President Juncker almost reaches his 40 pct target for women represented in the EU Commission

    (Ana Oliveira is one of the women working in the Commission. Photo: Călina Mureșan)

    President Juncker has almost achieved his goal of having 40 pct. women in the senior and middle management of the European Commission, but there are still big differences between men and women, if you look closer at the more specific levels of the commission. Critics agree that the target, as well as the way there, is complicated.

    By Călina Mureșan and Simone Nilsson

    High heels and long green hair catches the eyes of security as 23-year-old Ana Oliveira goes through the metal detectors of the European Commission. She flashes her ID-card, as she’s done every day for the past 5 months along with more than 16.000 other women.

    Female features are not a rare sight for the security guards, as women make up more than half of the general workforce of the Commission’s administration, when including job titles such as clerks and secretaries.

    The administration of President Juncker presents increasing numbers in the gender balance of the so called senior and middle management of the commission, and the president has indeed almost reached his target of 40 pct. with only 3 more pct. to go.

    The NGO European Women’s Lobby agree that the increase is progress, but argue that even if the commission did reach it’s 40 pct. target, it wouldn’t be enough.

    President Juncker’s gender agenda

    Already before he was in office, President Juncker made balanced gender representation a part of his agenda. He strongly advised that the member states nominated women as well as men for the commission positions, and later made it his goal to ensure that 40 pct. of the senior and middle management of the commission consists of women by 2019.

    The Commission announces through spokesperson Nicole Bockstaller that in the last two years, the Commission appointed several qualified women to the top management, Director-General or their deputies, thus increasing the representation of women at that level to 29% up from 13% in November 2014.

    According to her, the increase in numbers is a strong signal about the Commission’s firm commitment to reach its objective.

    The importance of diversity

    Mathilda Fleming, leader of the “Women in decision-making”- campaign from the Non-profit organization European Women’s Lobby has no doubt about the importance of more women, and thus more diversity, in high decision-making positions:

    “There’s been lots of research on how diverse groups of decision-makers make better decisions because there is more willingness to challenge each other,” she says.

    By better decisions, Ms. Fleming refers to those that prioritize social issues as much as economic growth, and she links the growing populism in Europe as a consequence of the lack of diversity in high decision-making:

    In the past 10 years, social issues have been seen as a nice “add-on” when there’s been money for it (…) those decisions are bad for a lot of people, they are certainly bad for women. So, it’s more difficult to quantify a ‘better decision’ for sure, but the uprising against the elite comes from it being disconnected from the people. My point is that political decision-making has been very far from the people in many ways, and I think that’s partly due to there not being enough diversity, she says.

    Matilda Fleming, policy officer on “Women in decision making“ campaign. Photo: Călina Mureșan

    The importance of diversity is supported by former leader of the Danish Conservative People’s Party and former EU-commissioner Connie Hedegaard, who believes the public sector needs to show that diversity matters, and that a target of 30-40 pct. female representation should be difficult to go below.

    Former EU-Commissioner Connie Hedegaard believes in gender balance. (Photo: Audiovisual Service of the European Union)

    The solution

    The former EU-Commissioner is however not a fan of setting specific targets or quotas as a means to reach greater diversity. Her solution, one that she has applied in the past herself in both the private and public sector, is to demand nominations of both male and female candidates. She argues that through this method, the people in charge will have both a man and a woman to choose from, and will have no excuse for only having a male dominated setting:

    “It’s a way to force a lot of people to not just automatically make the choice, they would do more or less unconsciously or by habit. They would be forced to see the good women around them,” she says.

    Mathilda Fleming of European Women’s lobby disagrees, and believes that quotas can be very efficient in creating gender balance, if, as she says, they’re designed correctly:

    There are a number of quotas that are not designed very well, for instance in a couple of the EU countries there are quotas for candidates, so if you are a political party you need to have certain share of candidates that are women, but it only applies to candidates, and doesn’t reflect the outcome at all.”

    To Ms. Fleming, quotas and targets are needed to get to a certain point of having diversity.

    “You have to broaden your perspective of what quality means. The point of quotas is that they should be temporary measurements to fix a problem. In an optimal world, you would have temporary quota to make sure you get more diversity,” she says.

    The work continues

    The commission considers itself dedicated to the 40 pct. target, and continues its work on promoting women according to spokesperson Nicole Bockstaller:

    “The progress made so far has been possible thanks to efforts made to raise awareness of the importance of promoting equal opportunities and encouraging recruitment and appointments of a greater number of women. The Commission departments are also more proactive in identifying potential in their female population,” she says.

    European Women’s Lobby’s Mathilda Fleming reminds the commission to keep its target in sight:

    “Targeting settings are good, and 40 pct. is not good enough, but it’s a step on the way for sure.”

    Inside the European Commission itself, Trainee Ana Oliveira seats herself in the lounge, and talks about her ambitions in finance, which she describes as a male-dominated field.

    “The perfect outcome for me right now would be to get a job in the European Central Bank. I’m applying for a job there that starts in September,” she says and continues: “If there’s not enough women, let me do something to change that.”