2018 International Women’s Day: A Time to Include and #PressforProgress


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Every year, International Women’s Day serves as a reminder to where we stand in relation to gender gap around the world, and during which much of the advocacy on behalf of women and girls is centred on key imperative themes, such as: gender based-violence, discrimination, and the absence of equal rights and opportunities, including women in leadership position. However, we should not forget to use this day as an opportunity to also celebrate with friends, colleagues and supporters of gender equality, whilst reflecting and taking stock of progress, stagnation and retreat around us. According to the World Economic Forum While women worldwide are closing the gap in critical areas such as health and education, significant gender inequality persists in the workforce and in politics. Given current rates of change, [the] Global Gender Gap Report estimates it will be another 217 years before we achieve gender parity.”[1]

Based on empirical evidence, just as the one cited from the Global Gender Gap Report, there is much work ahead if we want to break down barriers and glass ceilings towards gender parity; and yet, unless we gather and share our stories and vision, the road forward feels too lengthy for anyone/or any entity to journey alone. Above and beyond, “travelling” in good company is always more fruitful and an enriching process, especially for those invested in social change for the greater good of a broad community of which we are connected. Social media is a great tool, but as Gloria Steinem[2], reminded us through her experience on the road, it takes community organization and social movement to bring forward real change and tangible results in a sustainable and inclusive manner. What’s more, there is something magical that happens when people get together and share their experiences and aspirations, because it is through this process that we find community and willpower to move forward within shared goals. In Steinem’s words, “Over time and far from home, I discover something I might never otherwise have learned: people in the same room understand and empathise with each other in a way that isn’t possible on the page or screen…On the road, I learned that the media are not reality; reality is reality”.

Perhaps, as we live in what feels an intense period of transition, the 2018 International Women’s Day may carry on a special significance in light of a growing interest, effort and platforms where women’s voices around the world are raising common concerns in relation to gender equality and the need for action. As such, more women are actively participating and contributing in small or bigger roles as agents of change. As the UN IWD theme for 2018[3] emphasizes the need to transform the current momentum into action[4], let us not forget the large numbers of migrant women on the move, including professional women at regional and international level. In recent years, international migration has taken centre stage, not always for the greater good of migrants and intra-regional movers themselves and their families, thanks in part to some segments of society who insist to portrait migrants as “drivers of crisis”, instead of potentials for opportunities.

According to the OECD “World Migration in Figures” 2013, women comprise about 48% of all international migrants worldwide, while the proportion of highly educated immigrants in OECD countries has risen dramatically in recent years. Moreover, when looking at highly skilled migrant women, the OECD underscores that “in many countries of origin, the share of tertiary educated women who were living outside their country of birth was higher than for men. This difference reached 10 percentage points in 2010/11” for some countries in Africa, thus leading analysts to conclude that brain drain is more pronounced amongst women than men. On the whole, despite research efforts in the field of highly skilled migration, experts continue calling for the improvement in data collection and analysis in order to have a comprehensive overview of the issue from a gender perspective. In addition, comprehensive data could also support in the effort to raise the level of visibility among key stakeholders of this group of migrant/intra-regional mobile workers.

Against this background, in general migration debates are still silent and dismissive over the disadvantages and challenges faced by female highly skilled migrants (including intra-EU mobile citizens). Instead, most interlocutors prefer to overlook and label this category as mainly “privileged expats”.  Since we live in interesting times full of complexities, perhaps it is time to question our assumptions based on outdated stories of expatriation, and look at realities of a labour market in transition, in an economy where finance and automation is the motto. As such, consider for a moment the following issues: dual-career couples; gender bias in accessing economic opportunities in country of origin as a driver to migration (including amongst Member States in the European Union); transnational income differentials between origin and destination country; and last but not least – youth unemployment in the context of young professionals in search of jobs in the European Union – yes not your average picture of a “migrant worker”. Moreover, as we continue on this perspective, maybe it is time to break the silos towards identifying the communalities between migrants, intra-regional mobiles and “expats” which unite us as a category instead of divide us on the basis of perceived or de facto privileges and outcomes. The latter proposition would also entail breaking up silos among experts and practitioners in the field of human resources, business management, migration, diversity, employment and gender equality, so as to work in a truly interdisciplinary way centred on the challenges and opportunities in relation to international migration/intra-reginal mobility of professionals. What’s more, such an interdisciplinary approach may render us better equipped towards identifying gaps and potential actions that could enable us to harness the full potential of female migrant/intra-EU mobile professionals to flourish and contribute to the community at large, hence addressing untapped/unused talent and expertise.

