Once again, March 8, 2017 was International Women’s Day. It is this day, through which gender fairness and equality attract an unusual amount of attention. Regrettably, these debates are not maintained throughout the rest of the year; looking at the unsatisfactory number of women in managerial positions for example shows the necessity of ongoing commitment.


The annual International Women's Day has been used as an opportunity to discuss equality at European level. Whilst last week’s focus was on income differences within the scope of the Gender Pay Gap, now a broad discussion is taking place concerning the still existing and varied structural discriminations of women. In this context, the Gender Equality Report examines progress that has been achieved within the EU and which challenges have yet to be met.


Genuine equality still does not exist in many areas: women and men still do not earn equal wage for equal work, their influence in public and private areas varies; they have different amounts of time at their disposal to use for themselves, and they have to meet different societal expectations. Looking at one of these areas alone can never depict the entire background of the complexity, that lies within the structural discrimination of women and all those, who do not conform to dominant gender norms. Nonetheless, changes may and have to take place in individual social segments: which is why, for instance, the fact that the majority of all executives in the European Union are male and white has to change. According to Eurostat, the statistical office of the EU, women only hold one of three managerial positions at Pan-European level. The further one looks to the top of the hierarchy, the more women are underrepresented, earning less than men in the same position.


Frequent discussions are taking place on introducing a quota, to tackle this very issue. This quota should provide for an approximately equal representation of women and men on boards and executive floors. In case that two candidates are equally qualified, the one that is counted to the underrepresented group has to be selected. Even though equality is one of the cornerstones of the European Union, it has not yet been possible to enforce a relevant regulation at EU level – in 2015, a Pan-European quota regulation failed due to the resistance of some individual Member States, such as Germany. Even though Austria had supported this regulation, to date there is no national quota regulation.


However, the recently published Women.Management.Report.2017 by AK Wien shows the possible impact such quota regulations can have. Those countries that have already implemented mandatory quotas with an option to impose sanctions in case of non-compliance, showed a significant increase of women at managerial level. Among those appliers are not only Scandinavian countries – apart from Norway, Germany, Italy, Belgium and France have implemented an appropriate national regulation.


Hence, the current Austrian situation, as it is depicted by the Women.Management.Report.2017, looks accordingly: hardly a sixth of employees at medium management level in the 200 highest-grossing companies are female; only seven percent of board members are female; from 200 positions at top management level, 193 are filled with men. Even though more women than men graduate from university, structural barriers, such as outdated role models and working practices, which give preferential treatment to men, represent almost insurmountable barriers on the career ladder. A mandatory quote would render the excuse, there were no sufficiently qualified women, null and void.


The Federal Government is currently planning a mandatory quota of 30% for supervisory boards of listed companies and large corporations with at least 1,000 employees. However, this proposal does not meet expectations: a lack of sanction options as well as the low quota of 30% (the EU Proposal would have demanded a 40% quota) give cause for concern that structural change cannot be implemented.


One needs to bear in mind that more women do not necessarily bring more diversity in respect of origin, opinions or perspectives to top level management. After all, the quota regulation is not a universal remedy for gender inequalities – in particular, as it only refers to managerial levels and thereby to well qualified women, who have come this far in the first place. Nevertheless, quota regulations are an important and necessary building block towards a fair and just society, where life chances do not depend on attributed characteristics and where diversity is embraced.



Further information

AK Wien: Women.Management.Report.2017

European Commission weighs options to break the 'glass ceiling’ for women on company boards

BAK Brussels: Bad day for gender equality policy in the EU!

BAK Brussels: Women on supervisory boards – EU proposal is on the rocks

EC: 2017 Report on equality between women and men in the EU