Amcham: Explain what you have been trying to achieve with the PWC/AMCHAM annual collaboration for International Women’s day and how that project has evolved over time.
Vinciane Istace: Amcham and PwC have joined their forces in order to propel the awareness about the virtues of a gender balanced business community. Luxembourg being such a natural spot for mixing so many people from different cultural and national backgrounds, it became obvious to us that caring about equal opportunities between all these women and men would also boost the performance of the organisations by providing a sense of fairness and complementarity in the workplace.
We remain very much focused on the business dimension and on a very genuine approach when engaging for a gender equal workplace. It is the reason for choosing the insightful impact of storytelling: real people with real stories. Our objective remains to inspire a growing audience of men and women about what could be their next actions, their bold steps into contributing to an empowering mix of talents and breaking the stigma of stereotypes for both gender.
Prominent leaders and influential personalities from both the political and economic fields engaged themselves very authentically into a passionate conversation about how to shake the gender status quo across most of the sectors of activity. They shared their personal experiences, their visions and more importantly their life lessons.
Over the years (we have now reached our 4th edition), we increased the diversity of our panel members giving a voice to the younger leaders, to both genders, to various sectors of the economy and very recently to leaders from abroad! Indeed, these unusual circumstances made us think differently and digitalisation was also the opportunity to mutualise our action with the Luxembourg American Chamber of Commerce New York and connect with other contributors who brought their energy and perspective to our IWD event. When faced with disruption, then let’s disrupt! For the first year, we organised our IWD beyond our local border. This 2021 edition taught us that we can broadcast our event more largely and that the world is really at a click (and broadband !!) away …a source of inspiration for the future edition!
Please give your summary of the results of this IWD collaboration this year.
On 08 March, we celebrated International Women’s Day with a panel discussion. We had very prominent leaders from Luxembourg and New York that came to PwC premises to talk about ways to deal with the crisis and how to manage disruption, but also their work to relaunch the economy and the impact of this situation on gender balance.
This virtual conversation was moderated by Nathalie Reuter and attracted 290 participants, of which 152 were external to PwC. PwC Luxembourg CEO, John Parkhouse, got the event going with an inspiring speech about the importance of gender and diversity, especially in the current context. Following that, we had Julie Becker, Deputy CEO of the Luxembourg Stock Exchange (LuxSE); Jeanne Crauser, Consulate General of Luxembourg in New York / Executive Director, Luxembourg Trade and Investment Office (LTIO); Martha Crawford, Dean of the Jack Welch College of Business & Technology; Claude Marx, Director General of the Financial Sector Supervisory Commission (CSSF) and Françoise Thoma, CEO Banque et Caisse d’Épargne de l’État (BCEE). Their insightful conversation and dynamic was very appreciated by the audience and the energy they transmitted left us with the envy of joining the conversation about opportunities and challenges for gender balance.
Most of the leaders of our panel recognised that crises have the virtue of challenging our assumptions and accelerating the change…not within a certain degree of discomfort and suffering sometimes. This context really claimed from a different leadership style where communication skills and empathy will grow in importance to build a give-and-take type of relationship. It is obvious as per the figures that there is a systemic underrepresentation of women and if nobody likes the quota, some of them like what they do : enabling the progress towards a more gender balanced world !
Do you have any change of plans for IWD for next year?
We will certainly keep on celebrating IWD for the years to come as it takes time to make us all evolve in terms of mindset and mutual understanding. Our formula will remain about providing tangible examples of business practices that can be replicated. Our last edition invited us to expand our source of inspiration beyond our local border both for finding our future guest speakers and connecting with a larger audience.
An even greater exploration in the diversity of gender challenges and opportunities.
Stay tuned !
Please share your perception on the present circumstances of Gender equality in Luxembourg (cfr STATEC gender survey March 2021)
Luxembourg cumulates very contrasting statistics when it comes to gender. It is one of the countries in Europe that showed the greatest progress in terms of closing the gender pay gap.
As a matter of fact, it moved from 15 % in 2000 to a very small 1% compared with an average European gender pay gap of 15% in 2020. So in terms of Gender Pay Gap, Luxembourg is the lowest one in the European Union.
At the same time, the proportion of women reaching to the top – in this case defined as being a member of the Board – is still lagging behind with around 24% when the European average is 33% (European Women on Boards Gender Diversity Index 2019).
