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Europe

Women the Answer to Ending Recession, EU Commissioner Says

More women in the workplace could help lift the European Union out of recession and limit the impact of future financial crises, an EU official said. The gender gap in Germany is especially high, statistics show.

Black-and-white photo of a woman working at a VW plant

The EU has started a new program to get more women into the working world

"Discrimination produces inefficiency," said European Equals Opportunity Commissioner Vladimir Spidla at the launch of a European campaign against the gender pay gap on Tuesday, March 3. "It is precisely during times of crises that we should be most active."

Some 58 percent of women and 72 percent of men of working age in the EU were employed -- with 31 percent of women and 7 percent of men in part-time jobs, according to an EU employment report.

Spidla quoted a series of studies showing that a more active participation by women in the workplace helps make businesses more efficient and avoid riskier investments.

Women's businesses more efficient

A woman with a laptop talking on a cell phone at an airport

Female managers make companies more efficient, some studies have shown

One such study of 15,000 small and medium-sized businesses in Finland found that those run by women tend to be 10 percent more efficient than those run by men. A recent French study showed that companies with more women on their board of directors tended to perform better on the stock exchange.

The study's author, professor Michel Ferrary of the Ceram Business School in France, wrote in Monday's Financial Times that research has shown women to be more risk-averse and to focus more on a long-term perspective.

Ferrary compared the performance of French banking giant BNP Paribas, where 38.7 percent of managers are women and which experienced a drop in its share price of 39 percent in 2008, with that of Credit Agricole, where only 16 per cent of managers are women and whose share price plummeted by 62.3 percent over the same period.

Intolerable discrimination

The female and male signs

Women continue to earn considerably less money than men for the same work

According to EU figures, only 30 percent of Europe's managers are women. This figure drops to just 10 percent for large corporations.

Worst still, women are paid on average 14.7 percent less than their male counterparts doing exactly the same job. In Germany, the high number of women in part-time employment translated to a 23 percent gap between men and women's pay, well above the 17.4 average for the 27-member EU.

The EU says working women tend to have less lucrative jobs and positions than men, and part-time work and career hiatuses for family reasons limit career and pay advancement. While pointing out that the reasons for the gender gap are varied, Spidla said that the discrepancy represented an intolerable source of discrimination.

The commissioner was citing a European Commission report published on Tuesday which found that some of Europe's worst-performing economies, such as Italy's, also have a low participation of women in the workplace.

"If (a country) does not use its full human potential, it will have more problems," Spidla said.

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