Traditional gender stereotypes are still alive in many countries, but leaders have to make an effort to allow women to participate and contribute to the well-being of nations, says Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė. She told EurActiv in an exclusive interview that quotas should be the last resort.
Dalia Grybauskaitė is the president of Lithuania, which will hold the rotating presidency of the EU from 1 July to 31 December. She is a former EU Commissioner and left the EU executive in 2009 to become Lithuania's head of state.
She spoke to EurActiv Editor-in-Chief Daniela Vincenti.
On the occasion of the International Women's Day, we can safely say that gender equality is unfinished business. The Commission wants to introduce quota to break the glass ceiling. The European Council has only three women among the 27 EU leaders. What can be done to boost the number of women at the top?
Most importantly is to ensure equal opportunities. The quotas for highest positions in business or politics are only the last resort. Of course, it depends on the specific situation of every country. Sometimes positive discrimination is necessary due to the traditional and cultural background of a specific society.
As concerns Lithuania, we already have better results than the EU average in the context of women participation in company boards – 18% (the EU average is 15.8%); 8% of women are board chairs (EU average – 3.3%) and 4% are in CEO positions (EU average 2.4%). Of course, it does not reach the EU required 40%, but we see the growing tendency.
I think education is the key word. Good access to education gives more opportunities for professional careers and competition. Some sectors are still lacking women. It is important to foster their involvement in technologies, natural sciences and sciences in general.
Lithuania will focus on these issues during its EU presidency in the second half of the year. We will hold a conference on women’s integration in science, which I hope will provide a good analysis and recommendations for the future.
Billionaire Warren Buffet said recently that women will save the US economy because their talents were finally being utilised. Would you say the same for Europe? Can women save the EU and lift the eurozone out of the crisis?
Of course! They already use their talents here in Europe. Women leadership proved to be very efficient in solving the recent crisis.
We have examples – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Prime Minister of Denmark Helle Thorning-Schmidt and others, who successfully lead their countries and are committed to the European Project.
Lithuania is also among these examples: the harsh crisis influenced my decision to come back and help my country. And I am happy that now our economy is successfully reviving and we have steady growth (almost by 6% last year).
Unfortunately, women discrimination in salaries is still a problem, which makes a negative effect on the economy.
Nowadays women are intelligent, well-educated and have good professional skills. They are ready to contribute to the welfare of their countries. The goal of society is to allow them to do so.
Would you say women still have to play by men’s rules in order to climb up the career ladder?
The old and traditional gender stereotypes are still alive in many countries. Sometimes in competition women have to be twice as good as men. But I see positive tendencies and I hope that more and more women will reach top positions in science, business and politics playing by the rules which are the same for both genders.
If you had a daughter who had the ambition to reach top levels in European politics, what advice will you give her?
I have only one simple advice for everyone – men and women. Be honest and committed in what you are doing. Trust yourself, learn every day, seek for maximum results and you will achieve everything you wan
Let's fast-forward to International Women’s Day 2020. Will women fare better than today?