Thursday

20th Feb 2020

Interview

Diversity: EU commission 'doesn't look like Europe'

  • Georgieva (l) with EU commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker and his male secretary-general, male chief spokesperson, and male head of cabinet (Photo: European Commission)

Kristalina Georgieva still has quite a road to travel to meet her boss's required target on gender equality.

But the European commissioner in charge of human resources said the commission has made “very good progress” towards Jean-Claude Juncker's goal of achieving a 40 percent share of female representation in the institution's senior management.

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  • Georgieva: 'Gender is good economics' (Photo: European Commission)

When the current commission started its work in November 2014, there were six female directors-general in the EU's administration. As of Wednesday (16 March), there will be eight. Women will then represent 22 percent of the directors-general, the level of management below commissioner.

“Most importantly”, there will now be 12 female deputy directors-general - 29 percent, the commissioner told EUobserver in an interview in her office in Strasbourg during the last European Parliament plenary session.

“I'm very proud that we have quadrupled this number from three to 12,” said Georgieva, adding that the deputies may become directors-general in the future.

“It was not so difficult to do, because there are so many wonderful, talented, competent women in the commission at the level of directors, and at the level of heads of units.”

The progress however cannot mask the fact that there is still a great gender imbalance in EU institutions.

In the EU Council, which represents national governments, 24 percent of its senior management is female - already an improvement compared with 2006, when that figure was at 16 percent.

The European Parliament increased its share of political members slightly, from 35.8 percent to 37 percent in the 2014 elections, but at the management level the female representation is smaller.

A third of the directors-general in the European Parliament are female, and only 29.2 percent of the directors, which is below a 2009 target set by parliament 10 years ago.

At the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), only one in four senior managers are female.

That is not because women are not interested in working in Brussels. On the contrary, at the EESC 62.5 percent of the staff are women.

One of the reasons is that women need more encouragement to apply for managerial positions, said Georgieva, who under the previous commission (2010-2014) held the post of humanitarian aid commissioner.

“Say you have a job in which there are six criteria, and you have two candidates. One is a man, one is a woman. They both meet three of the criteria,” she said.

“The man says: hey, I meet half of the criteria, plus I bring my wonderful self to this job. The woman says: well, I only meet three criteria, maybe this is not the job for me.”

The commissioner added that a woman would not receive a promotion for just being female.

“If you had a situation in which we have two candidates, a man and a woman, and the man is the better candidate, of course we would give the man the job,” she said.

“But if they are equal, all other things equal, at this point of time we would give preference to the woman.”

Good economics

However, the Bulgarian politician stressed that diversity was “not about percentages”.

“It is about making organisations more productive, more effective,” she said.

“The evidence is unquestionable: countries, companies, organisations that are more diverse and where women play their fair share across the ranks, are more effective, more productive. Gender is good economics.”

The commissioner, who also has the EU budget and budgetary control in her portfolio, added that a more equal gender balance also improves the commission's ability to take decisions.

“You have different perspectives. They are equally valuable, but of course you enhance your decision-making process,” she noted.

Georgieva added when she first presented the 40 percent mandatory target, many male directors-general said discussions in a more gender-balanced room were "more inclusive" and "more sensitive to different points of view".

Setting the example

There is another reason why Georgieva believes the top management of the EU's executive body should have a more balanced gender composition.

“We have a responsibility in the commission to lead in Europe,” she said.

“We promote gender equality among member states. We have to set an example.”

The current college of 28 EU commissioners is still a largely male affair. It consists of nine women and 19 men - 32 percent of the commissioners are female.

The commission itself cannot be blamed for that - commissioners are put forward by member states, and a majority of them ignored the 2014 call from commissioner president Jean-Claude Juncker to send women to Brussels.

But what the commissioners can influence themselves, is the composition of their cabinets. Georgieva pointed out that 42 percent of heads of cabinet and their deputies are now women - Georgieva herself has a female head of cabinet.

Despite her argument that more gender balance is good for the decision-making process, Georgieva told this website she could not think of a moment in the college of commissioner's weekly meeting where she had wished for a larger share of female voices.

“I'm running through my brain yesterday's discussion, yesterday's college, and there were more women that took the floor than men,” said Georgieva at Wednesday's (9 March) interview.

“That doesn't mean that this is how it is every time, but we certainly have very active women.”

'We don't look like London'

And what about role models in other areas of diversity?

Georgieva could not think of one commissioner, in the current administration or the previous one, who was openly gay. That would make Peter Mandelson (2004-2008) not only the first, but so far the only openly gay EU commissioner.

And while the college of commissioners is now 32 percent female, it is still 100 percent white.

“Indeed, not only the college: you walk the corridors of the commission: we don't look like Amsterdam, or London, or The Hague, or Paris,” said Georgieva.

“For fairness, we have some of our member states where diversity is much more limited, especially the new member states, in terms of ethnic diversity, or even religious diversity. But … we don't look like Europe. This is something we have to actively address.”

However, she added promoting diversity was “not easy” because the commission was currently a “shrinking organisation” - by the end of 2017 it has to have cut staff by five percent.

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