There is a growing consenses that there should be more women in leadership positions. It is vital that the people who are making the decisions in economic, social, political and public life are representative of society itself.
I was pleased thefore to be invited to talk a group of women on Wednesday who were visiting Brussels as part of the “Strategic Leadership Programme for Women”. The programme was created with the aim of increasing the number of women leaders in decision-making roles in the North West of Ireland/Northern Ireland.
I was invited to speak by an inspirational woman called Bronagh Hinds, co-founder of DemocraShe. Funnily enough, I found out that Bronagh’s early career mirrors my own to some extent. She was Chair of the Northern Ireland Council for Voluntary Action and Chief Executive of Gingerbread Northern Ireland.
Initiatives like the Strategic Leadership Programme enable women to develop confidence, knowledge, skills and leadership capacity; networks with their peers and to make contact with women who have already succeeded as leaders.
Women continue to face barriers at every stage of their careers that their male counterparts do not have to deal with in the same way. You just have to look at the low levels of women on FTSE 100 boards, or the lack of women in Westminster (only 22% of UK MPs are women) to see that the glass ceiling has not yet fallen in.
Stereotypes of women’s role in the work place, a lack of flexibility when it comes to working hours, a culture in which men are encouraged to promote themselves from an early age and a lack of female role models are just some examples of why this situation continues.
The EU has helped enormously by putting into place equality legislation, especially relating to the work place. The EU also funds a number of actions to advance equality. The strategic leadership programme for example is funded by INTERREG IVA.
In the EU pipeline at the moment is legislation on increasing the number of women on company boards, and further work to close the gender pay gap. Such actions are especially important at a time when our government seems to be trying to roll back time for women.
The European Parliament fares better than the UK in terms of the number of women elected, whilst there is still a long way to go, 33% of MEPs are women, a number of whom hold high level positions within the institution.
One thing that I think the EU does let itself down on though in is the lack of communication to its citizens about its successes. As one of the participants pointed out, the advances that the EU has helped bring about for women’s rights often go unnoticed. Instead we are fed ridiculous Euromyths by certain media outlets about Brussels bureaucrats banning balloons and the like.
I for one am proud to be part of the EU’s actions to advance women’s rights and to get more women in to leadership roles.