Have you heard of European Equal Pay Day? It shows how long into the year women work "for free", given that they still earn around 16% less on average than men.

The last two years, it came on 28 February, almost at the time we mark International Women's Day. The European Commission is very active in highlighting this and many other problems that affect women, from violence in conflict zones, to a lack of female representation on company boards.

At the same time, I am currently busy tackling an issue much closer to home; we lack proper gender balance in our own organisation.

Women actually outnumber men in the European Commission as a whole, by 54.5% to 45.5%. The problem lies in how those jobs are distributed, in particular that only about 30% of our managers are female at the moment. That is why we have committed to get to at least 40% female management by the end of our mandate in 2019.

It stands to reason that every society, every organisation should use the full potential of both men and women. This is a question of fairness, as equal opportunities and equal recognition for all should be guaranteed. However, gender equality also makes economic sense.  As the International Labour Organisation pointed out recently, there is a positive link between more female management and better business performance.  No one can afford to miss out on talent.

This is also an issue of proper representation. Public administrations everywhere in Europe need to be more in tune with the people they serve, reflecting more the diverse, complex society we live in. A society where more than 50% of our fellow citizens are female, where women are leading, and are definitely doing their share.

The European Commission should be no exception in having more gender balance. We have a new Commission and a new vision for Europe. To serve European citizens best, we need more than just good ideas. We need everybody working to the best of their ability, fully tapping into the potential of all our staff, men and women. 

We have made progress. The European Commission has about 450 members of staff at so-called "senior management" level and about 1,200 at "middle management" level. Female senior management has increased from 22% to 27.5% since 2010. Female middle management has increased from 25% to 31.4% in the same time span. If you think about the fact that in 1995, women made up only 4% of senior managers at the Commission, we're in a far better position already.

So how are we going to take the next step to equality and achieve the 40% target?

First of all, we need to identify and develop talented female staff with potential, encourage them to apply for management posts and support them along the way. Like many other public administrations, the Commission needs a proper talent management policy for all, based on merit and allowing people to move on and up.  We will put more emphasis on training, on coaching and in particular on mentoring schemes. Often, people need a little extra push from a role model who can encourage and advise them.  I know this from my own experience. Time and again in my own career I had to be pushed to take on management jobs. 

Secondly, we need to make sure that we promote a more flexible and result-oriented working environment, including more flexible work patterns. The nature of our work and today's information technology mean that we can telework and follow flexible working hours. This allows a better work-life balance, while still getting the job done.

Thirdly, we need leadership and accountability at the top in the Commission to make sure we follow through on this policy, so that the next generation in management is more diverse than the one before.

The European Commission will continue to speak out for women's rights in Europe and around the world. We will continue to provide billions of euros of funding from the EU budget to support empowerment and sustainable development for women and girls.  Achieving at least 40% female management in our own house is a step towards gender equality in the Commission. It will not make the problems that women still face go away. But it will underline that we are serious about solving them. 

Op-Ed first puiblished on EurActiv.com

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