21 April 2023
by Giulia Ferretti – Skill Up Srl
The need to recalibrate rights and opportunities is relatively young, yet adamant. Even if it could be traced back way farther in history than the feminist movement of the 70s, also known as Second Wave Feminism, and even if an astonishing progress has been achieved in the last century, only surface matters can be considered as resolved.
But how to cope with the lack of understanding of the language we use to communicate gender issues?
To be fair, the discourse around the Glass ceiling has revolved mostly around gender equality. The issue is – can we really declare the need for equality? The answer is yes, but at the same time, we could argue the exact contrary.
As per definition by the Cambridge Dictionary, equality can be defined as “the right of different groups of people to have a similar social position and receive the same treatment”.
While this definition is perfectly in line with contemporary needs, it still lacks practicality. We could easily say that nowadays, women have the same right to vote as men as well as the possibility of being elected as local and governmental representatives. However, the evident gap between men and women representatives in executive and parliamentary bodies proves that while the right might be one and equal, something is still not working in favour of a more balanced women/men ratio.
Potentially, one could ask every animal to climb a tree. But let us not be surprised, if the fish doesn’t know how to do it.
There is another notion worth incorporating in the fight to shatter the glass ceiling, and that is equity.
Quoting the Cambridge Dictionary, equity is to be defined as “the situation in which everyone is treated fairly according to their needs and no group of people is given special treatment”. this definition may sound very close to the one of equality, but there are three words that flip the entire perspective: according to their needs. Thus, equity might be fitting the argument a little bit better than equality. To explain how, we might want to look at the highly debated gender quotas.
According to the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE), gender quotas are “a positive measurement instrument aimed at accelerating the achievement of gender-balanced participation and representation by defining a predetermined proportion (percentage) or number of posts to be filled/allocated by women and/or men, usually according to certain rules or criteria”.
Though a consistent number of activists and a considerable segment of public opinion shares an aversion towards gender quotas, since it’s regarded as some sort of shortcut, opposed to the merit that should be the reason that gets women on high places. Some may argue that merit should be the propulsive power that gets women in Parliaments, in administration boards, in excellence spots. And while this position is admirable and relatable in a pure ethical sense, reality is far more complex than the Manichean stance mentioned above.
Citing again EIGE, “quotas can be applied in order to correct a previous gender imbalance in different areas and at different levels, including political assemblies, decision-making positions in public, political and economic life (…), as well as to ensure the inclusion of women and their participation in international bodies, or as a tool to promote equal access to educational opportunities or jobs”.
Quota systems may seem to work, then, implementing a mechanism of equity rather than equality. Truth to be said, gender quotas are a shortcut. They “impose” women’s presence at the table, they force others to hear their voice.
As for the corporate world, steps have been taken as well. The European Parliament itself has approved, in 2022, historic regulations to increase gender parity on company boards: as read in the press release statement, “by July 2026, all big publicly listed companies in the EU will have to take measures to increase women’s presence at their helm”. The text was adopted on November 22nd 2022, and it proves to be a ground-breaking achievement for the promotion of gender equity. The Directive aims at incentive “transparent recruitment procedures in companies, so that at least 40% of non-executive director posts or 33% of all director posts are occupied by the under-represented sex by the end of June 2026.” Furthermore, “Listed companies will have to provide information about the gender representation on their boards to the competent authorities once a year and, if the objectives have not been met, how they plan to attain them. This information will be published on the company’s website in an easily accessible manner”.
An interesting fact to note is that the Directive, being an official expression of will of the European Parliament (and thus, of the EU as a whole), contemplates a penalty for the companies that will fail to adapt. Said penalties would have to be enforced by the Member States, and they will need to be “effective, dissuasive and proportionate (…), such as fines. A judicial body could also annul the board of directors selected by the company if it breaches the principles of the Directive.”
Keeping in mind what has already been stated in this article, it should be adamant by now that all the arguments lean towards the need for equity, rather than equality. What can be concluded from this brief overview is that the pathway to break the glass ceiling, is that equality, while a noble goal by definition, is not accurate or as desirable as we might think.
The lack of women in leadership, should it be corporate, political or in everyday life, is retraceable to the general mistrust in women’s capacity to lead, which is deeply rooted in our societies. But, fairly enough, societal change does not happen overnight. It took a little more than a century for the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft to take shape in the Suffragettes Movement, and we don’t know how long it would take for the current society to shift towards a fairer and more balanced world. But in the meantime, we should take advantage of shortcuts, hoping that one day they would not be necessary anymore. And finally, advocating for the proper thing: equality of rights, but equity of means.
 Translated from: https://eige.europa.eu/thesaurus/terms/1203?lang=it
 European Parliament, 22 November 2022, Parliament approves landmark rules to boost gender equality on corporate boards, [press release] https://www.europarl.europa.eu/news/en/press-room/20221118IPR55706/parliament-approves-landmark-rules-to-boost-gender-equality-on-corporate-boards