Gender stereotypes at work - the traps of shaping gender roles

Organised by the Arbeiter, Freizeit- und Bildungsverein - AFB association in cooperation with EZA and with the support of the European Union, the international conference of the IPEO platform, that took place from 13 to 14 September 2019 in Nals / Italy, saw the attendance of around 50 representatives of workers’ organisations from South Tyrol/Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Lithuania and Serbia who met to discuss the topic "Gender stereotypes at work - the traps of shaping gender roles".

The aims of the conference were, on the one hand, to provide information, exchange views and raise awareness about the gender-specific role models that shape the way in which women and men are perceived in society, and on the other, to highlight the disadvantages to which women are exposed in the family, in social and working life as a result of outdated role models which impair women’s chances of personal growth and place the main burden of educational and care tasks on them.

Methods and measures were identified which could help raise the awareness of decision-makers and the general public about the social relevance of equal opportunities. A number of best practices were presented concerning the legislation for the labour market, social policies, training and education. Finally, empowerment measures for the IPEO platform and its member organisations were proposed and discussed.

Experts from various countries gave lectures on gender stereotypes in working life, on the social background of such stereotypes and the impact of gender roles on labour market regulations, on the organization and management of companies as well as on labour and social protection legislation. The role of language in defining how men and women are perceived was discussed and strategies for a more gender-conscious use of language were suggested so as to make women more visible in a variety of social contexts. In addition, gender stereotypes in films, television and digital media were presented to raise awareness of their profound influence on current role models. The conference provided the opportunity for a transnational exchange of views on the core issues followed by a discussion about the measures to be taken to improve equal opportunities in society and in the work place.

Key ideas

At European level, the political and economic unification process has been advancing rapidly since the 1990s. However, after the remarkable progress made at the beginning of the new millennium, the onset of the financial and economic crisis has led to a marked slowdown in gender equality policies. Currently, there are great differences between and across countries as regards the social understanding of the role of women and men.

Accordingly, there is a need for cross-cutting gender equality policies which are able to address and question values, legal norms, informal regulations and corporate and social behaviour patterns. The following areas are relevant with regard to gender stereotypes and gender equality deficiencies:

  • Implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • Government programmes, development programmes and funding (gender balance)
  • Budgetary policies of governments at all levels
  • Labour market regulation
  • Social protection at work and in everyday life
  • Educational policy and concepts, educational curricula, educational institutions, teaching materials
  • Educational models and their implementation in the institutions
  • Research concepts and priorities for universities and other institutions
  • Currently available information, and information to be acquired and disseminated on the subject.
  • Films, media and advertising

Eurostat, Eurofound and other scientific and educational institutions provide EU-wide information on the labour market, social protection mechanisms and co-determination as well as on specific gender issues in a comprehensive, yet summarised form. While relying on these sources, specific areas should be examined in greater detail on a country-specific basis in order to assess the current situation and determine whether actions are needed.   Starting with the trade unions, social actors should be identified who can establish information and education initiatives and act as initiators. Attention must be paid to articulate and visualise equality goals and measures in simple and easily comprehensible steps.

Conclusions and recommendations

In order to overcome obsolete role attributions, it is necessary to make people aware of them and to gain broad acceptance of the fact that the social roles of women and men have changed. Equal opportunities should not be paid mere lip service: going beyond purely formal legal recognition, they must be concretely implemented and become a mainstream concern in all areas of society. To this end, adjustments to laws and administrative norms are just as necessary as information campaigns and educational initiatives.

We need committed women who constantly monitor the development of legislation and promote positive action in parliaments, trade unions and associations. Societal paradigms grow stronger through the mutual interpenetration of formal structures, cultural values and informal regulations. Therefore, they cannot be changed solely in relation to the labour market, but require a broad-based modernisation strategy. Due to the widespread use of television, the Internet and digital information and communication technologies in general, the media have a profound impact on gender roles. This form of influence however acts at an informal level in the private sphere, which is why too little attention is paid to it. Media literacy, which must become a core subject in the education of the younger generations, should include the identification of gender-specific clichés as one of the main learning objectives of active and aware citizens.

In order to promote the exchange of information between EU countries and beyond, and to chart a path towards the gradual convergence of gender equality policies and support instruments, efforts must be made to encourage trade unions and other social players in individual countries:

  • To develop and make use of existing national and international sources of information; EZA and IPEO’s national cooperation partners should help disseminate them;
  • To appoint persons responsible for the further development of gender equality policy in individual organisations;
  • To support national organisations in the development of platforms and programmes to extend and improve gender equality policies;
  • To give visibility to gender equality policies in the information bodies of the various print media and digital platforms of these organisations;
  • To illustrate simple and concrete measures on how equal opportunities can be enacted in the work place and in private and social everyday life;
  • To assign researchers the task to conduct research work and develop concepts on the topic;
  • To prepare a report on the current situation of gender equality policies in the individual countries;
  • To support these projects through EZA or other European or national financing channels;
  • Identify ways for regional actors and works councils to grow stronger and qualify as contact points and initiators for measures to improve workers' rights, social protection and gender equality in general;
  • To determine how IPEO can support these claims and what concrete assistance the IPEO contact persons in the individual countries expect.