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Fighting inequality and supporting diversity: Europe’s big challenge


08 Mar 2013


Euro & Finance
Social Europe & Jobs

The corporate world is far from making the most out of diversity. There is an urgent need to shift the trend and tap into either largely unexploited – or badly exploited- sources of talent that more vulnerable segments of the population such as women, older or disabled workers represent.

- There is an economic, societal and business case for this but ,changing mentalities takes time, incentives, and, crucially, requires stronger business and stakeholders’ engagement, a more focused attention from decision-makers, and better awareness-raising actions and dialogue with society,

were the main conclusions of a timely ACCA high level conference  organised in Brussels ahead of International Women’s Day.

Equal treatment between persons irrespective of gender, religion or belief, disability, age or sexual orientation is a core founding value of the European Union. In addition to being a fundamental right, with the financial crisis, equality has also become an economic imperative that needs to be further addressed and given exposure. ACCA ( the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) recently organised in Brussels its 2013 President debate, in association with the Irish presidency of the Council of the EU, to discuss with experts what can be done to fight inequalities and discrimination in the workplace. The aim was to exchange best practice in terms of existing support towards diversity and also envisage what could be the next steps to reinforce that support.

The debate’s discussions revealed that despite the positive steps taken in the last half century, real equality is yet to be achieved in society. Managing diversity in working life needs further improvement – women are still facing discrimination in issues such as equal pay, or still experiencing difficulties such as reconciling a work and family life. Other interlinked societal issues include the discrimination towards older and disabled workers, which urgently require new structures and approaches.

In addition, the current economic crisis is putting further pressure on the finances of all EU members states, resulting in austerity measures and cuts in social policies, including equality. There was a large consensus amongst panellists that investing in equality policies should however not be sacrificed: these policies, by ensuring that all groups at risk of discrimination are empowered to play a positive role for growth and given the opportunity to show their talents, could contribute to the creation of a more inclusive and prosperous society. To face the daunting challenges linked to growth and jobs that are today – and quite realistically tomorrow as well - affecting most major economies, we cannot indeed afford to waste any economic contributions.

Richard Howitt , MEP Rapporteur on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), stressed that  “business progress on diversity must not be a victim of the  economic crisis. The gains that we have worked hard to secure are now under huge pressure with the threat of redundancies a lingering threat and continued economic uncertainty. The European Parliament has been clear in my report voted last month that CSR has to be at the heart of a truly inclusive and long-term sustainable recovery. Vulnerable groups are often the first and hardest hit victims of an economic downturn, but as policy makers we must use all tools at our disposal including a better use of public procurement and an increased emphasis on social and human rights standards to ensure that a sustainable recovery is also an inclusive recovery.”

Participants were also interested in gender equality issues, especially the controversial “gender quotas”, as suggested  by Commissioner Reding in her proposal  to improve gender balance on company boards. This proposal would fix a binding quantitative objective of increasing the proportion of women among non-executive company board members in large publicly listed companies to 40% by 2020.

Evelyn Regner, MEP rapporteur on the topic for the Legal Affairs Committee, highlighted  that  “Diversity in boards is a tool of success, much needed to reflect the whole picture in the society. Self regulation and the 'comply or explain' principle for a greater diversity on boards has not yet worked out, we are currently in a situation of market failure in terms of gender balance, which needs more than offering another impact assessment. There is a strong need for an ambitious legislative instrument - accompanied by sanctions if the goal is not reached-  to increase the number of women, not only in non-executive positions, but also as executive directors and in the middle management bodies of companies. The measure shall be temporary and when the directive will expire in 2028, hopefully we won't be in the need of gender quotas anymore.”

Martin Turner, ACCA’s Vice President said: “Diversity is one of ACCA’s core values. We believe that no matter what background, gender, race or religion you are, any career should be open to everyone. To concretely illustrate our commitments to boost gender balance in company board rooms, I am proud to announce that ACCA has recently become a supporting member of the Global Board-Ready Women Initiative. This project aims to make available to companies  through an online database  a comprehensive list of international women who are experienced and ready to immediately take on mandates in listed companies. ACCA membership counts an impressive pool of such talented qualified women around the world, who are ready to shatter the infamous ‘glass ceiling’.

Fiona O’Sullivan, Justice attaché, representing the Irish Presidency of the Council of the EU concluded: “Equality should not seen as a cost but as a vital component of a strong economy where all citizens can contribute. It needs to be considered holistically: improving equality is also a way to improve the fiscal balance, to fight poverty and to strengthen the talent pool. Effective initiatives are not limited to government. We have heard today of innovative practices by enterprises, such as actions in the area of corporate social responsibility and in supporting entrepreneurship”.


For more information, please contact:

Cecile Bonino

+32 (0) 2 286 11 37


Notes to Editors

  1. ACCA, in conjunction with the ESRC (Economic and Social Research Council) produced a report called “Women in finance: a springboard to corporate board positions?”
  2. ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) is the global body for professional accountants. We aim to offer business-relevant, first-choice qualifications to people of application, ability and ambition around the world who seek a rewarding career in accountancy, finance and management.
  3. We support our 154,000 members and 432,000 students in 170 countries, helping them to develop successful careers in accounting and business, with the skills required by employers. We work through a network of over 80 offices and centres and more than 8,400 Approved Employers worldwide, who provide high standards of employee learning and development. Through our public interest remit, we promote appropriate regulation of accounting and conduct relevant research to ensure accountancy continues to grow in reputation and influence.
  4. Founded in 1904, ACCA has consistently held unique core values: opportunity, diversity, innovation, integrity and accountability. We believe that accountants bring value to economies in all stages of development and seek to develop capacity in the profession and encourage the adoption of global standards. Our values are aligned to the needs of employers in all sectors and we ensure that through our qualifications, we prepare accountants for business. We seek to open up the profession to people of all backgrounds and remove artificial barriers, innovating our qualifications and delivery to meet the diverse needs of trainee professionals and their employers.




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