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More Women Executives and Entrepreneurs Required To Boost EU Economic Growth

30.04.2013, 12:09 GMT

The second day of the Gender Equality conference in Dublin Castle, hosted by the Irish Presidency and led by Gender Equality Minister Kathleen Lynch TD, focuses on advancing women in senior corporate positions and encouraging their increased participation in entrepreneurship.

Despite their growing presence in the labour force in the EU, and in Ireland, women are still seriously under-represented in economic decision-making positions, especially in senior management functions and corporate boards. Access to executive positions within the board room frequently requires access to the most senior positions within the company. If women are not encouraged to advance into more senior positions within their place of employment, then the balance of decision-making within that company is unlikely to shift.

Equality in decision-making is a priority area for the European Commission’s Strategy for Equality between Women and Men 2010-2015, in which the Commission reaffirmed its commitment to increase gender balance in decision-making positions.

Daniela Bankier, Head of Gender Equality at the Commission provided conference delegates with a number of revealing statistics on women’s representation on company boards and as CEOs in Oct 2012:

  • Across EU companies, women accounted for just 15.8% of board members
  • Progress on women’s membership of company boards is slow – around 0.8 percentage points per year between 2003-2012
  • Just 19 out of 582 of the largest companies in the EU Member States had a female chairperson or president
  • Only 14 of the 582 companies had a female CEO

Gender equality in economic decision-making is not a ‘women’s issue’ but a business imperative, according to Mirella Visser of the Centre of Inclusive Leadership, a former senior executive with ING Bank in Asia. She pointed to evidence of positive outcomes including improved overall company performance; enhanced quality of decision-making and a marked improvement in the quality of corporate governance.

The conference was also addressed by a number of entrepreneurs. Delegates were informed that the EU’s economy and prosperity is highly dependent on dynamic entrepreneurial activity, an area where women are less likely to engage.  An innovative economy benefits from new products and services, creating new jobs and additional revenues.

There were suggestions from some speakers that, despite over forty years of fostering gender equality, when establishing and running a business, women still face more difficulties than men, in particular accessing finance, training, networking and in reconciling business and family life.

Since 2009, the EU Commission has actively supported networking among women entrepreneurs, among potential women entrepreneurs and among government agencies and support organisations, with its Ambassadors Programme which was followed in 2011 by the European Network of Mentors for Women Entrepreneurs, who voluntarily counsel women starting and running new businesses. This is based on an Irish model developed with funding from the Department of Justice and Equality and the European Social Fund, called “Going for Growth”.   

Paula Fitzsimons, founder of Going for Growth explained that this Irish programme is in its seventh year and offers a peer-led learning environment with experienced Irish businesswomen acting as lead entrepreneurs on a voluntary basis.  Ms Fitzsimons stated that the recession has not stopped the huge entrepreneurial spirit existing amongst Irish businesswomen.

Ms Fitzsimons said:

“Ireland needs all the entrepreneurial talent available to it and Irish women have a major role to play in delivering the economic benefits and job creation opportunities that successful entrepreneurship can bring. Going for Growth is designed to support women to fully exploit their entrepreneurial talent and potential.”

One of the priorities of the Irish Presidency is furthering the European Commission's Rights and Citizenship Programme, which aims to promote respect for fundamental rights of EU citizens, including gender equality. Read the full Presidency programme.   

Summing up the whole conference, which had been generously funded by the European Commission’s Progress Fund, Minister of State for Equality, Kathleen Lynch TD pointed out that, in choosing the topic for this Conference, that Ireland was fostering a debate on women’s economic engagement which would, she hoped, lead to renewed action and a diverse range of actions on the part of Member States in order to encourage women to become more active in the labour market – a “win-win” situation for women’s economic independence and for economic growth.     


Notes for editors

Find more information about the Gender Equality conference on the event page.

Strategy for Equality between Women and Men 2010-2015

The European Commission's Strategy for Equality between Women and Men 2010-2015 was adopted on 21 September 2010.  The Strategy follows on from the Commission's Roadmap for Equality between women and men 2006-2010.

The new Strategy identifies five priority areas for action:

  • equal economic independence;
  • equal pay for equal work or work of equal value;
  • equality in decision-making;
  • dignity, integrity and an end to gender-based violence; and
  • gender equality in external actions.

European Commission Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan

This Action Plan is a blueprint for decisive joint action to unleash Europe's entrepreneurial potential, to remove existing obstacles and to revolutionise the culture of entrepreneurship in Europe. It aims to ease the creation of new businesses and to create a much more supportive environment for existing entrepreneurs to thrive and grow.

It proposes three areas for immediate intervention:

  1. Entrepreneurial education and training to support growth and business creation
  2. Strengthening framework conditions for entrepreneurs by removing existing structural barriers and supporting them in crucial phases of the business lifecycle, 
  3. Encouraging a culture of entrepreneurship in Europe: nurturing the new generation of entrepreneurs.

Going for Growth Programme

Going for Growth is designed to support women who are serious about growing their businesses and are the owner manager of a business which has been trading for at least two years. Entrepreneurs learn from each other. Participants are offered a unique learning environment with a peer led approach based on the shared experiences of both a Lead Entrepreneur and other participants facing common challenges.

The Going for Growth roundtables are centred on experienced or Lead Entrepreneurs, who each give about three hours of their time on a voluntary basis once a month to meet with a small group of women owner managers to support their development. The round table sessions explore a series of relevant questions related to growth and work through a series of agendas which explore relevant questions within a common agenda focused on growth.

The Going for Growth initiative is funded by the Equality for Women Measure 2010-2013, by Enterprise Ireland and by Bank of Ireland. The Equality for Women Measure is funded by the European Social Fund (ESF) through the Human Capital Investment Operational Programme 2007-2013 and the Department of Justice and Equality.

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