side of the Atlantic have already recognized the vitality of women in leadership positions ? as evidenced by the late Margaret Thatcher, Germany?s Angela Merkel, and Kosovo?s Atifete Jahjaga (who was selected after only five-years of Pristina’s independence ? an accomplishment rarely seen in history). Why are women is so few leadership roles? Because their strengths, contributions, and potential haven?t been accepted by society on a wide-scale until the last several decades ; that is changing ? and it?s about time.

  11. avatar
    Mary Ann Cilia

    Because wamen still put the family first. Not live their children like rabbits. Family first.

  12. avatar
    Dionìs Koçi

    The future is going to be better. Is EU still on the top of the world for women participation? I hope Europe succeeds at least on this for now.

  13. avatar
    Maia Alexandrova

    Because they don’t want to! Many women feel fulfilled just to be good mothers, because this is a 24-hour job in itself and is very exhausting. It is a high-position job on God’s career ladder that has big responsibilities. To work something else means doing two jobs at the same time which makes it very difficult to focus. There are less women on high positions simply because it is a matter of their choice.

  14. avatar
    Marco Musazzi

    Simply because at the time there were fewer women completinv higher education than men? Europe is a very gerontocratic society

  15. avatar
    Lee Tong

    Because they shouldnt be outside the kitchen anyway ? :D Or maybe, because they have other life goals – babies.

  16. avatar
    Eduardo Barroso

    I will be honest. Sorry if im going to be offensive: they do not want most of the time because they fear to be rejected. It is a matter of confidence! If someone is really good, man or women, nobody will reject that talent.

  17. avatar
    catherine benning

    Because very few women have the power to grip a subject and project it with intelligence and intense emotional conviction as men do. Men have this power because they are natures natural leaders. Why women don’t love that drive in men is an enigma to me. I find it hugely sexy.

    There is npothing I dislike more intensely than a woman pretending to be masculine. Not only is it embarrasing it is laughable.

    Here are examples.


    And the prospective leader we have in the wings.


    And a master of charismatic speech.


    However, one English woman has the ability but was never taken seriously. Here was the potential to lead. It was ignore, but held me spell bound.


    Here she is again. How I would love to have her deliverance.


  18. avatar
    Nadine Krysostan

    Because (top) leadership roles can still not be combined with having children. Sadly it still is an either or. What is lacking is the necessary flexibility from most employers/companies/institutions in terms of working hours and office presence as well as the understanding that mothers bring unique qualifications not just to top leadership positions but to any position: efficiency, brilliant time management, stress resistance, mediation capacity, social competence etc. Instead, most mothers struggle to juggle jobs with inflexible working hours and finding enough time for their children. And if you are forced to prioritise, this priority does not often lie with the top jobs….

  19. avatar
    Joshua May

    I think it’s a sign of the education 20-40 years ago. If you look again in another 20-40 years I think you’ll find significantly more numbers of women in politics and in the big roles.

  20. avatar
    Joshua May

    However – that doesn’t mean to say there’s no sexism in politics more specifically, European Politics… Let’s not be silly, of course there is.

  21. avatar
    Nando Aidos

    The established male power structures and their fear of losing their footing to smarter people.

  22. avatar
    Festina Lente

    Total nonsense : most women do not even want a top position, like many men… stop to loose time about this item. Women who really want…..reach….!

  23. avatar
    Leo Vlaming

    So Angela Merkel is not a woman? And Margaret Thatcher wasn’t a woman either? That’s news to me.

  24. avatar

    Why can’t black people become the head of state in Sweden, Denmark, Netherlands, Belgium, Britain or Spain? Seems like there’s both racism and discrimination at the core of the issue. Yes, monarchy is an inheritly discriminatory system (it differentiates based on ‘birth’) and there’s also the whiff of racism about it. A society that clings to monarchy might just not want its own ‘Barack Obama’ out of some less-than-noble reason.

    So there you have another big problem. One cannot be for monarchy and at the same time be against racism and against discrimination.

