The EU prides itself on having equality between women and men as one of its founding values, but how much do the EU’s values match up with reality? In Europe, only one manager out of three is a woman and she earns almost a quarter less than a man. Half the population is not equally represented on the labour market. This feels unfair, but apart from that, why should we care? Do these inequalities also have unwanted consequences for all of us?
Within Europe, the situation differs greatly between Member States. In Latvia, 53 percent of executives are female – the only EU member state where women are a majority on this level. At the bottom of the ladder, with less than a quarter of female executives, are Germany, Italy and Cyprus. That leads us to the question: why is the gender balance so different from country to country? Can quotas make a difference?
Norway was the first country in the world to adopt binding quotas. As a consequence, women now make up almost 40% of board members in Norwegian companies. German industry groups have often spoken out against binding quotas, which they believe would hurt business. Nevertheless, since 2016, the largest companies have to reach a women’s quota on new appointments to supervisory boards. The 150 concerned enterprises fulfilled their obligation of 30 per cent. However, things are different for the companies that had voluntarily joined the initiative: the proportion of women stagnates here between 8 to 13 percent. So, why are we still arguing over gender quotas?
What do our readers think about the topic? We asked MEPs Terry Reintke from the Greens and Barbara Matera from the Christian Democrats to answer your questions on the women’s quota. Both are experts in the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality.
Our reader Me is critical of women’s quota. She writes about her experiences in the IT sector in Northern Europe and believes that she understands both sides: she does not want to be perceived as a ‘quota woman’, but at the same time sees how men promote each other. She believes that we need quotas to overcome structural problems, but also eventually wants to think about when to get rid of them. What does Terry Reintke think? When do we need women quotas and when are they no longer needed?
In order to get a different perspective, we also asked MEP Barbara Matera.
Nowadays we need gender diversity quotas a little bit everywhere. For example, we need gender diversity most of the times in corporations, companies, schools, businesses of all types. When you ask the question, it is the same. I can only assure you that I am, personally, working very hard every day to achieve positive and fruitful results in this matter. Hopefully, this gender disparity will not be needed anymore in the near future.
Next up, we had a comment sent in by Christos is also against a women’s quota because he sees them as ‘reversed discrimination’. How would Barbara Matera respond?
Christos, I do not think that these quotas are a form of discrimination; I personally think they are a way to achieve gender equality. This can however be debated and argued. The idea of gender quotas seems farfetched at first blush. Culturally, it evokes claims of unfairness, triggering fears of unqualified candidates and reverse discrimination against men. (Though such fear itself reveals a deep gender bias in assuming women collectively would be unqualified.) Some fear the potential counter-effect of restriction by a quota, for example, limiting women to 51% of college admissions even where their grades would allow them to constitute a higher percentage of the incoming class.
For another opinion we spoke with journalist Birgit Kelle, who is against women quotas:
I believe that the reasons why there are few women in leadership positions are very complex. The main reason is that women first entered the labour market later. So that’s purely a historical reason, in that we have lived in a man’s world for a long time. It also certainly has less to do with role models, and more to do with the different priorities of men and women. We see that even with affirmative action, women do not necessarily want top positions. Even in countries like Norway, where women benefit from affirmative action, it is no easier to fill vacancies with women. Of course, we are influenced by role models or so-called stereotypes, but we can also see in Germany and Europe that we are ruled by powerful women. These women have not been deterred by stereotypes, so we need to broach the issue of why women are really in less senior positions. It is a novelty that women work in the labour market. Therefore, without a law or quotas, I assume we will see a very different situation in 20 years. We will by then be 50% represented.
Dionator is in favor of a women’s quota, because he believes that is the only way to change the status quo. Furthermore, he believes that the economy will ultimately benefit from more qualified women. Are there any economic reasons for gender quotas?
Why are we still arguing over gender quotas? What do you think? Will the problem solve itself? Should the rest of Europe learn from the success story in Norway?