Last Spring, The Economist trumpeted “womanpower” as the driving force for the world economy. But if Europe’s economy is to become more competitive and innovative, it is not enough that women enter the labor market in droves. To reap the full fruits of women’s talents, they must be in more top jobs, too, both in the public and private sector.
Women in Western Europe have long since bridged the education gap with their male peers. Women not only outnumber men at universities; they also outperform them, most notably in math, physics, and information science. But female students’ academic achievements have not increased women’s presence in top jobs. In Europe, the percent of women on corporate boards remains in single digits, as is true of the top ranks of government and academia.
While in the United States almost one out of five corporate officers are women, in mainland Europe the female to male ratio on company boards is one to twenty or worse. The situation is only slightly better in science. One of every ten professors in Europe is a woman. In the US, the ratio is – once again – more favorable to women, with more than 20% of professors at American universities being female.
Europe cannot afford to waste valuable human capital at a time when China and India are on the rise and its own population is aging. The first baby boomers have reached retirement age, and the labor force will soon be shrinking in most parts of Europe. To cover the costs of aging and maintain its position as an economic power, Europe must increase overall labor participation considerably.