Could you please introduce yourself?

Trained as a lawyer, I began my career almost ten years ago in the courts (in courts and courts of appeal), in large insurance groups and also in associations. I had to work on labor law, social protection law (psycho-social risks at work, accidents at work, occupational diseases), which led me in my previous position to be a lawyer in the social department of the Tribunal de Grande Instance of Paris.

Finding the profession of lawyer fascinating but a little more confining than that of project manager, I wanted to change. With my previous skills and experience, particularly in labor law, as well as my taste for public service and the common good and in particular the cause of women and minorities, I joined the Ministry for Equality between Women and Men for a year and a half as project manager.

Equality between women and men is a fascinating subject because it is the keystone of everything that is at stake in terms of the stakes for society, because a society that does not include half the population is a society that cannot function well. So to act for this equality between women and men is to act for a common and global well-being for society.

Could you please describe your organization in a few words?

The Department for Women’s Rights and Equality between Women and Men (SDFE) is the department responsible for implementing the policy of the Ministry for Equality between Women and Men, Diversity and the equality of chances. The SDFE is attached to the Directorate General for Social Cohesion (DGCS) and works on women’s access to their rights, the fight against violence against them, the development of a culture of equality and the economic empowerment of women, job diversity and professional equality. I work on these last themes and I have, among other things, professional diversity in my portfolio of missions.

Having become a political priority since 2017, equality between men and women has mobilized the entire Government, particularly since the launch of the Interministerial Plan. The budget allocated to it has more than doubled in six years to reach €65 million this year.

All of the actions carried out by the funding program are carried out within the framework of national and local partnerships, in particular associations (more than 90% distributed in the form of grants to associations throughout the territory).

Could you give us some facts and figures or a description of the status-quo related to the situation of gender equality in your country? What are the challenges encountered?

The Women’s Rights and Gender Equality Department (SDFE) publishes yearly key equality figures in French and in English. With regard to professional gender equality, we can see that only 18% of professions are mixed. On all the other professions, there is a distribution of at least 60% of employees representing one of the sexes against 40% representing the other sex.

In essentially feminized professions, we observe that the most represented socio-professional category is that of employees, whereas the socio-professional categories are higher in professions where men are mainly represented. Managers are therefore more often men.

However, since 2018, gender diversity has nevertheless progressed, but this progress is slow. There are still professions that are still very behind in terms of gender diversity, such as socio-medical, construction, industry, public works and digital. The average score of the “Professional Equality Index” for companies is not yet in the high average but it has been improving since 2020.

In France, only 30% of students in scientific/engineering preparatory classes are women. On the other hand, part-time jobs are held at 30% by women. Finally, wage inequalities between women and men are reduced, from 18.6% in 2000 to 16.1% in 2019 in the private sector (source SDFE equality key figures).

Could you please indicate what levers you see to address these challenges or to improve the situation you just described? Where do you see clusters playing a role in the process?

The Ministry of Equality has been asked to contribute to the drafting of a European Union directive aimed at combating pay discrimination and helping to close the pay gap between women and men in the EU. As a result, anyone who feels they have been the victim of pay discrimination in a company will be able to ask for information on the pay of people in the same socio-professional categories and with the same level of skills and experience. This will give them an idea of where they stand on the pay scale (without having direct knowledge of their colleagues’ salaries) and enable them to ask for their salaries to be brought into line.

This transparency should exist from recruitment onwards, as it has been shown that women find it harder than men to negotiate their salaries or ask for pay rises during their careers. A man and a woman should have the same level of pay for the same skills and experience, which is not yet the case, at least not in France. This European directive could therefore be an interesting lever for reducing the pay gap between men and women.

The new interministerial Plan for Equality between women and men (2023-2027) is also providing solutions. Since gender equality has been declared a “great national cause” after the election of the French President, this plan of around one hundred measures is structured around several major themes, including professional and economic equality. Within this area, the measures aim to:

  • Encourage greater gender diversity in all professions.
  • Remove the obstacles to female entrepreneurship, as it has been observed that women have less access to entrepreneurship: they have more difficulty than men in setting up their own business and continuing to develop it over the long term.
  • Ensuring equality in the private and public professional sphere: to this end, the professional equality index used in companies (to assess the level of equality between women and men on the basis of 100 points using five criteria and then publishing its score) will be adapted to the civil service; administrations will be obliged to have a score on the index and will be penalised if this score is not good.

Clusters can play a number of roles. They can disseminate information on the actions and tools that each cluster is putting in place to create a knock-on effect among the companies and other organisations that they bring together. They can also help to adapt the plan’s measures to the situation on the ground.

Could the recruitment difficulties encountered by many companies and other entities be partly solved by attracting more women to the positions to be filled?

The lack of gender diversity in the professions in France today poses a real problem, not only for companies but also for the country as a whole, economically speaking. We’re depriving ourselves of part of the population and therefore of a huge recruitment pool. We have 7% unemployment in France today, but we have sectors and professions that are cruelly short of applicants. Increasing the gender mix in these professions would be one way of tackling these recruitment problems. In the digital sector, for example, if there were more women training, there would automatically be more applicants overall.

Similarly, in the childcare sector, if there were more male applicants, that would go some way to solving the problem.
Tight jobs are of course a more global problem than gender equality. Nevertheless, stereotypes mean that women or men do not apply for certain highly gendered jobs. We therefore need to take action from childhood onwards and in careers guidance to break down these stereotypes.

Do you think that companies of your cluster, sector/ecosystem, region are aware of gender equality rules? If so, do they know how to comply with these rules? What could be helpful (trainings, webinars, reference person in the company, etc)?

