“We are doing already pretty much for women in our company ” – SWOPS shows that reality also in France is sometimes another.
The acquisition of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) through SWOPS showed that French employers rely on the government-mandated action plans for more equality in the workplace, but occasionally leave the implementation overlooked.
Our project partners from France have conducted interviews with seven selected local SMEs and carried out wide-ranging research in their area. The original objective of being able to also perform consulting services for the optimization of the company’s human resources management in the French SME, proved to be only partially applicable. The reason: Since 2012 France has a law on equal opportunities in employment between women and men. This law requires companies with more than 50 employees to sign collective wage agreements, or – where this is not possible – to develop so-called “action plans”. From a catalog of eight possible areas of action, the companies have to adopt three emphases: recruitment, education, training, promotion of the careers, re-entry, optimization of working conditions, equal pay and work-life balance.
The analysis of the preliminary discussions revealed that the majority of employers is convinced that they have contributed to more fairness in opportunity with the signing of action plans. All participating SME representatives have completed the requisite conceptual discussions with external advisors not too long ago before the signing of action plans. Now they are convinced that they have taken an important step towards gender equality.
This is a challenge that we overcame with our French project partners: a detailed review and analysis of existing agreements and action plans revealed robust results. Representatives from the selected SMEs have participated in two regional structured feedback workshops that served the mutual exchange of experience and have contributed to (self-)reflection and an increase in awareness of the implementation of action plans. Now, our French partners can successfully implement their project goals with the data obtained in the development of the consulting model.
A preliminary analysis of the action plans is already available: CISTE (Carrefour de l’Innovation Sociale du Travail et de l’Emploi), a union of the social partners and other labor market stakeholders, including our French SWOPS partner, the resource center in French Poitou-Charentes (CRGE), has recently analyzed in the region a total of 108 labor agreements and action plans that were closed between 2011 and 2014. Companies from the manufacturing industry, the wholesale and retail trade as well as social and health institutions have participated.
Interestingly, in the areas of recruitment (76), training (65), payment (63) and reconciliation of work and family (61), the most common agreements have been concluded. The focus was in particular on measures which affect the parenting of the workforce. The action plans offered additional days for the care of small children even if they were not sick as well as flexible working hours in view of the special situation of the parents. Other improvements entail additional payments, support for fathers for parental leave and numerous regulations that facilitate the re-entry into the job for both women and men.
However according to the investigation of CISTE, many of these arrangements only address legal or already existing company agreements. The indicators and instruments proclaimed in the action plans actually need to be checked for implementation, otherwise prove to be inadequate in the majority of the draftings. French employers who are generous to their employees in terms of re-entry do not seem to be much concerned about their retirement provisions. None of the 108 agreements addresses pension payments – and this despite the so-called “Gender Pension Gap”, i.e. the amount of own pension income of women relative to those of men, remains a significant factor in the unequal treatment of men and women.
The obligation for any company to take up the issue, to develop action plans and to negotiate with the workers’ representatives is – in the European context – important. What’s more important: Besides working to fill the programs with life and successfully grow their implementation. With the open SWOPS consulting model access for many companies in Europe should be facilitated.