Today, 8 March, marks International Women’s Day. However, many ask themselves, whether this day is really a cause for celebration. The EU Commissioner for gender equality, Viviane Reding, once put it in a nutshell, when she said: “As long as we need to celebrate Women's Day, it means that we do not have equal rights. […]The goal is equality, so that we no longer need such days." The EU Commission has only recently proposed a women quota on boards, a necessary and long overdue step towards more equality.
Women quota on boards – soon reality?

It has taken long, far too long for the EU Commission to propose a women quota on Europe’s listed company boards. The proposal would stipulate that women occupy 40 percent of the seats on the non-executive boards of Europe's roughly 5,000 publicly traded companies by 2020. Female applicants will be treated with priority if their qualifications and achievement are equal to those of male applicants. Small and medium-sized enterprises (with fewer than 250 employees and a global annual turnover not exceeding EUR 50 million) as well as non-listed companies are exempt from this regulation. Penalties shall be imposed if companies fail to comply. People were delighted when they read that sanctions would be imposed if the quota was not fulfilled – that is at least what many understood! However, taking a closer look at the Directive proposal led to widespread disillusionment. According to the EU Commission, it is not the non-fulfilment of the quota, which shall be sanctioned/punished, but only the failure to report the ratio of men and women in governing bodies resp. a lack of transparency concerning the selection process itself. Whether this is the right approach to motivate companies to implement a quota by 2020 remains to be seen. However, past experiences and the example of Norway have taught us that the key to success is a legal women quota on supervisory boards underpinned by sanctions.

Gender Pay Gap – soon a thing of the past?

According to figures, recently presented by the European Commission, the gender specific pay gap stands 16.2 %; this is the average difference in gross hourly earnings between women and men. Even though the gender pay gap has been reduced over the past years, there is still no reason to celebrate. The gender pay gap is still very large, whereby changes are not so much the result of increasing wages for women than a decline of men’s wages. In Austria, the gender pay gap stands at 24 %, only Estonia overtrumps us with 27.7 % - nothing to be proud of! Austria will have to make a major effort to ensure that the gender pay gap will soon be a thing of the past.

International Women’s – still a lot to do before celebrations can begin!

Both examples show that it will take a long time before gender equality is achieved and that it requires additional measures, so that we, as EU Commissioner Reding pointed out, no longer need an International Women’s Day and that gender equality becomes reality. Until then, it will be a hard and difficult road.