The Economist has trumpeted "womanpower" as the driving
force for the world economy. But if Europe's economy is to become
more competitive and innovative, it is not enough that women enter
the labor market in droves.
To reap the full fruits of women's talents, they must be in more
top jobs, too, both in the public and private sector.
Women in Western Europe have long since bridged the education
gap with their male peers. Women not only outnumber men at
universities; they also outperform them, most notably in math,
physics, and information science.
But female students' academic achievements have not increased
women's presence in top jobs. In Europe, the percent of women on
corporate boards remains in single digits, as is true of the top
ranks of government and academia.
While in the United States almost one out of five corporate
officers are women, in Europe's mainland the female to male ratio
on company boards is 1 to 20 or worse.
The situation is only slightly better in science. One of every
10 professors in Europe is a woman. In the US, the ratio is – once
again – more favorable to women, with more than 20 percent of
professors at American universities being female.
Europe cannot afford to waste valuable human capital at a time
when Asia is on the rise and Europe's own population is aging. The
first baby boomers have reached retirement age, and the labor force
will soon be shrinking in most parts of Europe.
To cover the costs of aging and maintain its position as an
economic power, Europe must increase overall labor participation
Fathers must assume a greater role in child rearing; a large
part of homemaking is perfectly suitable to be met by the
As economists Ronald Schettkat and Richard Freeman have pointed
out, career women do not necessarily work more hours per week than
women with part-time jobs or stay-at-home moms. Instead, they tend
to outsource activities like grocery shopping, cooking, and
If women in Europe work more hours in better quality jobs, it
will stimulate demand for service jobs like cleaning and childcare,
thus reducing unemployment among low-skilled workers.
Moreover, the increased supply of high-quality female labor will
not incur additional healthcare and pension costs, unlike labor
immigration. Women use those benefits anyway, whether they are
stay-at-home moms or perform paid work outside the home.
Because people live longer and procreate less, raising and
caring for children requires less of a parent's life than it used
Women should be able to aspire to top jobs without squandering
their fertility, and their success would encourage women in
lower-ranking positions, because female managers tend to implement
more gender-conscious hiring policies and serve as strong role
Obstacles to the professional advancement of educated women in
Europe are rooted in corporate culture, gender biases, and
stereotyping, rather than outright discrimination. Group dynamics
prevent company boards that consist solely of males from including
women, even if members individually would support such a
Moreover, those women who do reach higher-ranking positions are
susceptible to a visibility-vulnerability spiral, owing to their
As long as women are perceived to be the weaker sex, men and
women alike will project their own feelings of vulnerability onto
the female candidate. Such exclusionary group dynamics can be
overcome only by attaining a critical mass of women in high-ranking
The benefits of doing so would be enormous. Studies show that
companies with more women in senior management are more profitable
than those with few women at the top.
Diversified management means better management. Including more
women in top positions, both in the public and private sector,
changes decision-making processes fundamentally, because women tend
to play down the importance of formalities and communicate
directly, thereby overcoming organizational blockages.
A decisive pro-women strategy would thus create new momentum for
Europe, allowing it to compete with the United States and Asia.
Norway has enacted legislation that requires that both sexes be
represented by at least 40 percent on all corporate boards. Norway
has set an excellent example – one that all of Europe should follow
as the best way to transcend the culture of gender bias and
stereotyping that is still prevalent in many companies and
But women, too, must adjust. The reality is that top jobs
require more than two workdays a week, and they do not coincide
with school hours. Assuming the responsibilities that have long
belonged to men requires women to let go of the tasks that have
prevented them from advancing beyond low-ranking positions.
(China Daily February 22, 2008)