Pressing for gender quotas

ARE there enough women in managerial positions? Do they need a special approach? Is the introduction of quotas to boost women’s representation in company management structures necessary? These are questions to which the European Union and its member countries have been searching for answers. However, the Slovak government does not like the idea of quotas and local HR experts are also critical.

ARE there enough women in managerial positions? Do they need a special approach? Is the introduction of quotas to boost women’s representation in company management structures necessary? These are questions to which the European Union and its member countries have been searching for answers. However, the Slovak government does not like the idea of quotas and local HR experts are also critical.

The European Commission believes that the share of women in company management should increase and to achieve this it has drafted a directive.

“Gender equality at work is not a women’s issue, but a business and economic imperative,” EC vice president Viviane Reding, who pressed for the gender quota as the commissioner in charge of justice and fundamental rights, said at a meeting in mid May with Markus Klimmer, the managing director of the Accenture consulting firm, to discuss opportunities for women. “Today, women still only represent 16 percent of board members in Europe, a shocking waste of talent when you consider that 60 percent of university graduates are female,” she said.

Draft EC directive

In November 2012, the European Commission (EC) proposed a directive setting a 40-percent target for female representation in non-executive board-member positions in publicly listed companies, excluding small and medium-sized enterprises, the EC rote on its website. Companies which have a lower share of women among non-executive directors will be required to make appointments to those positions on the basis of a comparative analysis of the qualifications of each candidate, by applying clear, gender-neutral and unambiguous criteria. Given equal qualifications, priority would be given to women. The objective of attaining at least 40-percent representation of women in non-executive positions should thus be met by 2020 while public undertakings – over which public authorities exercise a dominant influence – will have two years less, until 2018.

The proposal is not yet law and to become so it needs to undergo the regular approval procedure. As the next step, the Irish presidency of the EU has scheduled a discussion at a meeting of employment and social affairs ministers due to take place on June 20, 2013.

In Slovakia the EC initiative has been greeted with misgivings by the government as well as HR experts. They say it is important to support gender equality, but argue that a quota is not the best tool to increase the proportion of women in top positions. Moreover, they do not see the situation in Slovakia as requiring such solutions.

“Based on the principle of subsidiarity, the EU acts only when member states are not able in a satisfactory way reach the required goals,” Labour Ministry spokesperson Michal Stuška told The Slovak Spectator.

He added that according to his ministry conditions which would substantiate an intervention by the EU in the form of binding legislation do not pertain in Slovakia. The government believes that if it is necessary to adopt temporary equalising measures to improve gender equality this should be done at the national level.

The Labour Ministry also sees the processes proposed in the draft directive as an interference into ownership rights and the freedom to do business. It also sees real implementation of the directive as problematic, because in Slovakia members of boards of supervisors are elected by shareholders and the state believes it cannot tell shareholders via a law whom they should elect.

Based on EU data, the share of women among non-executive board members was 13.5 percent in Slovakia in January 2012, compared with the EU average of 15 percent.

The views of HR experts

Several HR experts in Slovakia told The Slovak Spectator that they do not support increasing the share of women in managerial positions via quotes and directives.

“I am not a supporter of introducing quotas regulating the representation of women in leading positions either in business or in politics,” Martin Krekáč, senior partner of Amrop and chairman of Jenewein Group, told The Slovak Spectator, warning that quotas introduce the danger that lower quality people end up chosen because candidates would not be selected from “the natural pool of people”. He added: “I am for the natural dynamics, natural competition and natural growth.”

Krekáč said he was against special rules and privileges, seeing some space for them in the case of disabled people, and added that he also considered it to be important that society is prepared to help women wanting to have families. However, in this respect he called for informal rules and said he was against state and formal interventions.

“Society is most productive and most developed when it respects as much as possible informal rules; when its members behave responsibly on the basis of their own convictions,” Krekáč said.

Luboš Sirota, chief executive of McROY Group, a Slovak recruitment company, said he regards the directive as an effort to achieve a good goal via not very effective means.

“One should not object to the removal of discrimination but the regulation of this type will not be very effective in the short run,” Sirota told The Slovak Spectator, adding that the current situation on the market follows to a significant extent the traditional pattern, in which high posts still tend to be the domain of men, and women work more, for example, as marketing directors, heads of communication, and HR directors, and companies search in such cases for “women’s creativity and empathy”.

Sirota believes that if the rules were to be tightened, companies would try to avoid them and that the whole process must be a long-term one in which, for example, talented women are first selected for junior positions.

“Adoption of any regulation would not change anything immediately,” said Sirota.

Mariana Turanová, managing partner in Slovakia for Target Executive Search, conceded that men prevail in company management structures and that this is partly the result of tradition, which dictates that women take care of their families and that their careers come next.

“This is the reality and women, who have ambitions as well as qualities to be in company management, … are exposed to higher pressure until they work up into management,” Turanová said, adding that afterwards they are regular members and colleagues meaning that they reached their positions thanks to their abilities. “I do not know whether it is the right way to push women into managerial positions via any directive. According to me, a human being either is a leader/manager or not. Thus it does not matter whether it is man or woman.”

While Krekáč said he had not noticed any significant change brought about by the EC’s efforts to increase the presence of women in managerial positions, he regards the increase in the quality as well as quantity of various support activities as positive. In particular, he praised the increased visibility of successful women, who can serve as inspirations and role models.

With regards to the current situation in Slovakia, Krekáč said that his experience is that he, as an HR expert, has not experienced a situation in which a woman showing an interest in building her career supported by suitable abilities and skills has not succeeded only because she is a woman.

“In some fields it is rather the contrary,” said Krekáč. “If a woman with ambition and quality appears on the Slovak political scene and shows her interest to the public, political parties reach for her immediately. The same is true in business.”

When speaking about barriers in terms of gender equality Krekáč, opined that these originated in the historical preference of women in Slovakia and gender stereotypes which in general mean that for most Slovak women higher career ambitions are not a priority and that they instead believe it is important to raise children and take care of their family.

“In the end, feminists too admit that ‘one of the main obstacles on which equality founders is women themselves’,” said Krekáč.

Gender equality in remuneration

In Slovakia, even though the average educational level of women is higher than that of men, they still earn less in equivalent positions. The gender pay gap was 20.5 percent compared with the EU average of 16.2 percent in 2011. The gap has decreased by 7 percentage points over the last 10 years, according to the Labour Ministry.

Sirota confirmed the difference in remuneration between men and women in Slovakia, with women often earning 20-25 percent less than men in the same positions.

On the other hand, Turanová said that foreign companies in Slovakia remunerate women according to their performance, that they do not earn less than men at all and their remuneration depends on their ability to negotiate their pay and based on what their performance brings to the company.

“It is instead necessary to think about whether women are assertive enough and, as far as they have an impression that their wage should go up, to speak openly about this,” said Turanová.

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