Women in Leadership in the Information Society (WiL) is an influential and fast-growing organisation which campaigns for, amongst other things, the use of quotas for women to encourage greater numbers of them into the business sector. Quotas have been adopted with great success in Norway, where a law has been introduced that says 40% of corporate directors must be women.
As a female MEP, and as a member of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality, I have long been concerned about the low numbers of women who are appointed to high status entrepreneurial posts in most European countries. It is a problem that is frequently raised in the European Parliament, but which remains unresolved, despite notable general improvements in the last decade in the advancement of equality between women and men in the workplace.
With this in mind, I was delighted last week to be asked to join WiL and meet two of its key members, Thaima Samman and Julie Harrison. Samman is a senior director at Microsoft Europe and was the founder of WiL. Harrison is a managing partner at Blueprint, a public affairs, policy advice and strategic communications consultancy. During what proved to be a lively and interesting discussion, Ms. Sammon and Ms. Harrison briefed me on the work of WiL and highlighted why its existence is of such great importance. They, like me, are keen to see greater participation of women in decision-making positions, and believe that it is vital for high-level female representatives to work closely with European institutions and EU members in order to advance opportunities for women in the economic sphere.
There are many reasons to be concerned. According to findings by the WiL, only 20.3% of businesses with venture capital in Europe belong to female entrepreneurs. Last year, just 15.2% of all Fortune 500 company directors were women. Furthermore, in national parliaments across the EU, in 2008, less than a quarter of members of parliament were women. Statistics like these are worrying, particularly when compared to parts of the developing world such as Rwanda, where women MPs actually outnumber their male counterparts. While this is a huge achievement for Rwanda, it renders debateable the idea that Europe is leading the promotion of gender equality in the workplace.
The WiL was launched just under two years ago, and since then it has been expanding at an astonishing rate. The network’s primary goal is to promote gender equality and the advancement of women in Europe, by bringing together women who have themselves overcome gender discrimination in order to secure high-status jobs and careers. There is no arguing that female entrepreneurship matters; it is an important engine for future growth. I am therefore strongly against the idea that we must simply wait around and just hope that change happens. Those with the power to do so should invest in equal opportunities for all and actively encourage businesses to improve the way they operate.
WiL has already embarked on several ambitious projects, including the setting up and running of a mentoring programme for young women starting out in business and in their careers. Their policy recommendations include facilitating access to a scientific and research learning environment by introducing more scholarships for women in these areas.
I am extremely proud to be part of a network that is playing such a vital role in the promotion and advancement of gender equality, and I very much hope that it will continue to grow and expand at the same rate it has done since it was first launched by Thaima Samman in 2007.