This is a paradox that calls for reflection as building equitable conditions for men and women is a multiple equation and all variables need to be considered : it does matter to keep an helicopter view and ensure that equal pay goes hand in hand with equal opportunities of professional evolution such as training and promotions.
It is especially relevant when you note that 44% of female employees have a higher degree, compared to only 35% of men. The obstacles to gender are fuelled by our inheritance of beliefs (culture) and also the misallocation of parental responsibilities still predominantly onto the mother’s side that lead to a disbalance in terms of time available for work. Statistics show that the proportion of part-timers consists of …78% women! No need to comment.
When combining all these factors, women are counting for only 38% of employees in Luxembourg, the lowest percentage of women in total employment of all EU Member States (as the average is around 48%).
In which areas have you seen progress and are there any where you have seen decline?
Progress in female board representation from 14.9% in 2018 to 24% in 2020. Around 10% of progression. Although we can notice an upward trend in management positions (and executive positions) held by women (increased from 18% in 2010 to 26% in 2018), there is still a salary gap. A woman manager earns on average 29% less than a man manager.
Also progress in GPG: The EU remains at 14.1%, according to the latest Eurostat findings. The gap is steadily decreasing and it is a positive sign compared to 2018 and its 15.7% for the EU.
– more commonalities between man and women in the daily experience
– the end of the old divide between work & home- the profiling of highly visible female leaders during crisis
– the casting of women as “first crisis responders” due to the strong presence of women in the healthcare sector
– the pandemic itself deteriorating the experience of remote working (home-schooling children and lack of caregivers)
– the economic exposure of front office jobs where lots of women are working
– the disinterest of the C-suite on D&I dimensions as currently focused on piloting financial KPI’s
Where do you think we stand on these issues compared to other EU countries? (cfr PwC Women Work Index 2020)
Regarding the female representation on Boards: we can clearly observe that Luxembourg (24%) is performing below its neighboring countries: 43% in France, 38% in Belgium and 25% in Germany (PwC Women Work Index 2020 data) and below the European level of 34%.
At European level, 34% women on boards in 2020 (source: https://europeanwomenonboards.eu/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/Gender-Equality-Index-Final-report-2020-210120.pdf)
And relative to the US? (Collected statistics + PwC Women Work Index)
When we consider the Women in Work Index data, Luxembourg has made the greatest improvement in its ranking since 2000 jumping from a 15% Gender Pay Gap (23rd in the ranking) to a mere 1% (5th in the ranking) in 2019, while the United States has seen the largest decline.
The United States woke up with a hangover on its main societal issues: respect for women, especially in the world of show business, and equal treatment between the various ethnic groups of its population. It was an abrupt wake-up call and many actors are reacting and committing themselves to a better awareness, a systematic monitoring of the gaps and a commitment to remedy an unsatisfactory situation that has lasted too long.
In the same index, they rank 24th with a …19% Gender Pay Gap in 2019 !
Female Board representation in the US is 28%. This is still a bit more than Luxembourg but less than many European countries. In comparison to the great European economic powers such as Italy 37% and the UK 34% or also Spain 31%, Norway 42%, Sweden 38%.
This giant economy can certainly do better in terms of gender equity and there is hope that the many voices of men and women will prevent from returning to the status quo.
And relative to China?
How have women’s issues been impacted by the Covid pandemic? (Recent articles or studies)
Cf Women in Work 2021 – Executive Summary or https://ilostat.ilo.org/how-women-are-being-left-behind-in-the-quest-for-decent-work-for-all/
The covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted sectors in which women are more represented in employment and consequently amplifying gender inequalities. In a nutshell, the sanitary crisis has placed women’s jobs at higher risk than men’s.
Indeed, the International Labour Organization (ILO) stated that they are 5 main sectors in which workers have faced the highest risk of job loss and largest fall in working hours globally since the pandemic began: food services, real estate, business and administrative activities, manufacturing and wholesale/retail trade. And 40% of all employed women are employed in these “hard-hit” sectors compared to 37% of employed men.
Moreover, the sanitary crisis has intensified the already unequal burden of unpaid care and domestic work shouldered by women. Indeed, before the pandemic women spent 6 more hours than men on unpaid childcare every week and now they are at 7.7 hours. Therefore, “the longer this higher burden on women lasts, the more women are likely to leave the labour market permanently”.
