The NETWORK organised a cross-cultural gender forum

Tackling the gender gap is part of the mission of The NETWORK, which has lately amplified efforts to promote professional women and their place in top business positions. The President of The NETWORK, Marie-Louise Ashworth felt sorry that the road is so long ahead: “Iceland is getting closer, but no country in the world has managed to completely eliminate the gender gap”, despite it being one of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

On 19 September, The NETWORK organised a cross-culture gender forum at Arendt & Medernach, featuring a panel of five women coming from different countries, to compare and share ideas on the progress and best practices.

Sarah Mellouet, from the Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce, opened the conference with some figures. Today, 50% of the women in the European women have a university degree while only 37% of the men do so. However, the numbers don’t match the labour market’s reality: “In Luxembourg, 67% of women are professionally active, as compared to 75% of the men, but between 2007 and 2017 the percentage grew by 6.5%”, she explained.

The “mother ceiling”

If women are just as (and even more) educated than the men, the gross salary is the same for everyone at the beginning of their careers. So, for the 25-34 age range, women even earn a bit more than their male counterparts. It’s afterward that things go wrong, says Sarah Mellouet, who speaks of a “mother ceiling”: “Most women have children in their 30s and this pulls an obvious brake on their career advancement, as after the age of 35, the pay gap is reversed visibly to the benefit of men. The largest gap happens at managerial and executive levels. Only 18% of managers are female in Luxembourg; in the same vein, only 25% of engineers are female”, she concluded.

For the panel, if the road is still long ahead, it’s also due to a lack of role models – women occupying key positions, publicly exposed. “The education system is only in appearance egalitarian, little girls have actually few if any female role models to look up to”, said Mariana Florea of the  Romania Luxemburg Business Forum. This hasn’t always been the case throughout history, as it was pointed out by Dr. Megha Agrawal, from India: “Our mythology is rich with gods and goddesses who are equally powerful. Today, in India, women ask themselves few questions on the unfair treatment they’re being a victim of. The country has passed a law on a 6-month maternity leave in 2017, which is great. However, a paternity leave would make a great difference”, she estimated.

Do we need gender quotas?

The lack of visibility for women has motivated the moderator, Larissa Best from the Equilibre think tank, to ask if quotas could help. The panelists were divided on this topic: Aissata Coulibaly, representing Africa, doesn’t support the idea of quotas and would rather bet on improving education generally. “We need smart quotas and not just putting people in positions they’re not willing to take”, added Mariana Florea. Megha Agrawal is well aware that she comes from a privileged background: “My parents were both Ph.D., no one has treated me differently from my brother and going on with my studies was the natural step to take. But this is far from being the case for all women in India and I think we should have in place measures such as quotas to bridge the gap. It should only be temporary until equity and women in high-ranking positions are no longer the exceptions”. “We should stick together and speak up, this is critical”, was the advice of Candida Nedof from the Brazil-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce. “Well said, women should help each other, this is key!” concluded Larissa Best.

This article has been originally written in French by Audrey Somnard, a journalist at Lëtzebuerger Journal, and was published in the print edition of the newspaper on Friday, 21 September 2018, page 29. The translation and highlights belong to The NETWORK’s editorial team. 

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