Romania’s chance for economic growth: equal opportunities in the society and in the workplace

In our daily rush, towards an opportunity, towards a goal, we tend to become more and more absent – we do not get lost in details and we do not look left or right at those who are left behind. We turn our attention to them only when an institution or international organization places us at the bottom of various rankings regarding equal opportunities. And when we pay attention to these topics, we do so only due to external pressures, only to check some boxes, without being convinced that equal opportunities are the solution to many of our daily problems.

The truth is that we fail day by day to understand that equality is one of the main premises for being able to ensure economic prosperity. And it’s not as complicated as we might think, but it’s really within our reach to take some action that will bring us closer to what we really want economically, and without leaving people behind. Therefore, I propose that in the coming weeks we debate what I call “Investment for good” – how Romania can move forward economically, with sustainable social policies and solutions based on progress.

Where do we start and where do we get

We start the discussion from the situation that is most convenient for us – gender equality on the labor market. The current situation, according to the latest Gender Equality Index, shows that the difference between labor market participation for men and women is 18%. This means that although companies are fighting for quality human resources, most of the time women are left out or start with a second chance in the race for a job. Moreover, the same Index also indicates that in the  Romanian society (but also at European level) there is still a very clearly defined concept of “more suitable” jobs for women or men. Thus, in the field of education, health and social assistance work mainly women – 16% of the total of employed women, compared to only 3% men. On the other hand, in STEM the proportions are reversed, only 9% women and 31% men. This is while, paradoxically, Romania is known as one of the countries with the highest percentage of STEM graduates. The fact that we fail to integrate them into the labor market, that somewhere along the way, they get lost, is another rupture, by which we do not value the investment we make in their education and, therefore, we do not capitalize on the results they could generate through their contribution. Who loses from this? The state – society as a whole, which is, practically each of us.

Winners and losers

The equation is simple: Romania loses money annually due to the lack of equal opportunities between women and men. Somewhere around 19 million euros is the opportunity cost we pay because we fail to really ensure gender equality in the labor market. What could we do with this money, almost 11% of the country’s GDP, money that we not only lose, but do not even realize in terms of potential? We can redirect them to education or social services. We can invest them in health or infrastructure. We can use them to ensure the wellbeing we want.

Specifically, what can we do for society as a whole to gain?

A first step would be to reduce the gender gap at work and at home. Beyond the public policies developed in this regard, we must also be aware that we need a change in thinking and customs. We need to convey as clearly as possible that the involvement of men in household care activities is not only an assumption of responsibility in the couple, but also leads to financial benefits and stability in the family.

The solutions that exist can have several valences – from streamlining the workplace and encouraging the balance between family and professional life, to harmonizing salaries and real chances of career advancement and, in particular, in leadership positions for women.

The image of female leadership in Romania does not overlap with the principle of equal opportunities and gender. According to the latest study, only 13% of the board members of listed companies are women, according to Eurostat.

Actions oriented in three directions

Investing in health, education and public policy are practically the three pillars that support the success and effectiveness of any public policy, including those related to equal opportunities. After turning these issues into success stories, we need to look further – the labor market. This remains a territory, unfortunately, heavily untapped when it comes to the best resource – women. They account for about 75% of the total workforce. Even so, women often do not take an active part in the labor market because of the unequal distribution of  unpaid care responsibilities, or for household care activities. All this prevents women from having the same opportunities to access a job, given that there are no alternatives to the aforementioned situations – after school for children, social services for the care of the elderly, flexibility, so that men can be actively involved in the performance of all these duties.

Moreover, the consequences of the health crisis over which the effects of an economic crisis already overlap are further affecting vulnerable groups, including women. We therefore need concrete and direct measures to encourage equal opportunities and gender in the labor market and beyond. Because only when we know how to value this resource and really integrate it into the field of work, we will be able to say that we have taken an enormous step forward. More women in the labor market means higher GDP, a more diverse and heterogeneously prepared workforce.

The potential for sustainable growth exists. We just have to be open and willing to do more than just tick some boxes in some forms and accept that giving equal opportunities to all citizens is not about competition, but about cooperation.