Migrant women is certainly an issue to be included as part of the debates on International Women’s Day, but leaving female migrant/intra-EU mobile professionals out of the discussion is a mistake, because one will fail to notice key themes around gender equality, work and international mobility that should be part of the conversation. Themes which may directly affect the integration and well-being of female professionals, such as: quality of employment, advancement of women in the labour market, “leaky” pipeline, unemployment, underutilization of skills, disadvantage, unconscious bias, de facto diversity in the work place, underrepresentation, and “brain-drain” to name a few. What’s more, by dismissing the subject of highly skilled migrant women from the debate one risks to ignore this groups’ de facto socio-economic contribution to society, as well as their on-going and potential involvement as agents and advocates working towards the advancement of women’s issues at national and transnational levels. Female highly skilled migrants make up the bulk of health care professionals working around the world, as such should we care to know more about their contribution to our community, along with their challenges?  Should one try to involve those migrant/mobile health-care professionals by making their stories and concerns more visible to the community at large (where they serve), including among advocates working with other migrant groups?  When I share my work interests with professional migrant/intra-EU mobile women in conversation, there is always a connection and a space opening in which they finally feel that they can talk about issues affecting them most, including a relief to know that their challenges are not based on individual notions around the myths of meritocracy, but rather on structural constraints affecting them in the labour market and beyond.

In conclusion, reflecting on IWD 2018, times of transition, social movements, communication and a genuine desire for positive change, I remembered an important lesson Steinem underscored to those who want to be part of social change that feels empowering and long lasting…In her words: “Then and now, we take the road to hold communal meetings where listeners can speak, speakers can listen, facts can be debated, and empathy can create trust and understanding[5]. As we approach the 8th March deliberations, may you endeavour to get to know and to include the experience and voices of highly skilled women on the move[6] in your work and communal meetings. Likewise, as for those international professionals, let’s celebrate and share with our peers, supporters and friends our experiences and lessons learned, so together we too can strengthen ongoing initiatives or initiate a greater collective of voices calling for and acting towards change which is inclusive of ALL.

Happy International Women’s Day to all, and may the efforts employed by those involved in making gender parity a reality in political leadership[7] inspire other bodies to leap forward, because “Empowering women requires women in power”.[8]


[1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/11/women-leaders-key-to-workplace-equality

[2] Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road, 2015

[3] 2018 theme: “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives” http://www.un.org/en/events/womensday/

[4] Especially actions in relation to rural and urban activists working to change women’s lives.

[5] Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road, 2015

[6] Professionals defined under the category of immigrants, migrants, third country nationals, expat, asylum seekers, refugees, and intra-EU mobile citizens.

[7] http://iknowpolitics.org/en/news/world-news/canadian-prime-minister-names-50-50-cabinet; http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures; http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-39948523

[8] https://epthinktank.eu/2017/03/13/empowering-women-requires-women-in-power/ ; http://redscope-consulting.com/women-leading-politics-european-parliament/


Intra-EU Mobility Platform: An idea whose time has come


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According to the 2016 Annual Report on Intra-EU Labour Mobility[1], in 2015 “a total of 8.5 million EU-28 movers were employed or looking for work, making up 3.6% of the total active population across” the European Union. Germany, United Kingdom, and Spain comprise the top three countries of residence, while “Germans, Italians, Polish, Portuguese and Romanians together make up more than half of all movers”[2]. The 2016 Annual Report contain a number of interesting features on intra-EU mobility, ranging from the economic integration of intra-EU workers to the experience of returnees and retirees. However, one of the issues which caught my attention was the findings on highly skilled workers, a category which continues to increase among intra-EU mobiles in recent years. According to the 2016 Annual Report:

“In general, the employment situation of EU-13 movers is still less favourable than that of EU-15 movers as indicated by a higher unemployment rate and by higher shares of persons carrying out low-skilled jobs. This seems to be disproportionate to their education structure and indeed, shares of recent EU-13 movers reporting to be over-qualified for their jobs are particularly high (37%, compared to 27% of EU-15 movers and 20% of nationals). Lack of language skills in the host country’s language appears to be the main (known) obstacle to getting a job among all movers, followed by a lack of recognition of their qualifications (especially for EU-13 movers) … Among EU-15 returnees, mobility seems to have an effect on the type of occupation carried out after return, with recent returnees employed to a greater extent in highly skilled occupations than their non-mobile national counterparts. This is not the case, however, for EU-13 returnees, although they also have higher shares of highly-skilled persons than non-mobile nationals.[3]

