It was a historic moment - yet not all progress comes with the same razzmatazz. My personal experience at the World Bank, and now at the European Commission, has taught me the importance and benefits of perseverance for achieving a better gender balance among managers.
It is becoming harder to ignore the evidence that women's participation in the workforce in general and management in particular is good for our economies. Last year the International Labour Organisation concluded that there is a positive link between greater participation of women in decision-making and business performance. McKinsey also found in a recent report that 'diversity matters', including in management.
Some have questioned why the European Commission has set a target of 40% of women managers. Of course, in an ideal world we would not need targets to achieve better gender balance. But in the real world experience shows that we have to focus minds. I am a convert to targets – I have come to realise over time that without them, progress is simply too slow. This is not necessarily only because the system is holding women back, but also because often women need a clear signal that they should apply.
This target is not about preventing men from getting into management. If a man is best qualified and best suited for a role, the European Commission will appoint him. The fact is that over the past year, in terms of first appointments to senior management we have still appointed more men than women.
The best person for the job has been and will always remain our guiding principle. Let me be very clear: there is no question of sidestepping merit for the sake of pursuing an agenda. But with more women applying for posts, we will all benefit from more good managers joining the ranks.
Above all, this gender balance effort is about creating an inclusive and encouraging environment where everybody feels that they can and should apply for senior posts. This is about encouraging women to mentor other women and to apply to top jobs. It is also about the work we do to create conditions for women to aspire for management roles, such as the introduction of flexitime, which we have expanded significantly, and the opportunity for more spaces in kindergartens for our families. It is about being more mindful of how we can arrange working conditions so that management can be more attractive to women.
We need leadership and accountability at the top of the Commission to make sure we follow through on this policy, so that the next generation in management is more diverse than the previous. We have made good progress. At the most senior level of Directors-General we have gone from 17% to 24% since November 2014, and at the Deputy Directors-General level from 10% to 29%.
Every organisation should create the conditions to use the full potential of both women and men. This makes economic sense but it is also a question of fairness. We will always seek to give the right person, the most qualified person, the job. This is not a strategy to hold back men, but rather to lift up women for the benefit of us all.