  25. avatar
    Katrin Mpakirtzi

    Women don’t want to take the FIRST role of men but if the cappabilities IN POLITIC are so much..why not? Men difficult can accept a women to lead them…egoism!!!! So a tender relation is better than WAR between them. Also when only men are leaders we have war…after war..there are more aggresive

  26. avatar
    Su La

    Women in Europe obsessed with themselves and other women, that is the reason. More self investment and more “self confidence” will get them a long way.

  27. avatar
    Yannick Cornet

    Well first it should be made possible for women. Most countries barely cater fairly to their needs. Truth is that they often pick up the responsibility for the children. Denmark has an excellent and largely free system that takes care of babies and kids as soon as the maternity leave is over, from 7am til 5, not some shorter hours. This way women are not penalised, they CAN continue their career. Obviously it is hard to compete for the top jobs if forced to take a few years break. The UK does not even provide for this adequately. Second, well, frankly, we should force men out. White middle age men will choose white middle age men to replace them. This is proven. Positive discrimination – minimum quotas – is I think the only way to go, at least to create the transition where women are in fact in enough important roles to change the rules of the game and make it more fair for other women to join. So far, those who make it to the top job seem to have to be like men to get there. That is what needs to change. Just thoughts..

    • avatar
      catherine benning

      I feel quite differently from, Yannick Cornet. I don’t see staying home with a beautiful son or daugher as being ‘penalised.’ The one being penalised is the child having to be farmed out from time of waking to time of sleeping to someone who has no interest in their welfare, or, more importantly love of their being. They are political orphans virtually from birth.

      I think women should be forced out. Forced out of the closet that is. How many of these women in parliament are not women who really want marriage a home life and children but pretend they do in order to find a partner? They have no nesting instincts, and frankly should not have married in the first place, as their commitment is not to the raising of a family but to employers who exploit them for their vulnerability and incompetance for low pay.

      I also think women who are in office should be open about their sexuality and declare their sexual leaning, just as men should. You cannot vote blind as that is like voting for half a body rather than a full one. The view of the hetrosexual on many family issues and sexuality is very often quite different from homosexual views.

      Why should the people and tax payers of a country fund childcare for parents who should be ‘firstly’ devoted to their own children and yearn to lovingly care for them and have a waking relationship with them? So, one or the other parent should be ‘forced’ out of the work and of any kind of promotion until the child is at least eight years old. It is well known that children only do well in early life if cared for by their mother. However, the second best for their mental and physical function is their father, then their Grandparents. So, to make childhood a joy, rather than a desperate internal pain of abandonment, parents must be ‘forced’ into leaving their jobs during the years they are needed to raise their family.

      White middle aged women should be forced out along with black middle aged women as they are not seriously qualified for top level jobs, as, in the main, they are losing their faculties as a result of the menopause and who wants that around them all day? They should be prepared to be at home to care for the grandchildren and the elderly because they simply are not suited to the work force with the over emotional leanings they have, along with their constant need to weep over unbelievable paranoia from projected put downs. Rather they should be prepared to accept the reality of their inadequacy being the reason they were passed over. Women are an expensive liability in the work place when they are promoted above their ability. Which is ground onto society because of political correctness.

      However, I do agree women are indoctrinated into behaving and aspiring to a masculine demeanor in society, the same way men are being forced by the same strange agenda to be more and more feminine. Cry, give in to childish tantrums and so on. Which is not good for society or the nation when a more steady unemotional logic is needed to move society forward peacefully.

      Example, masculine Margaret Thatcher led Britian into the gulf war, followed by the effeminate, Tony Blair, who joined in with the the USA policy on Iraq and Afghanistan. To protect American oil profits.

      Here are a few examples of what happens to children that are left in the care of those who couldn’t care less about their well being or their emotional need for love and genuine attention.


      And there are many many of these camera caught people. Look down the youtube listings. You think they are better off at nursery? Well think again.




      Is working for peanuts worth this? Governments should be forced out of office unless they return us to the days when one parent earned enough to support a family of four without having to do two or three jobs and without two parents have to work. As it was when we lived in a civilised society.

