Where in the world is the best place for women to work?
It pays to work in Luxembourg if you’re a woman. For starters, the tiny, wealthy Grand Duchy is the only place on earth where median salaries for women are higher than for men, according to a report by STATEC, the country’s statistics bureau.
Luxembourg women took home a median full-time salary of €45,767 in 2010, about 3 percent more than the €44,224 earned by men. “This is explained by the fact that women tend to work in high-paid industries,” says the STATEC study. More than a quarter of female employees in Luxembourg work in the most lucrative sectors, including finance and insurance, compared with only 15 percent of men.
Still, experts remain cautious about over interpreting these figures, given the diversity of the data, which includes both public- and private-sector salaries. But while women do not necessarily dominate the financial industry in Luxembourg, they are well represented, making up 47 per cent of staff at banks, for example.
The benefits of languages, education and skills
Recruitment agency Robert Walters reckons women are a slim majority of the candidates on its books in Luxembourg. “Among highly qualified financial job seekers in compliance or risk, women tend to be more numerous because they are more qualified than their male counterparts and more likely to have mastered several languages – two valuable advantages that push up their pay,” says Robert Van Den Oord, head of Luxembourg financial services at Robert Walters. For sought-after jobs in Luxembourg, wages can be up to 20 to 25 percent higher than in Paris or London, he adds.
Female financial professionals in Luxembourg also seem to suffer less discrimination than elsewhere. “The financial sector is hungry for talent, but doesn’t always find as many qualified professionals as it wants, so it can’t afford to discriminate against women,” says Sharon March, director and founder of March Senior Consult, an executive coaching firm. “We do not need to convince banks and funds on this issue; they already realise the benefits diversity brings to their business.”
In a rare sector-wide initiative, the Luxembourg Bankers’ Association (ABBL) has also established a charter for diversity and equal career opportunities. And since 2001, the principle of equal opportunities has been part of collective bargaining between employers and unions.
The market is gender blind
Jean-François Marlière, founder and partner of Marlière & Gerstlauer executive search, says Luxembourg employers take a pragmatic approach to recruitment. “Luxembourg is a small, atypical market, which has developed a lot of highly skilled job functions. While purely back-office roles are now outsourced to Eastern Europe and India, finding specialised skills here is difficult.”
Skill shortages drive Luxembourg employers to look at the widest possible talent pool, regardless of gender or nationality, adds Marlière. They also prioritise the selection of female candidates “perhaps more than in other markets”.
March says Luxembourg is a “beacon of hope” for women. “Only skills are important here – your sex doesn’t matter,” says March, who is also a board member of the Federation of Women Heads of Business Luxembourg (FFCEL).
Could do better
But there is still room for improvement. Women remain a minority on boards of Luxembourg financial intuitions, with an average representation of only 16 percent, according the ABBL. Near two years of debates about the possible introduction of boardroom gender quotas haven’t yet led to any new regulations.
"The banking sector recruits men and women almost equally, but their careers are still not the same,” says Danielle Haustgen, a legal advisor to the ABBL. Women make up only 27 percent of executive positions at financial institutions, according to the Commission de Surveillance du Secteur Financier (CSSF), the Luxembourg financial regulator. But the long-term trend is encouraging: this figure has been constantly rising – it was 15 percent in 1996.
As elsewhere, maternity and childcare are obstacles to the career advancement of women, but the number of after-school childcare facilities has doubled since 2005. Women must continue to fight for their rights in the labour market, says Adela Baho, a manager of financial risk at the European Fund Administration (EFA) who also works in career development at the Luxembourg CFA Institute. “Women here are willing to invest in acquiring more knowledge than men, precisely because they know they must rely on their skills and nothing else. As elsewhere, men are also better networked.”
A plethora of policies
The Ministry of Equal Opportunities encouraged sharing of best-practice diversity policies with the launch in 2011 of its network DivBiz-Diversity in Business. And Equal Opportunities Minister Hetto-Gaasch has set up a “Positive Actions” network, which supports companies in their efforts to promote gender equity. BGL, BNP Paribas, ING, Deutsche Bank, Deloitte and KPMG are among those taking part.
In 2009 the Luxembourg government launched a computer program to detect possible wage discrimination between employees, which is now being used by 30 percent of banks in the country, according to the ABBL. “Those companies have concluded that there isn’t any salary gap between men and women for those in the same position and skills,” says Haustgen from the ABBL.