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Sociology

Informing international employment policies for gender equality

Policies addressing gender equality, working time and working conditions within a European context.

50 50 written on a chalkboard
Prof Fagan’s work continues to underpin and inform the European Commission’s gender equality and gender mainstreaming work.

The challenge

Key international organisations, such as the International Labour Organisation and the European Commission, require rigorous and innovative research to formulate policies around working time, working conditions and gender equality. Our researchers seek to influence policies to advance gender equality and promote gender mainstreaming in employment and labour markets. These activities are directly informing key employment policies, and shaping broader debates around ‘working-time’, ‘work-life balance’ and working conditions.

The impact

Professor Colette Fagan’s research – in collaboration with colleagues at the European Work and Employment Research Centre (EWERC) – has informed, galvanised and shaped European-level employment policy recommendations advocated by key international organisations, including: the United Nations International Labour Organisation (ILO), the European Union (EU), the European Commission (EC), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the UK’s Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). Insights from comparative country-level analyses have shaped the direction of European policy design and national monitoring of employment conditions and trends across the EU, with a particular emphasis on gender inequalities in employment and job quality.

The results of our research have been incorporated into a number of policy reports and position statements:

  • EWERC research has directly assisted the EC in the development of employment policy indicators and gender mainstreaming tools. These remain fundamental to the Commission’s approach towards the coordination of employment policy across EU member states.
  • Professor Fagan’s research fed directly into the ILO’s ‘Decent Working Time’ policy framework, including the ‘2012 Working Time in the Twenty-first Century’ recommendations of the ILO Governing Body contained in the ‘Final report of the ILO Tripartite Meeting of Experts on Working-time Arrangements’, and in two ILO reports that she was commissioned to produce: 'The influence of working time arrangements on work-life integration or 'balance'' (2012) and 'In search of good quality part-time employment' (2014).
  • The 2013 European Parliament report 'Women on Corporate Boards in Europe' was drawn from a presentation by Fagan to the ‘Women's Rights and Gender Equality Committee’. The published research, upon which the report was based, continues to be used by the EHRC to shape their policy position, respond to queries and inform responses and recommendations to government (for example, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills).
  • Professor Fagan is the UK expert for the EC ‘European Network of Academic Experts on Gender Equality’ (ENEGE) and sits on the ‘Advisory Board on Working Conditions’ of Eurofound (the EC’s tripartite research and policy institute for improving living and working conditions). Previously, she served as an academic consultant to the OECD at their 2007 expert symposium ‘Life Risks, Life Course and Social Policy’.

Watch the short film 'ESRC seminar: Work-Life Balance'

Our research

Taken as a whole, this work has generated insights around gender equality in employment with respect to two academically distinct areas.

Firstly, through an in-depth consideration of working-time and ‘work-life balance’ policies we have developed a more nuanced and differentiated conceptualisation of part-time work and working-time arrangements. This has involved:

  • Demonstrating a widespread mismatch in working-time preferences and practices, for both sexes across all countries.
  • Identifying important distinctions between ‘marginal’ and ‘integrated’ part-time employment, which are key to monitoring the quality of part-time work.
  • Providing a multi-dimensional analysis of working-time arrangements (volume, schedule, predictability, personal autonomy, etc.)

Secondly, through the promotion of international comparative analysis, the research demonstrates that:

  • The design and evaluation of gender equality and gender mainstreaming policies must take into account national context.
  • Women’s jobs are inferior on many, but not all dimensions of job quality.
  • Quotas are an effective means of increasing women’s representation at corporate board level.

We continue to seek to influence policy developments through our research, for example through the analysis of working-time for the International Panel on Social Progress, alongside research on gender diversity in scientific leadership.

Key people

Further information

Vital Topics 2013: Women in the c-suite

Professor Fagan discusses the progress being made in breaking down the barriers for women to take board level positions in the UK and worldwide.