Measures to further women's careers

Austria's Ministry of Women's Affairs wishes to facilitate the furthering of women's careers by companies and hopes, in 1998, to implement relevant incentives. One measure is likely to be the inclusion of an income-based index of equal opportunities for women in tenders for public contracts.

The Minister for Women's Affairs has made it clear that she wishes to make progress in 1998 on the issue of women's careers in enterprises. Studies in the past years have proven the existence of a "glass ceiling" through which women are unlikely to pass. An 11-point women's petition submitted to Parliament in 1997 put combating this glass ceiling first on the list of demands. Specifically, the petition suggested that companies should be excluded from public contracts and subsidies unless they had taken measures to employ women at all hierarchical levels in proportion to their share in the population. The Ministry sees little opportunity to go quite that far, but it does want to take action in this direction.

Currently the law permits the conclusion of works agreements on measures to assist women's careers. Very few enterprises have made use of this option, among them the country's largest bank (which is not privately owned). It is now intended to raise consciousness of the sort of measures that would be useful. The Minister has expressed her conviction that many enterprises would be willing to implement measures, if they had a better idea of what could and should be done. In October 1997, a symposium was held to collect ideas, and a further event is to be held in spring 1998 to disseminate them.

A measure favoured at the Ministry is to make the position of women a criterion in tendering and in awarding tenders for public contracts. It has repeatedly cited the example of Brandenburg, Germany, where the number of women employed and their share in the company's total wage and salary bill is taken into account when awarding tenders. The company performing best on the index formed by these two figures is allowed to improve its offer, if it does not exceed the best offer by more than 20%. The procedure is applicable only when tendering does not have to be EU-wide. This measure may be immediately applicable in Austria. Its advantage is that it does not set an absolute standard but only ranks participants in the tender competition relative to each other. If an absolute standard were set, the small number of enterprises with any sort of strategy furthering women's position would make it next to impossible to ever award a tender.

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