Globally, the covid-19 had a negative impact on the 2020 Index and further in 2021 (estimation to fall below the 2017 score of 62.4). Until 2019, the Women in Work Index made progress towards gender equality.
In addition, the overrepresentation of women in lower paid sectors and occupations, such as for instance hospitality, retail, or personal services, has made them particularly vulnerable in the labour markets.
Are there any specific women-related initiatives you think are appropriate to deal with special women’s issues which have heightened importance related to the pandemic?
Women have taken on a disproportionate share of caring responsibilities as a result of the closure of schools and support services, generating a considerable daily challenge to combine work and family responsibilities and endangering the hard-fought progress towards gender equality.
This overexposure of women during the pandemic may worsen women’s economic and health situation. It is vital that employers convey the greatest means of flexibility and workload reallocation without penalizing them when the moment will come to assess performance, allocate bonus and confirm promotion. Their level of engagement should be read under the light of these silent efforts in the privacy of their homes and the endurance that it requires over such a long period of time. Respect!
In which three specific areas do you believe there is the most need for further progress within Luxembourg, within Europe and globally and by what approach do you think those challenges best be worked?
- Pay transparency measures as introduced by the EU commission
The European Commission presented on March 4 a proposal on pay transparency to ensure that women and men receive equal pay for equal work. The proposal, which is a political priority of President von der Leyen, establishes measures on pay transparency, such as pay information for job seekers, the right to know the pay levels of workers doing the same job, as well as obligations for large companies to provide information on the gender pay gap. Within 2 to 3 years, this will be a national reality for many countries.
Pay transparency measures:
- Pay transparency for job-seekers – Employers will have to provide information about the initial pay level or its range in the job vacancy notice or before the job interview. Employers will not be allowed to ask prospective workers about their pay history.
- Right to information for employees – Workers will have the right to request information from their employer on their individual pay level and on the average pay levels, broken down by sex, for categories of workers doing the same work or work of equal value.
- Reporting on gender pay gap – Employers with at least 250 employees must publish information on the pay gap between female and male workers in their organisation. For internal purposes, they should also provide information on the pay gap between female and male employees by categories of workers doing the same work or work of equal value.
- Joint pay assessment – Where pay reporting reveals a gender pay gap of at least 5% and when the employer cannot justify the gap on objective gender neutral factors, employers will have to carry out a pay assessment, in cooperation with workers’ representatives.
- Increase of female board representation and in executive committees
To break the glass ceiling, we should first admit that it exists.
As stated in the STATEC Gender Survey issued in March 2021, women have more diplomas than men, it should facilitate them to access managerial positions. It is not happening this way and women still need to continue displaying excess confidence in their ability to take leadership positions and manifesting their ambition “more loudly”.
An important thing is bringing a diversity and inclusion spirit in the current Board to broaden their minds and make them more capable of balancing diverse opinions for an enriched approach.
However, gender diversity at other levels of corporate governance is still a mirage: only just over a quarter (27%) of leadership positions are occupied by women. There are still too few companies with a female CEO in Europe which is a blocking factor as it is noted that from the moment companies that have a woman as CEO, CFO or COO tend to have more women in executive positions. What works for men may equally work for women! No I will not mention the debate about quotas though…setting clear objectives in terms of Board and management committee composition will obviously help us to build the diverse teams we want.
3. Awareness of women in technical/technology occupations globally
Breaking down the conventional images associated with these technical jobs. Encourage women to work in male-dominated occupations.
- improvements to education, to raise awareness about technology and tech careers and counteract negative perceptions
- creating positive narratives and championing role models to combat negative stereotypes, share storytelling about career opportunities for girls in tech
- strengthening female networking and mentoring opportunities
However, GPG is more than 30% in finance, scientific and technical activities (according to STATEC Gender Survey). Hence the importance of transparency in terms of remuneration which will be a reality in the future. In a world of data, transparency becomes inevitable !
Please answer whatever question you wanted me to ask but I did not…
How can you be a change agent for a better gender balance in your day to day job ?
Simple …challenge yourself. Change will happen to the extent that you apply it to you. Challenge the way you behave and more importantly the way you talk : mind your words as they create a powerful impact . Are they supportive equally for a talented man (“he is an absolute champion”) and a talented woman (“she has achieved her objective”) , are they exhibiting solidarity for both genders (men AND women), are they respectful (“It was just a joke. We can’t laugh anymore”).
More importantly do you mean what you just said ?