Gender equality is now a major goal in most European countries.
And there is no doubt there is more public awareness and signs of progress.
But as euronews’ Seamus Kearney reported: “Some in Brussels argue that not enough is being done in the business world. Some are even threatening quotas across the European Union, to force the boards of large companies to be at least 40 per cent female.”
Finland is the European Union member where you are most likely to find women on boards.
A gender equality pioneer, this was the first country that accepted female parliamentary candidates back in 1907.
The second in charge at the Finnish Chamber of Commerce stands out in a sector once dominated by men. But she says there is still a lot to be done.
Leena Linnainmaa, the Deputy Director General of the Finland Chamber of Commerce told euronews: “We made a study (of) all Finnish listed companies. We wanted to see that there has been change on corporate boards, but how about CEOs and executive managers? And, unfortunately, even I was shocked when we had the results.
“Today we have only one woman CEO in any of the Finnish listed companies,” she said. “And all the listed companies have 900 executive management team members, and 26 of those 900 are women who are in line management of companies.”
But still, the Chamber of Commerce does not believe that quotas in the private sector are needed.
Someone who is in favour is the woman who deals with more than 1,000 complaints of discrimination in Finland every year.
Pirkko Mäkinen, the Gender Equality Ombudsman in Finland, said: “There are lots of well-educated women in our society and we don’t use enough (of) their resources, their know-how. They make good careers mostly in public sector occupations and professions, and why don’t we use as a society their competencies as well in companies?”
Gender quotas already exist in state-controlled companies in Finland, which also has well-developed childcare and progressive views on family roles.
But one interesting development has been the emergence of men’s groups, who stress that gender equality is for everyone.
Pasi Malmi from the Coalition of Finnish Men’s Associations told euronews: “We are doing well solving problems of women; some still remain but we are progressing well. And now I think there’s a good consensus that we also need to take a look at men’s problems.
“Some problems are gendered in such a fashion that they are men’s problems, and we now need to take a look at them and include them (in) the official equality policy of Finland,” he said.
Making that policy is a government with a near perfect gender balance.
Like Norway, France, Italy and Belgium have quotas with sanctions, while the Netherlands and Spain have quotas without sanctions. But what about the rest of Europe?
Viviane Reding, the EU Justice Commissioner, recently said after a meeting of employment & social affairs ministers: “There were member states who rejected the quotas; there were member states who wanted the quotas; there were member states who wanted to do something at the national level. So there was a whole variety of opinions expressed.
“What was interesting (was) that there was a unanimity on the fact that the economic and social cost of the absence of women in decision-making is very negative, and it is very negative in all member states. So (there was) a unanimity that we need to do something.”
But gender equality does not seem to be a big talking point in a country like the Czech Republic, where childcare services are limited and traditional family habits seem hard to change.
In terms of the number of women on boards of listed companies, Prague is just above the European average of nearly 14%.
This in a country where only two out of 16 government ministers are female.
But the director of one of Prague’s biggest women’s groups and information centres only favours quotas for state-controlled companies.
Alexandra Jachanova Dolezelova, the Director of the Gender Studies NGO, said: “In the private businesses I’m not sure that much because I think if it is implemented to them, they don’t really know how to use it, because it is not just like ’40 per cent and now you put all 40 percent there’.
“You have to implement some programmes; you have to have women in the middle management,” she said. “So it’s a long process, and doing it without, like, knowledge, how to do it, I think it can be a mess.”
We also met a student doing a master’s degree in gender studies. Tereza Zvolska told us that ordinary Czechs just don’t seem to like the issue.
“It’s very important to start the gender awareness from the very childhood or from the elementary school,” she said, “because otherwise people are going to not like it, to hate it, because it’s something they have to do. And once it’s something they have to do, they sort of naturally tend to deny it.”
So would quotas be a move in the right direction?
“At least temporarily, I am for them,” said Tereza. “Because I know that I said before that people don’t like things being obligatory, but I think otherwise they don’t get used to it. I mean if we just leave it the way it is, we would never get there really.”
The Czech government, though, is against quotas or legislative change. It says it prefers what it calls soft measures, such as mentoring, workshops for junior managers and promoting dialogue on the issue with all of those involved.
Lucia Zachariasova from the Gender Equality Unit at the Czech Labour & Social Affairs Ministry told euronews: “A lot of challenges are still here, of course, in the Czech Republic, as everywhere I would say. For example, the gender pay gap is quite big in the CR.
“Also our government has their policy statement where they want to promote reconciliation on private and working life. That’s why we try to promote flexible working arrangements or some new types of childcare, etc.”
Euronews reporter Seamus Kearney said: “Speaking of the pay gap, European Equal Pay Day has just been held. To earn exactly what men were paid in 2011, the average European woman would’ve had to carry on working roughly an extra two months, right up until March the 2nd, 2012.”
And to get more of the top jobs, campaigners say European women still have to be given more of a fair chance.