5-6 JUNE 2018 / Tour & Taxis / Brussels

Raising women's participation in decision-making: engaging men as change agents

Mobilising more men as allies to promote gender balance in leadership

High-level panel - Auditorium
Tuesday, June 5, 2018
14:00 to 15:30

Despite several international commitments to address the under-representation of women in decision-making, the rate of progress worldwide is low. Women held 23.8% of national Parliaments seats across the world. 

Men occupy the vast majority of leadership positions. They can leverage women into positions of power either through direct selection and appointment or through rethinking systems of power to lift the barriers to women's full participation and also step aside to create space for women in leadership positions. The panel will explore how to increase women's participation in decision-making in politics and in corporate leadership and highlight successful policies to close the gender gap in the field. The participants will also reflect and exchange experiences and good practices on how to engage and  mobilise more men as allies to champion women's participation in decision-making.

Key points

  • Gender equality is not just a moral issue; it is vital for economic development.
  • Greater gender equality will require transforming our vision of power, leadership and authority.
  • Women need to mobilize, network and connect to promote gender equality, not only with other women but also with men.
  • Fairer distribution of time between women and men would generate a better life/work balance and allow more women to participate in decision-making. 


Gender equality should be a political and business priority, whether viewed from a moral or an economic standpoint. It makes no sense to leave half of humanity’s brainpower – the part represented by women – in a secondary role. The Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is already well underway, will demand creativity and invention and it would be foolish to ignore the benefits that gender diversity can bring. 

But men are not going to easily surrender the economic and political benefits they currently enjoy because people always struggle to preserve their privileges. And the gender equality that favours men is a form of privilege. There will be resistance to change. For this reason, it is necessary that women encourage men to speak out on gender equality because many men feel uncomfortable with the status quo. Gender equality needs men to champion the cause. The challenges that the world faces need new types of leadership and a new vision of power and authority, one which challenges the old male-dominated concept. Men are the gatekeepers of power, so the issue is how to get the keys.

In many countries, particularly in the developing world, fighting for equality for women means fighting against entrenched cultural and social mores and traditions. Too often, it is women themselves who are a source of the kind of patriarchal ideas that hinder women’s development. This is the case in many parts of Africa. It is also true in Afghanistan, where cultural stereotyping is very strong. But the under-representation of women is a reality in all societies, with women making up less than 24 % of parliamentarians globally.

Women, particularly in Africa and developing countries, need to belong to movements. They need to work closely together to develop feminist groups and forge international links. The media can also play an important role.

But women face similar challenges everywhere; they have less access to work, more responsibility for domestic chores and are exposed to more violence in the home. There is no country where men face more discrimination than women. Women have 30 % less time for things that are also important like reading and cultural activities.

Education is fundamental. Gender equality needs to begin in schools, with the recognition that boys and girls have an equal right to education. The struggle for gender equality is a permanent one; it is a long battle. Quotas for women participation in decision-making can be valuable by setting targets to strive for and to provide a way to measure progress.

Sodexo is an example of a company that has made gender equality central to its corporate philosophy, with the declared objective of achieving gender balance wherever it operates. Internal surveys show that gender balance improves profitability.


A quick poll of the participants showed a significantly higher percentage backing quotas for political representation (73 %) than for representation in corporate decision-making (52 %). But the difference could simply reflect that fact that the corporate poll was taken first, and participants took a bolder line the second time.


Organised by


Joanna Maycock
Frans Timmermans
First Vice-President of the European Commission and European Commissioner for Better Regulation, Interinstitutional Relations, the Rule of Law and the Charter for Fundamental Rights
European Commission
Michel Croise
Sodexo Benelux
Carin Jamtin
Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency
Isatou Jarra Touray
Minister of Trade, Industry, Regional Integration and Employment
The Republic of the Gambia
Diwa Samad
Young Leader - Afghanistan