Tennis, media, IT – these are just three professional fields where prominent cases of gender inequality have been exposed or fought against in recent months. Only last week, the new Gender Equality Index (GEI)—a composite measure with 38 indicators—was released by the European Institute of Gender Equality. What was their conclusion? That the EU is moving at a snail’s pace towards gender equality. Over the past 10 years, we have ‘managed’ to move up four points to 66.2 points on the Index (on a scale from 0 to 100) ). This is hardly an exemplary model for the development of fair and inclusive society.
We all know that Venus and Serena Williams are successful tennis players. They come from an African-American family with divorced parents and eight step-siblings. At a very young age, they embraced the opportunity to compete at the top tennis tournaments. Both sisters have built comfortable lifestyles, are notable celebrities and influential figures. But for a long time they did not receive the same financial awards as their male counterparts. What was their response? Together with Billie Jean King, they put pressure on the Grand Slam committee to resolve this issue. Eventually, even the utterly traditional Wimbledon caved in and agreed to equal pay for both genders. But as recently as last year, Indian Wells’ CEO, Raymond Moore, stated that female players “ride on the coattails” of the ATP Tour game and should “get down on their knees every night” to thank male players. This is not a European problem, you may say. But who holds the top positions in sports federations across the EU? According to the GEI index, only 14% are women.
Google has also had its share of scandals. In August, an Alphabet Inc. male employee wrote and circulated a 10-page memorandum accusing the technology company of silencing conservative political opinions and condemning calls for diversity policies. He also argued that biological differences play a role in the shortage of women in tech and leadership positions. His swift dismissal, however, failed to silence those that argue Silicon Valley is a “men’s club.” In addition, Google has been fending off a lawsuit from the U.S. Department of Labor that alleges the company systemically discriminated against women. According to the company’s most recent demographic report, 69% of its workforce and 80% of its technical staff are male.
So, why should Europeans be concerned with events in Silicon Valley? First, hubs are being created throughout Europe along American lines to foster innovation capital. The prospect of these hubs containing the inherent achievements and biases of their American counterparts should not be underestimated. Second, the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT) this week announced their nominees for this year’s awards. Eight out of the twenty nominees are women (a 22% increase on last year). Accordingly, female representation amongst the EIT’s nominees has now reached the 40% threshold. But will the golden rule of “40-for-40” become the new “glass ceiling”? It remains to be seen…
What about the media sector? When the BBC published some of its hosts’ salaries in July it revealed that only 35% of those earning more than £150,000 a year were women. Chris Evans, a popular BBC presenter, topped the list with £2.2 million, followed by six more men. ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ host, Claudia Winkleman, was the highest-paid female presenter with earnings ranging between £450,000 and £500,000 a year. After much public backlash and an open letter signed by 40 prominent BBC female employees, Director-General Tony Hall initiated internal investigations. Earlier this week, the BBC revealed that the overall gender pay gap in the public corporation is 9.3% in favour of men. Of course, this smoke screen does not resolve the issue that higher-paying positions are disproportionally occupied by male employees. Indeed, the Gender Equality Index measured the share of female board members of publicly-owned broadcasting companies in the EU at just 32.2%.
So, why should people in Central Europe care about the Williams sisters, Google’s employee composition or the highest-paid BBC hosts? The answer is because we are not doing any better. As things currently stand, Hungary (18.7 points), Slovakia (23.1 points) and the Czech Republic (22.6 points) are at the bottom end of the GEI. In Slovakia and the Czech Republic, male over-representation in key decision-making positions has actually increased over the last 10 years. Moreover, when it comes to female work participation, Slovakia is third from the bottom (65.5 points) among EU states and is trailed only by Italy and Greece. With the notable exception of the Czech Republic, the other V4 countries are also in the bottom ten when it comes to pay and income equality. Hungary has the highest gender gap and is placed 22nd out of the 28 European Union members.
While we are eager to reshape Europe, we should also be aware that our efforts will fail unless we lead by example and provide equal opportunities and conditions for men and women. Ensuring gender equality will allow Europe to realise its full potential in all spheres of life.