All Together to celebrate the International Women’s Day: Our inspiring interview with Commissioner Vestager

Not enough women are in high positions across the European Union today. In your opinion, how efficient are quotas aiming to address the serious problem of women’s under-representation in economic decision-making at the highest level?

Equality between women and men is a fundamental value of the European Union and one that has been enshrined in the Treaty from the very beginning. In December 2015, the Commission presented the “Strategic engagement for gender equality 2016- 2019”. It represents the work programme for gender equality policy during this Commission’s mandate. And as far as the Commission itself is concerned, there is progress towards meeting the 40 per cent target for female senior and middle managers. Since March 1st 36 per cent of all director generals and deputy director generals are women. In 2014 when the goal was set out by this Commission the figure was 11 per cent. So we are moving things.

After winning the European Woman Power of the year in 2016, you then became the Head of the Jury of the Women of Europe Awards in 2017. Can you tell us more about this role and how important this ceremony is?

It was very inspiring for me to participate in the jury of the European Women Power Award and to meet all the fantastic women at the price event in November last year. There are so many women around the world who make a difference. For example the prize “Woman in Youth Activism” was awarded to a young woman, Mina Jaf, who was born in Iraq  but now she works untiring for other refugees who come the Europe. Meeting Mina Jaf and her family at the award show left a very warm and positive impression with me.

On leadership, some still believe that women are less qualified and capable than their male counterparts. Do you think that policies are sufficient to tackle with these rhetoric resulting from deep-rooted cultural and historical practices?

If I ran a principle for my meetings that after having seen a male CEO the next one would have to be a female I could stop working on 15 January and wait for the rest of the year. But power is not something you own or something you can grab because you are especially magnificent or wear a suit or show your character in the width of your tie. In a democracy the power is with the people and they choose you for an assignment. In a company the CEO gets the power form the shareholders or the board. So power is something you borrow not something you own.  That goes for men as well as for women.

 Female entrepreneurs represent only a third of the self-employed in the EU. How does the European Commission foster women’s entrepreneurial spirit and encourage more women to start their own companies?

The Commission both promotes and supports female entrepreneurship through an action plan called “the Small Business Act and the Entrepreneurship 2020 Action Plan” because to create new jobs, we need more entrepreneurs – women and men alike. One of our main initiatives is to support networking among female entrepreneurs and there is also an e-platform helping women become entrepreneurs and run successful businesses. And we have the “EU Prize for Women Innovators” that goes to women who have received EU research and innovation funding at some point in their careers, and then founded or co-founded a successful company based on their innovative ideas.

What would be your message to young women willing to enter politics?

That they should go for it. And that they, as well as the rest of us – men and women alike – should think of changing our language. When a woman obtains a powerful position we talk about how they’ve kicked in doors or broken a glass ceiling. That way we also address the issue as if the power territory is not for women. As if we are outside guests and that are normally not invited. I believe that this creates a sort of mental model that the power territory is not really for us ant that probably prevents some women of just going for it and give it try. And I think that this type of language belongs in a “language museum”.

We should renew the language of power via talking about other things than we normally do. I constantly get different questions than men and it gives me a possibility to nuance the image of me as a person. Those who have chosen us – electors, shareholders or others – have the right to know whom they have chosen. For me and in a Scandinavian context this is not so unusual because in general the distance to power is shorter than in many other European countries. So we could gain a lot by developing how we describe power.