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Vice-President of the European Commission

Responsible for Interinstitutional Relations and Administration

Making It Happen: Equal Opportunities for Women and Men in the European Commission

Conference on International Women's Day

Brussels, 8 March 2012

Dear Colleagues,

I am very pleased to be here, and delighted to see how much continuing interest there is in the issues that will be discussed today given the large turn out.

It is my great pleasure to share the stage with such a panel of distinguished members.

Colleagues from NATO and the OECD have kindly accepted to share with us today their ambition and achievements with respect to gender equality.

Representatives from management consultancy firm McKinsey are also with us to present the main findings of their long-term research into gender equality in the workplace.

And of course, we also welcome Irène Souka, who as the director general for HR is directly responsible for steering and implementing the Commission's equal opportunities strategy.

Today's conference is about Making It Happen. This means fulfilling the commitments the European Commission took in December 2010 when adopting its strategy on equal opportunities for women and men in the Commission.

It is about making the most of our talents and creating a working environment that enables our staff to do their best and to be the most productive.

The European Commission performs a unique coordination and strategic role in helping Europe create the smart, sustainable and inclusive growth that is at the heart of the Europe 2020 strategy. It is my responsibility, and that of my fellow Commissioners, to ensure that the Commission works better, to make sure that we have policies focused on results, to recruit and keep competent and engaged staff and to demonstrate the added-value of the Commission to our partners and European citizens.

What do we need for that to happen? The right people in the right place, with the right attitudes, backed by the right systems and the right culture. It means constantly seeking out and bringing together a wide range of talents, skills, backgrounds, and experiences.

Indeed, studies show that diversity (in terms of gender, nationality, age, and so on) leads to improved service delivery, a more talented and engaged workforce, and stronger credibility towards our partners and stakeholders.

Today, we have more women than men working at the Commission. 52% of our staff are women. Our organisation is more than ever representative of both genders.

This is true at all levels. Today, 42.3 % of our AD officials are women. The percentage has increased by more than half since 2000 when only 27.8 of AD officials were women.

The current proportion of women in senior management (24.8%) is six times what it was in 1995. Representation of women in middle management has almost tripled over the same period of time, with the percentage of female middle managers increasing from 10.7% in 1995 to 27.1% in December 2011.

But our progress will not stop there. We want to continue to attract and develop talented individuals – men and women – and to achieve a fairer gender representation that reflects the make-up of the European population. This is both a question of credibility and organisational performance.

By the end of 2014, in line with the Strategy adopted by the College in December 2010, at least 25% of our senior managers, 30% of our middle managers and 43% of our non-management AD staff should be women.

Further efforts are needed to achieve this, but the Commission is leading the way by putting equality at the heart of everything we do.

I would like to take this opportunity to remind you of the principles and main objectives of our policy, the way it was conceived and developed, and how we hope to implement the new equal opportunities policy at the European Commission.

For many people, measuring success on equality is about numbers: having the right number of female staff or meeting set targets. I believe that for the European Commission to be a successful organisation we need more – much more - than that.

Sometimes, the internal commitments of an organisation coincide with the reality of the world outside, and that is certainly the case at the moment, with the economic crisis prompting increased interest in the issue of gender balance. You may remember that some commentators questioned whether the economic crisis would have happened if women had been in charge – if, instead of Lehman Brothers, it had been Lehman Sisters. Yet before the crisis hit, questions on why there were so few women on the boards of banks and other organisations were rarely heard and the issue was scarcely taken seriously.

While our minds may have been focused by the crisis, it's clear to me that tackling gender inequalities in the work place is something that should not depend on the commitment of a just a handful of people in an organisation or something that we think about only in times of crisis.

Creating equal opportunities for all is a serious matter that deserves serious attention and consideration. That's why the Commission is committed to being an organisation based on new way of doing business – one in which equality is part of our DNA, in which equality considerations penetrate every layer of the organisation until they are instinctive. We are committed to increasing diversity right through the entire organisation, from the newest graduates to the most senior management. We are committed to developing a workplace where what matters is the contribution that each of us makes to the success of our organisation, a workplace where we are all treated with respect and where our potential is exploited to the fullest.

Making this happen will of course be easier said than done. That's why we will have to be committed, consistent and systematic in the way we adapt our organisation, DG by DG, to this new method of doing business.

Change will have to come from the very top. We will need the leadership of our senior managers to make sure that the changes we want to happen do just that.

I've been very pleased to see the high level of professionalism and dedication from the different DGs as they have faced up to the sometimes harsh reality of the state of equal opportunities within their services and set themselves targets and timetables to address the imbalances.

Assessing their baseline situation - the environment in which they operate, their workforce, their expectations and needs – but also the expectations from their stakeholders or other constraints – is the key to DGs ensuring effective delivery of the Commission's equal opportunities policy.

On the basis of this diagnosis, DGs have translated their visions and objectives into concrete Action Plans. These action plans will cover the whole implementation period of the strategy (i.e. until end 2014).

So far, 37 DGs have developed Action Plans. Some have been actively steered by senior management, taking a proactive stance by encouraging all their staff to share their views and addressing all the critical issues that have arisen as a result. They have also ensured that this is not a one-off exercise by presenting to their managers and staff their ambitions for the DG as a whole and by articulating what they expect from staff to ensure that equal opportunities become a lasting reality.

