Tackle gender stereotypes and boost our economies!

I was shocked recently when I saw an advertisement, to promote Women’s Week in the Commune of Ixelles (Brussels), which used the stereotypical images of an iron, a hairdryer, a duster, shopping bags and shoes. Such images continue to slot women into stereotypical roles. Why not have a drill, a computer, welding material and so on as we women are also taking on what were ‘traditional’ male roles too! So incensed was I that I have decided to dedicate this week’s editorial to tackling gender stereotypes.

Why get so strung up about a few images and a stereotypical depiction of women’s roles, you may ask? The answer is quite simply that, as the Social Agenda pointed out in the November 2009 edition: “…‘employment segregation by gender’, is one of the root causes of the gender pay gap”. I will go one step further and add that gender stereotyping does nothing to help alleviate the skills shortages in certain sectors such as science, technology, engineering, construction, and health care that is hampering our economies.

It seems that only hard facts can sway those in the top companies to change their minds about tapping into female resources and create the change we need. Well here are some:

According to the European Commission’s EQUAL website, Denmark has been attracting men to work in elderly care thus dismantling the myth that women are predestined for this kind of work.
To fill the expected 90,000 job vacancies in Sweden’s construction sector in the coming decade, organisations have been promoting gender equality and diversity and also providing flexible family-friendly work arrangements on constructions sites. In Portugal, five years after a pioneer project aimed to get women into qualified jobs in the car and electro-technical industries, female employment has grown from almost zero to about 20%. Employers claim that the increased gender balance has enhanced the social climate in the workplace and led to more productivity.

One company in Belgium that is taking gender balance seriously is Microsoft and I have the great pleasure of welcoming them as a partner of JUMP to help us encourage more women into the IT sector.

We are making inroads but this is not yet being mirrored by women’s positions in the labour market throughout Europe. This segregation of roles is not only an obstacle for the equal treatment of men and women but it is a major stumbling block for the success of our economies now and in the future.

So let’s see more images of women and men in ‘atypical’ roles and less of the stereotyping please!

All that remains is to wish you a very happy Women’s Day on 8 March. Come and celebrate with us during a cocktail and debate at Mirano Continental, 4 March.

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