The machos barring Europe's women

29th July 2003, Comments 0 comments

Macho prejudice in Europe continues to block women from justly achieving top-flight company jobs. So much so, that many women with executive potential are snubbing large companies to set up their own businesses. Simon Coss reports.

Despite the advances of feminist campaigns and sex equality legislation, women are still today woefully under represented in Europe’s top management jobs — notably more so than in the US.

This was the disheartening finding of a recent study for the European Commission, carried out by the European Low-wage Employment Research Network (LoWER).

"Women are severely under-represented in high-wage jobs, particularly in Europe. High-wage employment growth is much greater for women in the US than in the EU," the study concluded.

LoWER argues that an inherently macho business culture in Europe is largely to blame for the problem. Despite a popular perception of increased opportunities for women, firms still seem wary about promoting women to top posts, with many citing fears that females are more likely to quit their jobs for family reasons than their male colleagues.

LoWER argues that the only way to change the current situation is through what it calls "active policies", in other words positive discrimination, by passing new EU laws that force firms to promote more women managers.

 But as anyone who has followed the tortuous grindings of the EU’s lawmaking machinery knows, Europe is not exactly speedy when it comes to passing new laws.

The average EU directive takes between two and three years to find its way onto the European statute books and national governments are usually allowed roughly the same time again to translate these Union missives into national law.

Women managers hoping for EU politicians to solve their current employment problems should not hold their breath.

But this grim reality does have a positive side.

A number of recent studies have shown that more and more women are giving up the fight to break through the infamous ‘glass ceiling’ in Europe’s large companies and are leaving them to set-up their own firms.

Like in the Aretha Franklin song, these power-dressing "sisters", it seems, are doing it for themselves.

 "Women often have extremely sound business ideas and this is borne out by the fact that women-owned firms are statistically less likely to go bust than companies owned by men," explains Danièle Rousseau, head of the French women’s business lobby, Dirigeantes.

"But they also tend to have far lower levels of self-confidence than their male counterparts and this is a problem that we need to tackle as early as possible," she adds.

Rousseau argues, for example, that in France the government should do more to encourage girls to consider a career in business while they are still at school.

"We need to introduce more of a notion of personal development into the education system," she says.

Raymond Bethoux, of Fiducial, a French firm that specialises in providing business advice for companies with fewer than 20 employees, also believes that female entrepreneurs face more problems than their male counterparts.

"Women face a double disadvantage," he explains.

"In general they set up very small companies — and these sorts of firms always find it hardest to get a sympathetic hearing from banks and the authorities."

"But on top of that, they are also women! They have to deal with additional prejudices on that score," he adds.

 Despite all of these disadvantages, the number of female bosses in Europe is on the increase and many women who have taken the plunge say they would never go back to working for someone else.

One woman cited in a recent study by the Paris-based French business start-up agency, l'Agence Pour la Creation d’Entreprises (APCE), said running her own firm did not mean she worked fewer hours, but had allowed her to organise her time more flexibly around the needs of her children.

"If one of them needs me, I can find time for them without feeling guilty and finish my work later," she explained.

Other women entrepreneurs argue that Europe is bursting with potential female bosses, most of whom are asking for little more than the freedom to put their ideas into practice.

"We don’t expect much from the government. What the government creates first and foremost is more bureaucracy and paperwork," says Henryka Bochniarz of the Polish Confederation of Private Employers.

"To be successful as a woman, you have to be twice as good as a man. But we should try to do that. It’s really not that difficult!" she insists.

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