The European Commission has pledged to increase gender equality in workplaces across Europe. Stakeholders have now urged the EU to make sure the COVID-19 pandemic does not impact the progress on workplace equality.
The European Commission announced in March it would launch a five-year gender equality strategy, meant to revive plans for mandatory quotas of women on company boards, amid slowing progress towards gender equality among top management.
Under a 2012 draft directive, European-listed companies would face fines if they failed to ensure that at least 40% of their non-executive board seats were taken by women.
Back then, Equality Commissioner Helena Dalli told reporters that quotas “can be a very ugly word” but were also “a necessary evil, in the sense that we have to use quotas because otherwise, we will wait another 100 years for things to change by themselves”.
“We’ve seen that the COVID-19 crisis has really worsened the position of women in the labour market in, I would dare to say, all the member states,” Katarina Ivankovic-Knezevic, director for social affairs at DG EMPL of the European Commission, told a recent event.
“We know that ‘women on boards’ has been hanging in the air for quite a long time and we have seen throughout the member states some good examples of how these issues have been solved,“ she added.
Across the EU, women make up around a quarter of non-executive directors (26.4%) but the rate of increase has slowed since 2015, according to a 2019 study by the European Commission.
Women in top positions are even rarer, with only 7.5% of board chairs and 7.7% of chief executives being female.
In Malta, Greece and Estonia, women account for fewer than one in 10 non-executive directors.
In countries that have introduced binding quotas, such as France, Germany, Italy and Belgium, the measures have led to a rapid increase of women on company boards.
France was the only member state with more than 40% of women on boards, followed by Italy (36%), Sweden and Finland, according to the study.
„Some of the mistakes that companies make are very much around either relying on legislation to legislate how the company behaves and or relying on it being a human resources program – it can’t just be the human resources program,” said Tania Garrett, vice-president for international employee experience at Adobe.
“It has to be something that the very top leadership of the organisation is brought into, is supportive of, and will resource and fund and drive,” she urged.
Going beyond gender
According to announcements, the Commission is also set to propose legislation on salary transparency, a step that was touted by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen when she took office.
“There is a responsibility, it’s far more than giving a good example, it’s also thinking of all those people who are consumers, employees worldwide and the whole system of non-financial reporting that gives us a better data that are comparable should be developed far further,” said MEP Evelyn Regner (S&D).
But inclusion in the workplace goes beyond gender.
103 countries in the world have some form of a quota for the employment of people with disabilities – a third of them subjecting employers to fines, according to a 2019 report from the International Labour Organisation (ILO).
“There is an urgent need to clarify between inclusive employment and Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) compliant inclusive employment,” said Ana Lucia Arellano, chair of the International Disability Alliance.
“While inclusive employment focuses on getting people with disabilities into jobs, CRPD–compliant inclusive employment would require us to take a more holistic approach to transform labor markets, leading to the removal of barriers to employment and fundamentally shifting the way that businesses conduct recruitment, support their employees and create inclusive environments for all people with disabilities,” she added.
As the current EU Disability Strategy is nearing its end date, the European Parliament called in a June resolution for an ambitious post-2020 strategy.
The text urged the European Commission to take a lead in promoting the rights of people with disabilities and called for an ambitious, comprehensive and well-funded strategy based on the principles of diversity and full inclusion.
The Commission is meant to present its new disability strategy in 2021, which is set to include recovery and mitigation measures to avoid people with disabilities getting disproportionally affected by health crises such as COVID-19.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]