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Choose to challenge women’s roles at home, at work and in our society

Blog post by Christine Lagarde, President of the ECB

8 March 2021

As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold across the world, the past year was one of sacrifice. Too many lost their lives, their loved ones. Others fought hard to survive – physically, emotionally and financially.

One year into the pandemic, we can clearly see that the social and economic impact of the virus is affecting women particularly hard. Women work disproportionately in the sectors that have been worst hit by the virus. They are more likely to have informal work that falls outside the scope of government support programmes. And many women have been left struggling to care for young and elderly family members while trying to keep their own careers on track.

These developments have the worrying potential to dial back the hard-fought progress made on gender equality. We must not let this happen.

But there is also hope for change. Existential crises disrupt our way of life and prompt us to reset some of our values. The pandemic has not only opened our eyes to significant weaknesses in our society – it has also forced us to do things differently. And this is where I see potential to change things for the better.

That’s why today, on International Women’s Day, I invite all of us – women and men alike – to choose to challenge old patterns and to adopt new ones more suitable for our needs today. We have our work cut out, at home, at work and in leading the way.

Work begins at home, the heart and centre of all our lives during confinement. The pandemic has vividly highlighted the imbalance in unpaid work between women and men. But it has also shown us that partners can step up. In some families, fathers − who themselves had to work from home or were put on reduced working hours – became the primary caretakers, while mothers worked in essential jobs outside the home.

Such a break with traditional norms, if it lasts, has the potential to free up women to fulfil their ambitions elsewhere – at work or in community life. Greater participation of women in work – supported by adequate public childcare and flexible working time arrangements for women and men – would be a big step towards closing the gender pay gap. Women in the EU earn on average 14.1% less per hour than men.[1] Growing up in a household where chores are more equally shared also gives children a more equitable idea of family roles than that of previous generations.

Work continues at the workplace. The pandemic has also reminded us of the crucial professional role women play in society. Out of around 18 million healthcare and social workers in the euro area, three-quarters are female, with a similar share of women working in education. Both sectors have been indispensable during the pandemic. Now that we have seen the true value of these jobs to society, they should be recognised and paid accordingly.

Yet, we also need more women working in science, technology, engineering and mathematics. For one, a stronger representation of women in these better paid jobs will help to narrow the gender pay gap. But jobs in these fields are also key drivers of innovation and are fundamental for the transition to a more digital and more sustainable economy.

So let’s choose to challenge established career paths – to encourage women and girls to advance where too few women have gone so far. Today at the ECB we are launching the next round of our Women in Economics Scholarship, which aims to address the low representation of women in this field.

Work endures in leadership. The pandemic has shown us the value of female leadership, especially in times of crisis. Research conducted during the pandemic showed that women were rated as more effective leaders than men by those who worked with them. Female leaders were better at engaging with their employees.[2]

Yet only 18.5% of EU heads of government are female.[3] Although representing more than half of the EU population (51%), women make up no more than one-third of national parliamentarians.[4] None of the euro area central banks, whose governors are appointed by their national governments, is headed by a female governor.

In corporate boardrooms, the share of women is similarly low. No more than 7.5% of the chief executives at Europe’s largest listed companies are female.[5]

At the ECB, we more than doubled the share of female senior managers between 2013 and 2019 and are now aiming to raise this share further to 40% by 2026.

So let’s choose to challenge the way we lead and bring more diversity into our boardrooms, parliaments and governments. Sharing the work at home more equally and opening up more career paths for women will empower women to contribute even more to society, get involved in politics and become the voice for so many who need to be heard.

Let’s proceed to succeed so that we emerge from this pandemic together as a stronger, more equitable and more sustainable society.

This blog post appeared as an opinion piece in the following publications: Kurier (Austria), De Tijd and L’Echo (Belgium), (Cyprus), ERR (Estonia), Helsingin Sanomat (Finland), L’Opinion (France), Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland (Germany), (Greece), Corriere della Sera (Italy), (Latvia), LRT (Lithuania), Times of Malta (Malta), Diário de Notícias and Jornal de Notícias and Dinheiro Vivo (Portugal), Denník N (Slovakia), and El Confidencial (Spain).

  1. Gender pay gap in unadjusted form”, Eurostat.
  2. Zenger, J. and Folkman, J. (2020), “Women Are Better Leaders During a Crisis”, Harvard Business Review, December.
  3. Among the EU 27 Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, and Lithuania have female heads of government
  4. Gender Statistics Database, Members of parliament/assembly (count includes the president) at end-2020, European Institute for Gender Equality.
  5. Gender Statistics Database, Largest listed companies: CEOs and executives at end-2020, European Institute for Gender Equality.