Within the framework of the European SME Week, an event that the European Commission is holding this year in Bilbao from 13 to 17 November, Cristina Oyón, Director of Technology, Innovation and Sustainability at SPRI, presented the results of the study carried out by SPRI on the impact of women on industrial competitiveness.
Given the worrying data on the presence of women in Industry and STEM careers that were collected as part of the work carried out by the Women in Manufacturing Expert Group in 2021, SPRI decided to start a research work to test one of the premises highlighted by UNIDO (United Nations Industrial Development Organization) in 2019: “gender equality is no longer just a matter of human rights, but a fundamental issue to ensure competitiveness and economic recovery”.
Thus, the study carried out by SPRI has consisted of the development of a methodology to analyse the correlation between gender equality and industrial competitiveness and the development of a case study to obtain data to prove whether greater gender equality benefits industrial competitiveness.
The methodology designed allows for a multidimensional and comprehensive assessment of the concepts of competitiveness and gender equality in industrial enterprises. To this end, two composite indices were created, one related to competitiveness and the other to equality, composed of a set of sub-indices and weighted variables.
Once the model had been designed, a survey was launched in August 2022 to 2,500 Basque industrial and related services companies from the SPRI database, from which a sample of 474 responses was obtained.
Oyón explained the main characteristics of the sample, where women represent only 21.7% of employment in Basque industry, a worrying figure considering that they represent 44% of the labour market in the Basque Country. The lower presence of women in companies is general, regardless of the level of qualification or department, but it clearly decreases in leadership positions: only 13% of the companies participating in the survey have a woman at the head.
Inputting the companies’ responses into the model created shows that companies with a higher level of gender equality are more competitive. In addition, the data show that more egalitarian companies perform better in terms of turnover and employment, R&D&I and internationalisation.
For their part, the most competitive companies also have higher levels of gender equality. Specifically, the study identifies the following keys to boost competitiveness based on equality:
- Horizontal segregation (by department)
- Vertical segregation (by level of responsibility).
- Measures to reconcile work and personal life (flexible working hours, teleworking, care leave, etc.).
- Internal equality policies (equality plans, committees, training and protocols).
Cristina Oyón highlighted the importance of having a methodology that shows the positive impact of women on industrial competitiveness and the potential that this study has as a motivational tool for the implementation of gender equality policies in companies, as it has been proven that “gender equality is no longer just a question of human rights, but a fundamental issue to ensure competitiveness and economic recovery”.
The presentation took place during the annual conference of the Enterprise Europe Network (EEN), the flagship event of the world’s largest support network for SMEs with international ambitions, which celebrates its 15th anniversary by bringing together more than 800 representatives of partners and EU institutions.
ENN addresses the need for European SMEs to access new skills and competences
Furthermore, one of these sessions, entitled ‘What role does the ENN play in the upskilling and reskilling process of SMEs’, focused the debate on the difficulties in finding professionals who master the specific competences required by SMEs in the 21st century, including the so-called soft skills. In addition, due to current demographic trends and the high technological development that industrial companies usually require, the need to help SMEs attract young talent and take advantage of their skills was addressed.
This panel was moderated by Birgit Weidel (Head of Innovation Ecosystems, Entrepreneurship and Customers at EISMEA) and included interventions by Cristina Oyón (Director of Technology, Innovation and Sustainability at SPRI), Jakub Boratynski (Director of Networks and Governance at DG GROW, European Commission), Linda McNulty (Director of Operations at Dublin Chamber) and Hanna van der Stok (Business Relationship Manager at Hanze University of Applied Sciences in Groningen). The latter presented a successful model of collaboration between SMEs and universities in order to transfer to students the specific skills required by companies, through what she called ‘student-coach led practical applied projects’. Thanks to this collaborative method that Van der Stok, Project Advisor at the EEN, has implemented in the Netherlands, it has been possible to improve the access of SMEs to quality professionals and to establish long-term sustainable business relationships.
Linda McNulty put a figure on the challenge facing European companies: “81% of SMEs surveyed say that the skills gap is a challenge or an extreme challenge for the company”. In order to reverse this situation, the European Commission has launched a series of initiatives such as the Pact for Skills, the EU Talent Pool and the European Skills Agenda. All of them, moreover, have been promoted this year within the framework of the European Year of Skills 2023. These initiatives represent a great opportunity to develop the specific skills of professionals, especially young people and women, who often find it more difficult to access industrial companies. In the words of Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, “we need to attract the right skills to our continent, skills that can help businesses and strengthen Europe’s growth”.