In France, the legal obligations of employers in terms of professional equality and the penalties for non-compliance are described here. Since 2018, we have moved from an obligation of means to an obligation of results with the introduction of the professional equality index, which assesses the level of equality between women and men out of 100 points based on the following criteria:

  • Gender pay gap.
  • Difference in the rate of individual pay rises.
  • Number of female employees receiving a pay rise following maternity leave.
  • Parity among the 10 highest earners.
  • Difference in promotion rates (for companies with more than 250 employees).

From 2021, the obligations will be strengthened:

  • For an overall score of less than 75 points: obligation to publish the corrective measures, both externally and within the company.
  • For an overall score of less than 85 points: obligation to set and publish improvement targets for each of the Index indicators.

In 2022, 61% of companies with more than 50 employees had published their score. The average score rose by one point compared with 2021, to 86/100. The professional equality index is implemented and accepted in large companies, whereas in SMEs it is a less well-known tool, even though it is compulsory for companies with more than 50 employees.

A guide to gender equality, entitled “Mon entreprise s’engage” (My Company is Committed) has been published for VSEs and SMEs, with the aim of removing obstacles linked to stereotypes and encouraging the development of action plans to promote gender equality in the workplace. It is designed to provide tools for VSEs & SMEs wishing to become involved in the gender equality process.

The Professional Equality label has also been created to encourage and reward exemplary practices by private and public bodies. To date, 53 public institutions and 59 private companies have been awarded the label. This year, the label is being updated to take greater account of violence against women, changing working practices, the gender equality index and the use of artificial intelligence in human resources. It’s a positive, global dynamic that needs to be instilled in all companies, whatever their size, as well as in other organisations.

The cornerstone of this dynamic is the “Rixain Law” of 2021, which includes measures for women’s everyday lives and for greater equality between women and men in higher education, business and entrepreneurship. The main aim of this law is to set quotas for the presence of women on the executive committees and management boards of major companies and to combat the glass ceiling that keeps women in positions of lesser responsibility.

Would you say working on gender mainstreaming can bring solutions to other challenges you observe (retaining female HR in organizations by addressing issues such as equality in wages, work-life balance, fight against sexist acts; populating rural areas, etc)?

Women often don’t stay in certain professions because of the sexist and sexual violence they encounter. So even if they have chosen a very male-dominated working environment to begin with, they end up leaving. As a result, the fight against gender-based and sexual violence in the workplace is a lever for retaining female employees.

More generally, working to improve the quality of life at work is one of the keys to attracting and retaining employees in short-staffed occupations. For example, it has been observed that the few women who enter digital professions do not stay there.

Conversely, jobs where women are in the majority, such as medical and social work, childcare and home help, have a poor image, are poorly paid and involve a lot of psycho-social risks (work-related accidents and illnesses). If we worked on these three levers, we could make these professions more attractive to men too. Or is it, conversely, by attracting more men to these professions that their image, pay and level of risk would improve? There are two schools of thought!

Digital technology and the medical-social professions are the professions of the future if we consider the new professions that will emerge from the development of technologies such as artificial intelligence, for example, and if we consider the major challenge of an ageing population.

According to the World Economic Forum’s 2017 « Global Gender Gap Report », 65% of children entering kindergarten today will work in a job that does not yet exist (jobs in big data, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, etc.). Today, in the digital start-ups that are inventing the applications of tomorrow, there are very few women.
If France wants to turn the corner in digital technology, it cannot do so without women. So there is an urgent need for action, otherwise the economic consequences will be severe.

But we also need to think about the place of women in society and in relation to motherhood and the home. Part-time jobs are most often taken by women, often to look after children and the home. Parental leave is generally taken by women. Men are less likely to have this type of career disincentive. Extending paternity leave, as has been done in France, means that women can return to work earlier if they wish. A more egalitarian division of domestic and parental tasks is one way of enabling more women to pursue a career.

Furthermore, the more economically independent women are, the less likely they will be to be victims of violence in their personal lives, or the better they will be able to get out of violent situations. Women’s economic autonomy is therefore a major issue.

Could you please describe why gender equality is important for you personally and/or for your organization?

At the Ministry for Equality between Women and Men, Diversity and Equal Opportunities, we do not experience discrimination and we are very careful about it.

How would you describe the added-value being a woman in your position ? What are the challenges and opportunities?

I think it’s a strength to be a woman myself, a mother and the head of a single-parent family with a young child, because it gives me a good understanding of the daily lives of many women and the issues at stake.

Unfortunately, there is still a great deal of discrimination against women with children or of child-bearing age. It’s very difficult to gain access to positions of responsibility when you’re a woman with children. There’s a culture of presenteeism in France, where you have to stay until 8 or 9pm to prove your worth at work, so you can’t make a career out of leaving at 6pm to look after your children. Unfortunately, this is still the case in many companies and government departments, even though the Ministry is working hard to improve work-life balance. Fortunately, mothers who have gone on to great careers have testified to help change mentalities.

We also need more crèche and childcare facilities in companies and government departments. Companies also need to understand the difficulties faced by the growing number of single-parent families (guides exist).

What would be your closing word? Your main message on advancing gender equality approaches in companies/clusters/public authorities/governments?

Professional equality between women and men is the cornerstone of discrimination of all kinds suffered by women. Advancing professional equality will reduce all the obstacles that stand in the way of the personal and professional career of women.

Companies and in particular SMEs are the main architects of professional equality because without them the progress imagined cannot be achieved.