      Remember it? I do, my mother never had to work if she didn’t choose to, my father earned enough to keep a family and buy as house as well as a car. Without having to do two jobs.


      Oh, dear, he’s not doing the housework along with her. What aprice to pay. So, women must be forced to tell it up front, they don’t want family, children and domestic life. They simply pretend they do. Or, are being forced to do the impossible against their will. It cannot be both ways.


      How about those onions? Shoe on a different foot.


  28. avatar
    Luigi Monteferrante

    Obviously: yes! And I don’t have children, but it’s so clear infants, children, teens should be provided with the best care, education, health possible to give them a chance to grow, prosper and contribute to creating a better community that, in turn, had done its best for them.

  29. avatar
    Asyah Azize

    Every country should, its outrageous how much you have to pay normal baby sitters and daycare

  30. avatar
    Toni Muñiz

    You should invest more in children period. Both promoting the birth rate of Europeans and then taking care of the kids from the health to feeding. It is an absolute shame that children in Europe are going hungry while billions of ? are shipped out of the EU.

  31. avatar
    David Müldner

    ofcourse affordable daycare is the only way in which both sexes can equally play their part in the economy + it can help stop populationdecrease!

  32. avatar
    Festina Lente

    Yes, and Australia, USA, everybody is welcome in the EU : we’ live in a global worLd….don’t we ? And the world belongs to everybody, so please make life simple !

  33. avatar
    Eugenia Serban

    Obviously. Under the present circumstances of such rate and level of poverty and unemplyment, a entire generation of children risk to be uneducated.
    Or worse….easy victims of criminality.

  34. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Yes… Because if they make it difficult for future parents to have families, then there will be less children, less voters, less tax payers to pay taxes to support this darn system… Thus we will have to rely on immigration, a thing very difficult now with the rise of the far right everywhere in Europe, due to the “marvellous” policies that the European elites have chosen to implement and adopt!!

  35. avatar
    Lars Lynge Nielsen

    Yes, of course. The earliest possible public investment results in the largest public benefits over a lifetime – health, education, no crime, etc.etc. – all international research proves.

  36. avatar
    Γιάννης Οικονομόπουλος

    Because society is subliminally sending the message to women that they should use their beauty not their intellect.It’s sad really,i believe that women sometimes are far more capable than us yet they are held back even in this day and age.

  37. avatar
    Claus Skøtt Christensen

    It’s an unfortunate image they chose fir that article. That’s Helle Thorning, Danish prime minister, and the least popular national leader we’ve had for a long time. She got elected as a socialist, and has been doing conservative policy. It’s almost comical.

  38. avatar
    Buj Alex

    maybe weman don’t have strong personalities :) :) and they are not few, just fewer than man !! and that is OK … it’s a psychologically normal society, to my opinion … just like, why there aren’t any children , or very few …

  39. avatar
    Harry BeIl

    Because most of our countries are run by conservative and Christian democrat parties …

  40. avatar
    Miguel Vieira

    New legislation and regulations will solve the problem, Why Masonry don’t allow mix of women’s and men in major masonic temples and lodges? Gender equality in EU today is used for propaganda and political gains..

    In an honest and fair society where merit would be the biggest determining factor for the attributions of “jobs”, Ex. if for 10 political office or job offers the best candidates were women, they should occupy the positions, political or in other situations, and reality don’t support the EU propaganda..

  41. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Stereotypes… Of what the roles of a man and a woman should be in a society. And both men and women have them.. So we all suffer from the consequences: men, women gay or straight!! Eliminate the stereotypes and you will have the society you want!!

  42. avatar
    Vinko Rajic

    I believe because of education . The most important is to remove from EU schools all those who teach that women should have different rights. Religion should be removed from all schools , example this kind of people : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNa5S9UhjnY . We should teach children like this : http://youtu.be/5JoUAGYXjVc?t=3m30s
    Slovenia , Croatia , Poland are the best in EU with gender pay gap , communists created equality to damage church . Latest figures from Eurostat, released to coincide with International Women?s Day on Sunday (March 8), shows there was a 16.4 percent EU gender pay gap in 2013, down from 17.3 per cent five years earlier. http://www.euronews.com/2015/03/06/which-eu-country-has-the-biggest-gender-pay-gap/

  43. avatar
    TJ Todorov

    This is totally stupid question! People are different! By gender, race, religion, sex, politically, culturally,IQ, … We all should stop putting our ugly fingers in the Gods’ business.

