Hickey & Associates celebrate great strides

By Wouter Schuitemaker, Managing Director EMEA, Hickey & Associates 


Wouter Schuitemaker, Hickey & AssociatesOn International Women's Day, we should take the opportunity to celebrate great strides made towards gender equality in Europe. However, we must not slow the momentum, as there is certainly still much progress to be made.

Turning a focus to gender equality in the labour force, policies and initiatives across the continent have seen the vast gaps in employment rates and pay levels improve over the past generation. In 2016, according to the European Commission, the employment rate for women reached an all-time level of 65.5% in Europe. At the same time, though, the gender pay gap is showing signs of plateauing. 

A key factor in understanding the existing gender gaps is to look at employment segregation in the European labour market. As a whole, employment segregation remains a challenge across the European landscape. Scholars and economists agree there is not a single factor driving the segregation, but instead there is a list of reasons which influence the separation. Among the many factors, priority in research and policy has turned to four main aspects in recent years: choice of study field, stereotypes, demand requirements, and entry and organisational barriers.

For this brief, we’ll take a look at choice of study field, which remains an item of controversy within the gender equality discussion. Many may first look to level of education attained, however, outside of Germany, all EU member states actually have a higher proportion of women attaining tertiary education than men.  Instead, the focus turns to the choice of field women choose to study as a larger factor in employment segregation.

A recent review of career choice trends was presented in 2016 from the 2015 OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey.  The report surveyed the skill levels and career expectations of boys and girls aged 15 across EU countries, which found vast differences throughout the region.

According to the OECD report, on average, boys score better than girls in the field of science in ten EU countries: Belgium, Czech Republic, Germany, Ireland, Spain, Italy, Luxembourg, Austria, Poland, and Portugal.  On the opposite side, eight EU countries had girls scoring better than boys at science: Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Latvia, Malta, Romania, Slovenia, and Finland. The remaining 10 EU countries found little variation between the genders for science. Mathematics was a different story, as Finland was the only EU country where 15 year-old girls outperformed their male counterparts.

When surveying the young people about their future expectations, boys are more likely to foresee a career as ICT professionals, scientists, or engineers, while girls envision themselves as doctors, nurses, or veterinarians.  As an example, in Finland, 6.2% of boys plan to become an engineer, scientist, or architect, with only 1.4% of girls planning to enter the same fields. Meanwhile, 17% of Finnish girls visualise themselves as health professionals, as opposed to only 5% of boys. Not coincidentally, these are fields which commonly witness gender participation gaps across the region.

Policy makers are working on a number of different initiatives to directly counter these gaps through training and workforce development. An example is a recently approved proposal by the European Commission, known as Upskilling Pathways: New Opportunities for Adults, which will encourage EU Member States to offer adults the opportunity to acquire key skill sets to embark on new careers and improve their participation rates in certain sectors within the larger economy.

Ultimately, we should reflect upon the successful progress we have made in addressing gender inequalities in our society.  Yet, there remain obstacles and challenges to overcome to ensure a level playing field across the European labour force.    




Hickey & Associates is a COBCOE Corporate Partner.

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