Sunday, February 19, 2006

The myth of women's equality in Europe :: Newsweek: International Editions

Rana Foroohar reports:

It sounds impossible, but it's true. For all the myths of equality that Europe tells itself, the Continent is by and large a woeful place for a woman who aspires to lead. According to a paper published by the International Labor Organization this past June, women account for 45 percent of high-level decision makers in America, including legislators, senior officials and managers across all types of businesses. In the U.K., women hold 33 percent of those jobs. In Sweden—supposedly the very model of global gender equality—they hold 29 percent.

Germany comes in at just under 27 percent, and Italian women hold a pathetic 18 percent of power jobs. These sad statistics say as much about Europe's labor markets, lingering welfare-state policies and corporate leadership as they do about its attitudes toward women.
Ouch. The lesson you take from this next bit probably explains a lot about your view of how markets work. Quote:

Why is this? Simply put, Europe is killing its women with kindness—enshrined, ironically, in cushy welfare policies that were created to help them. By offering women extremely long work leaves after children, then pushing them to take the full complement via tax policies that discourage a second income, coupled with subsidies that serve to keep them at home, Europe is essentially squandering its female talent. Not only do women get off track for long periods, many simply never get back on.
. . .
Any number of studies, including some by the OECD and the ILO, have shown how excessively long leaves can derail women's career prospects, often permanently. Employers are understandably reluctant to hire and promote someone who may absent herself for years on end, often more than once. "Being a potential mother becomes an obstacle for women in certain types of jobs, and that is the case all over Europe," says ILO labor sociologist Manuela Tomei. Removing one's wedding ring for job interviews has thus become commonplace. So have probing questions. "Your family plans come up at every single job interview," says Sasha Buehler, a Munich film buyer. "I've had to promise potential employers that I won't get pregnant." While questions like this might elicit a lawsuit in the United States, European women are less likely to fight back. Europe doesn't allow class-action suits and, outside of the public sector, the burden of proof in a discrimination case still falls on the individual rather than the corporation, making it incredibly difficult for a single person to initiate and win a case.
So, what's the lesson you take from this? That government should make it more difficult for business to defeat its good intentions to be kind to women? If so, then you ought to also agree that Emiratization is best pursued with more regulation, more vigorously enforced.

Which environment is preferred by women? That partly depends on the individual woman's preferences: whether she likes working in environments where incentives are sharp or where they are soft.

Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Cato Unbound - "The principal motor of Europe’s current decline is, in my view, its obsession with social security, which has created rigid social and economic systems that are extremely resistant to change. And this obsession with social security is in turn connected with a fear of the future: for the future has now brought Europe catastrophe and relative decline for more than a century."



Blogger secretdubai said...

It's difficult for the employers and it's difficult for women.

The only real solution as I see it is government funded creches, taking the onus off the private sector and stigma off parents, and giving talented, educated women incentive to get back into the workforce while maintaining at least a minimal birthrate.

People forget that women being forced to choose a family rather than a career doesn't just leave them childless. It often means a man ends up childless too. It affects everyone.

For example if I moved outside this region (with its access to third world labour) and decided to have children, it is likely that I would be earning the same or even LESS than a full time child carer, meaning that there would effectively be no point in going into the office.

I don't think a lot of career women really want to give up their jobs full time or forever. I also don't think many women honestly find full time childrearing a 100% rewarding career, if one is used to interacting with adults, using ones skills and education, and having the independence and peer respect that a job/career gives you. The problem is that juggling can be such a bloody nightmare that it becomes more hassle than it is worth.

It affects men too, if they request early leave from work to pick up their child, or have to come in late because of taking a sick kid to the doctor. They instantly get downgraded in the eyes of their employers as "less committed".

At the end of the day, women are always going to have to choose. Unless the timing is very fortunate, you simply cannot desert a high profile position with critical ongoing projects for months on end of baby-leave. Wise employers will hopefully understand that limited/less hours of a highly skilled employee's time are still more valuable than replacing them with someone less experienced or appropriate. But not all employers are wise. And not all professions suit flexi-time.

2:39 AM  
Anonymous Eileen said...

Thanks so much for this post, really helpful material.

11:24 PM  

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