  44. avatar
    Maria Lorena Almoete Prac

    bcoz woman is verru respondible and relax for all what is her decision.she is not arogant when the time have forum she is listening what the other parties have a rigth solutions.

  45. avatar
    Erich Scheffl

    The inequality is between those who have power, and those who are too weak. Not between men and women. Egoism, target orientation and organisation are the main drivers. ;) Power asymmetry, greed, and destroying competition are the topics, on which we have to work. Then we may have equal chances.

  46. avatar
    Akpans Intel

    Its an open secret.Our forefathers restricted women to the kitchen and taking care of kids.We are partially waking up from our sleep to discover women could do what men can.I will also be pleased to be asked why teachers are poorly payed.

  47. avatar
    Jaume Roqueta

    Woman have the tendency to take care of their people, not taking their money and use them as slaves.

  48. avatar
    TJ Todorov

    Leave the business to decide itself. Otherwise you go on opposite discrimination. We have next week international gender balance conference in Bulgaria: 24 women and 1 man from Romania….

  49. avatar
    Marta de Monfort

    There are already some interesting studies on that. How about you present them rather than allow some uninformed folks blame it again on feminism?
    A nice summary if some of them is in Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. But there are many other sources.
    In short: women are conditioned to lean out, not to be ambitious (you want to step out in a few years to have kids, so why would you need that promotion now?), to be liked rather than respected. And the employers apply too much benevolent sexism,as they think they know what is good for women (flexible working hours, right?!), and actually leaving them with an impression of not being in charge of one’s career.

  50. avatar
    Christos Mouzeviris

    Prejudices and the stereotypical roles we all have in our minds ,men AND women, of what should be our role in a society, family, country etcetera ……

  51. avatar
    Gianvito Capone

    Because men and women are different, and tend to pursue different interests and ambitions with different sets of priorities. It’s not about prejudice, not about stereotypes, not about sexism. It’s about biology.

  52. avatar
    Ahmed Agibä

    Come on! Few women in the leadership!! Who said that? My senior manager is a woman and my junior manjor is a woman too, even I was lately in Hungary, I was working in a hospital, almost all there were women. Come on! We’re in the era of women domination :-P

  53. avatar
    Milica Orlovic

    Just look at the comments and you will see what. Patriarchal and sexist society we still live in.

  54. avatar
    Michel Percan

    What are you talking about. We just had president elected – Croatia. What you want 100% of woman in places? Scotish people also just choosed woman.

  55. avatar
    Efstratios N Soubassakis

    Because women in Europe, as in most of the world are not treated properly. They are treated like second class people. This is dictated by the religions!

  56. avatar
    Vera Cardoso

    Too many centuries of a culture where women suffer more pressure to assume roles in the household, child raising and underpaid jobs, rather than to educate themselves and aiming for other goals in life.

  57. avatar
    Richard Osborne

    If feminism was something that most women really wanted, why was 50 shades of grey such a big seller?

  58. avatar
    Liliana Ramsing

    because men think are smarter and better in taken decisions…so there is no place enough for women. Women are not taken in consideration as men when it is about leadership…

  59. avatar

    Because men think are smarter and better in taken decisions…so there is not enough place for women as leaders. Men crave also more for power than women. Women are not taken in consideration as much as men are, when it is about leadership.These are my observations.

  60. avatar
    Ryan Gibson

    Because they are less likely to let business men and politicians get away with corruption. Statistically speaking 79 percent of whistle blowers are women. I personally think they should be running the Country, especially Spain.

  61. avatar
    Gi Ada

    Europe is the old continent with a old culture that I could be decribed as sexist…women have manage home! I really hope one day it will be different

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