I'm delighted, of course, that we have already made such important progress, and I'd like to congratulate all those DGs for what they have achieved so far.

But I also want to make it clear that this is still not enough.

The real test will be to develop the ability of each Directorate-General and service to deliver on their equal opportunities objectives.

But have no fear, for help is at hand! For the first time, this year, my services – DG HR corporate services – will assess and compare DGs' organisational capabilities. As far as I am aware, this process is unique in terms of the scope, coverage and approach, and I look forward to hearing from our distinguished guests whether they have (or have heard of) similar plans or approaches.

So, what does this process of assessing and comparing individual departments’ organisational capabilities mean in practice?

It’s a process that could be said to have 'AAA' status: Assess, Appraise and Applaud.

The first challenge was to develop a common language that would allow us to define our paradigm – an organisation that excels in delivering equal opportunities. As a multi-lingual institution, it is perhaps no surprise that each DG had its own definition of equal opportunities, making it hard to compare and contrast the state of play between each directorate general. Nor could they compare their own performance with that of their peers, a key element in encouraging each DG to meet its targets.

There are five key criteria that we have identified that in our opinion define the perfect equal opportunity organisation.

First, senior management must value and promote equal opportunities; second, equal opportunities must be integrated into strategic and operational planning; third, it must attract, develop and maintain a diverse workforce at all levels; fourth, equal opportunities are integrated into its human resources practices; and fifth, the working environment must be flexible and respectful.

On the basis of this definition, my services have just begun assessing the state of play in each DG, and the results will show for the first time what progress has been made – and what remains to be done or improved.

The Commission is expected to adopt a mid-term report on equal opportunities by the end of this year, allowing us to take stock of our achievements since the adoption of the strategy and draw some initial conclusions and recommendations.

In particular, by the end of this year, each DG and service will be benchmarked against each of the five criteria. We will also point to areas where they are well positioned or where they need to improve. These benchmarks should help DGs understand what they need to do to continuously improve their equal opportunities performance. Importantly, we will give DGs the support that they need to improve.

Indeed we – I as Commissioner in charge of personnel, and DG HR as the corporate HR service are here not only to steer DGs in the right direction, but also to help them accelerate the pace of their reforms. For that to happen each individual department needs to know where it stands, against a standard benchmark. This will help us improve our ability to deliver on our long-term equal opportunities.

But it is important that we do not simply 'backload' all these planned improvements, squeezing them in just ahead of the deadline in 2014. We want to see gradual and steady progress towards meeting our equal opportunity goals over the next 2-3 years, showing that we are willing and able to turn our good intentions into good outcomes as well.

Departments will no longer be able to pay mere lip service to equal opportunities. For the first time, DGs will be required to report their progress based on a series of key indicators – the actual gender composition of their workforce and their management, the extent to which they exploit the potential of women and men on an equal footing and whether they provide their staff – men and women – with a workplace conducive to a positive work-life balance. 

In practical terms, this means we are now asking DGs to tell us about tangible outcomes, that will allow us to hold DGs to account for their performance. This means that we will no longer accept the sort of hollow justifications for the low number of female job applicants that in the past have been used to justify bad equal opportunity performances. Now we will be asking them to explain why, if they know that this is likely to be an issue, they have not done anything to fix it. No more words; we want actions and results.

As with many things in life, hard work is not always enough to achieve your goals; a bit of encouragement, a slap on the back and an acknowledgement that you are doing your best to achieve your goals can work wonders.

That's why we plan to reward DGs that adopt the best practices in workplace equality through public acknowledgement. The mid-term report on the implementation of the strategy, which will be published in the second semester of 2012, will be an excellent opportunity for this. The final report, to be published at the end of the implementation of the strategy in 2014, will be another.

We must show that DGs and services that are at the forefront of equal opportunities are also benefiting directly from it.

I believe - or at least I hope – that everyone here is convinced that equal opportunities are good for business. Studies have shown that organisations that value equal opportunities are more successful because they exploit their people to their fullest, irrespective of their gender. Because they respect and value their people, who in turn are more committed and engaged.

It will come as no surprise that we also believe that this is the right thing to do at a time when our real competitive advantage lies in our people.

We will deliver better results if we make the best of our diverse talents and provide them with a workplace where they can be the most productive.

On the rapidly changing international labour market, where the battle for talent is becoming fiercer and fiercer, the Commission as an organisation, must pay due attention to how it markets itself. The same goes for individual DGs within the Commission itself.

Dear colleagues,

As today we celebrate the achievements of women all over the world and across the centuries, we have great cause for satisfaction. Building on our previous achievements, the representation of women continues to increase at all levels of our organisation. I am confident that we will continue on this excellent path and that our efforts, both at the central level and at the level of individual DGs, will pay off.

The Commission often gets bad press and its image among the general public is not always good. Making the Commission a great place for men and women to work together, on an equal footing and with equal opportunities, may go some way towards redressing the balance. We are rightly proud that Europe leads the rest of the world in many different policy areas – let us also, as the Commission, try to set the standard by which all equal opportunity employers are measured. Together, we can do it.

Thank you for your attention.

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