Gender Equality Minister Kathleen Lynch TD is hosting an EU Presidency conference entitled ‘Women’s Economic Engagement and the Europe 2020 Agenda’ in Dublin Castle today and tomorrow Tuesday 30th April. Speakers have told delegates at the conference that Member States must address barriers which limit opportunities both for women and economic growth.
This European Commission supported event, which is the flagship event for Gender Equality in this, our seventh Presidency, is bringing together over 200 experts people from across Europe – policymakers, government officials, business leaders, entrepreneurs, employment and equality experts to look at steps which can be taken to increase economic growth across Europe by encouraging women to remain in or to return to the labour market.
In his opening address to the conference, Minister for Justice and Equality, Alan Shatter, TD, referred to the “win-win situation” which could be achieved by women having not just jobs but “better jobs”. He noted that furthering the economic engagement of women has a strong positive effect on boosting economic growth, while at the same time strengthening women’s economic independence.
The ICT sector was earmarked for special attention by Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation Richard Bruton, TD. At present women comprise only 30% of the ICT workforce in Europe. This ICT sector is rapidly growing and creating around 120,000 new jobs across Europe every year. Minister Bruton noted that there is an urgent need to find new ways of encouraging girls to take up careers in ICT and to show them the opportunities on offer.
In addressing the Conference, Minister Lynch and European Commissioner for Employment, Laszlo Andor further developed these themes. They emphasised the importance of increasing female participation in the labour market and on the imperative to capitalise on the well educated female EU population in order to achieve the key employment goals of the Europe 2020 Strategy – the EU’s economic policy for the present decade.
The opening day of the Conference looked at the economic background to the topic. It heard from the OECD which has recently published a groundbreaking analysis entitled “Closing the Gender Gap” linking women’s employment, education and entrepreneurship as factors to maximise economic growth potential across the OECD area, including in the European Union.
The conference is also looking at the challenges to women’s full engagement. Dr. Willem Adema of the OECD commented that women are disadvantaged by the unequal responsibilities of unpaid care work which limits and in some instances prevents their employment and entrepreneurial activities. He advocated that “countries should promote a more gender equitable use of flexible working time arrangements and parental leave entitlements among fathers and mothers to generate a better sharing of paid and unpaid work.”
Dr. Daniela Bankier, Head of Gender Equality in the European Commission noted that equality between men and women is a fundamental right and a common principle of the European Union and a key element of sustainable, smart and inclusive economic growth. She emphasised that “Women represent a growing share of the EU workforce. Significant challenges remain in fields such as reconciling work and family life and gender balance in decision-making. Women must be given the opportunity to fully participate in the labour market and to develop their full potential.”
Her Commission colleague from DG Employment, Ms. Wallis Goelen outlined some of the economic disincentives, both national and personal, pointing out that economic inactivity for women can be linked to an increase in effective tax rates when moving from inactivity to employment or when the wage increases, the participation of women in the labour market may be discouraged. Childcare costs can be a further disincentive to start or return to work for a second earner. The EU institutions are recommending that Member States tackle these disincentives, to ensure that the contribution of the well educated female population of the EU can maximise its personal economic independence and its potential contribution to economic growth across the Union.
Note for Editors
Find more information about the conference on the event page.
Europe 2020 is the European Union’s ten-year growth strategy. It is about addressing and creating the conditions for a type of growth that is smarter, more sustainable and more inclusive.
To render this more tangible, five key targets have been set for the EU to achieve by the end of the decade. These cover employment; education; research and innovation; social inclusion and poverty reduction; and climate/energy.
These targets are:
- ensuring 75 % employment of 20–64-year-olds
- getting 3 % of the EU’s GDP invested into research and development;
- limiting greenhouse gas emissions by 20 % or even 30 % compared to 1990 levels, creating 20 % of our energy needs from renewables and increasing our energy efficiency by 20 %;
- reducing school dropout rates to below 10 %, with at least 40 % of 30–34-year-olds completing tertiary education; and
- ensuring 20 million fewer people are at risk of poverty or social exclusion.
Each EU country has adopted its own national targets in each of these areas, and EU leaders have agreed a number of concrete actions at EU and national levels.
They have also identified the most important areas of action which they believe can be new engines to boost growth and jobs.
OECD Report – Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now
Gender gaps persist in relation to women’s participation in the labour market and their under-representation in entrepreneurship and decision-making roles. A recent OECD report entitled “Closing the Gender Gap: Act Now” focuses on how best to close gender gaps under four broad headings: 1) gender equality, social norms and public policies; and gender equality in 2) education; 3) employment and 4) entrepreneurship. It states that gender equality is an imperative and not an option:
Key policy messages from the report:
- Greater gender equality in educational attainment has a strong positive effect on economic growth;
- Stereotyping needs to be addressed in educational choices at school from a young age. For example, adapt teaching strategies and material to increase engagement of boys in reading and of girls in maths and science; encourage more girls to follow science, engineering and maths courses in higher education and seek employment in these fields;
- Good and affordable childcare is a key factor for better gender equality in employment. But change also has to happen at home as the bulk of housework and caring is left to women in many countries. Policy can support such change, for example, through parental leave policies that explicitly include father.
- Support policies for women-owned enterprises need to target all existing firms, not just start-ups and small enterprises. Equal access to finance for male and female entrepreneurs needs to be assured.