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Address by Barbara Nolan, to Women On Air on 23 October 2013

Address by Barbara Nolan, Head of the European Commission's Representation in Ireland to Women On Air on 23 October 2013.' 


I am delighted to welcome you to European Union House and in particular to join you in celebrating your third birthday!  

For such a young organisation, you have already achieved a lot. From the creation of a comprehensive list of experts and communicators willing to go 'on air', to your training courses and finally, most recent survey of female voices on our airwaves, you have made an impressive contribution to efforts to address the equality challenge in Ireland.  

In my previous incarnations in the European Commission, I did quite a bit of work on the challenges associated with equality.  I was head of the anti-discrimination unit in for a time, but I was also spokesperson for a particularly memorable Irish Commissioner for Social Affairs and was occasionally one of those female voices on the Irish airwaves from time to time!  

Since returning to Ireland, I have been struck by the amount of work underway in this area – encouraging female participation in the political process, increasing the participation of women on boards, and initiatives such as your own.  There certainly appears to be an appetite to change the status quo and the statistics tell their own story of why this is happening.  

One particular statistic springs to mind – of the students who graduated in the EU from journalism/communication/information courses in 2010, 68% were women and 32% were men!  If we put that side-by-side with the results of the survey published by Women on Air this summer, which showed that in one given week, only 22% of the expert voices used on radio were female, 26% of the politicians interviewed were female and surprisingly, only 17% of the VIP/celebrities interviewed were female … So clearly there is a huge imbalance.  

Regrettably, it is true that Irish equality-related statistics are not particularly encouraging ….  

  1. Women on Boards – IE 11%, below EU average of 17%, although the figure does represent an increase of 2 % on 2010 figures.  
  2. Women in national governments (senior ministers) – IE 13%, below EU average of 27%.  
  3. Women in national parliaments – IE 16%, below EU average of 27%. 
    ..apart from the one anomaly, which is the number of female Irish MEPs!
  4. Women in European Parliament – IE 42% (!) (5 out of 12)

  … but we should not forget how far things have come. Remember the marriage bar in the Public Service – Ireland was forced to get rid of it on joining the EU and had to accept a number of European equality laws including equal pay for equal work.  

Believe it or not, the European Commission first published a report on the representation of women in broadcasting 30 years ago back in 1983!).  

Finally, I would like to give you a brief overview of how the European Commission is doing in terms of its own staff where targets were set to increase the percentage of women in working in the graduate grades and in management.  

Now have women representing 27% of senior management personnel.  29% for middle management (29%), while the figure for the non-management portion of staff is 43%. This is progress, given that it took well into the 1970s before female officials began to reach more senior positions within the European Commission! Star performer is of course, Irish women Catherine Day, who has been Secretary General of the Commission since 2005.   

We had to wait until 1989 before the first female Commissioner was appointed (Delors appointed 2) Now roughly a third of the Commissioners are women but it always requires a degree of pressure to get countries to nominate women.    

So, let me congratulate Women on Air for coming up with practical initiatives to address the gender gaps in broadcasting and wish you the best of luck continuing with the good work you are doing.

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