Press Release: Published 2nd July 2012
The economic downturn has been at the top of the agenda at almost all international meetings the last couple of years. At these meetings we tend to focus on the immediate economic challenges such as how to get to grips with a debt-ridden banking sector or growing budget deficits. There is seldom any time to look around the corner and discuss how to best prepare our societies for challenges to come or which long term policies we must adopt today to ensure jobs, well-being and sustainable growth for our children and grandchildren.
On the 8-9 February in Stockholm, within the remit of the Northern Future Forum, we hope to change this. Nine Prime Ministers from the UK, Nordic and Baltic countries will meet with leading thinkers and practitioners in policy and business in a new kind of Summit following up on our first meeting of this kind in London one year ago. By a fierce and free-flowing debate, sharing ideas, learning from each other’s experiences and working together we will discuss how to restore our competitiveness and secure the jobs and growth on which our future prosperity depends. We are united not just by geography but by a belief in enterprise, innovation and growth and by our work to complete the single market, to establish trade deals with the fastest growing parts of the world and to cut regulatory burdens. This is all essential to restore European competitiveness.
But we cannot fulfill our mission if vital parts of our potential workforce are denied the opportunity to make their full contribution. At the Summit this week, we are therefore going to place a special focus on two crucial questions for ensuring long term economic growth and competitiveness in our countries: Firstly, how to get more women to start their own businesses and take on leading positions in companies. Secondly, how to make older people stay longer in the work force, given the demographic challenges that our societies are facing.
A generation ago working women were not the norm everywhere. Since then a quiet revolution has taken place. Within the EU women now make up nearly half of the workforce and are also becoming increasingly better educated than men. Women account for almost 60 % of university degrees in the US and Europe.
But despite this progress, women’s potential on the labour market is far from fulfilled. Only 31 % of European entrepreneurs are women. Women also continue to be under-represented in senior positions. Today, according to the European Commission, only one out of 10 board members of the largest companies listed on the national stock exchange of EU Member States is a woman. The disparity is widest at the very top, where only 3% of the largest companies have a woman directing the highest decision-making body. Progress is slow even if research shows that there is a positive correlation between women in leadership and business performance.
At our meeting in Stockholm we will listen to each-others’ experiences and discuss different solutions for how to support more women to become entrepreneurs and take up leading business positions. One thing is obvious, if we were more successful in unlocking women’s full potential on the labour market, we would add billions of GDP across Europe. Our view is simple: we can’t afford not to.
The second theme of our discussions in Stockholm concerns the important demographic transition now taking place in our societies and its consequences. In 1950, life expectancy globally was around 46 years. Today it has risen to an average of nearly 70 globally, and almost 80 years for the EU. This is a fantastic development. It enables a longer and richer life for the individual. But in combination with low fertility rates and unreformed pension systems it also puts a heavy burden on the state. A smaller number of young people working and paying taxes will be expected to support a steadily growing number of older people.
Experience shows that apart from increasing the pension age, older people can be encouraged to stay longer in the workforce. This is something that many older people welcome, especially as health is no longer a problem for many persons even in their 70’s. It is rather a question of changing attitudes and norms of people in other age groups in society. One can also look at how to change education and career systems to allow for several careers. Working conditions can be adapted and working hours made more flexible. We will discuss all these issues in order to support an atmosphere of “active ageing” and a society for all generations.
This week, as part of the Northern Future Forum, we will be shining the spotlight on these issues – sharing experience and focusing our efforts on breaking down the barriers that still too often prevent women and older workers from realising their ambitions in the workplace. These are issues which the big global gatherings often don’t have time to address. But they are questions which a Summit like the Northern Future Forum is uniquely placed to consider. And our message is clear – the answers are crucial for the growth and competitiveness Europe so desperately needs.