The negative trends observed above should raise concerns among promoters and beneficiaries of labour mobility, while stimulating greater efforts towards identifying new ways in which real improvement in the rate of recognition of workers’ qualification and labour market integration could take place. Observations contained in the 2016 Annual Report serves as indication that there is much about intra-EU mobility which we still unaware in relation to the actual experience of mobile EU citizens in the labour market.

However, in the midst of an on-going debate on international migration, the refugee “crisis” and Brexit, Free Movement has received some significant attention in recent times; although not always based on evidence, and in most cases as an “add on” to on-going discussion on international migration and refugee movement to Europe. For once, would be refreshing to see a two-day conference focusing primarily on Free Movement in Europe, tackling the issues faced by movers, lessons-learned and ways forward – lead by civil society with the support of EU institutions and Member States. In general, robust evidence is much needed when attempting to counter a wave of misconceptions about the costs-benefit regarding intra-EU mobility. Several evidence-based contributions have been made to this debate, in recent years, including the 2015 EUROFOUND study on “Social Dimension of Intra-EU Mobility: Impact on Public Services”, initiatives like “On the Move”[4] (2017) and REMINDER Project[5](2017-present). But evidence alone would not move the process forward, we need greater political will and well-target measures that can stimulate a positive momentum, like those we have seen in recent years by a number of initiatives focusing on youth unemployment or refugee integration, supported by the European Commission, EU Member States and other key stakeholders.

As Brexit negotiations moves on, discussion on issues related to EU citizens most affected by the “separation” on both side of the Channel has reached some agreement (EC Memo 2017[6]). However, as we live in “interesting times”, perhaps would be important to widen the scope of the discussions in view of gaining a broader perspective and support on Free Movement among EU citizens involving both “movers and stayers”. In my view, this could be done by injecting a dose of greater structure into the dialogue and exchange of information on Free Movement by the establishment of a dedicated forum, while stakeholders continue paddling in the path towards new policies and programs on employment, intra-EU mobility, EU citizenship, and most important carrying on the daily task of implementation at local level.

As suggested in previous post, given the timing and importance of Free Movement as one of the core pillars of the Union, perhaps it is time to consider supporting civil society organizations to establish an Intra-EU Mobility Platform focusing primarily on issues related to intra-EU movers. To date, European institutions have supported the creation of forums dedicated to issues such as, combatting human trafficking or the European Migration Forum, so why not consider the establishment of one dedicated sole to Free Movement? This mechanism could among other things, strengthen the knowledge bases, address misconceptions and promote dialogue among key stakeholders working on issues related to employment, social affairs, integration, return, circular migration, Citizens rights, etc.

In light of the commitment of an “European Union [made] of its citizens and for its citizens! Encouraging and facilitating citizens’ wider involvement in the European Union and what it stands for”, such network could foster greater cross-border dialogue about a core pillar of the Unions’ policy – Free Movement. Moreover, a network made by and for EU citizens would encourage direct participation of civil society in the discussions towards shaping policies and programs related to intra-EU mobility, thus enabling EU citizens to participate in the construction of an ever closer Europe”.

In conclusion, an Intra-EU Mobility Platform which would include representatives from civil society organizations, employment and social affairs (i.e., national and city level), EU institutions, representatives from employers’ organizations, trade unions, academia and experts. In addition, the network could contribute among other things to the identification of: emerging trends, lessons learned, example of practices and areas for further research, and potential direction for programmes and projects in support of intra-EU mobility. The latter of particular importance to movers, because results from research shows that intra-EU mobile citizens are under-serviced in relation to their needs.

To date, a number of academic research and projects have received funding from the European Commission in support of intra-EU mobility (e.g., Horizonte 2020 – Intra-EU mobility and its impacts for social and economic systems, 2016; DG Justice – Rights, Equality & Citizenship Programme, etc.), combined with initiatives at national and local level. However, as we live in an information-overloaded society dominated by “virtual” channels, for those working on the subject, especially policymakers and practitioners, as well as citizens – perhaps such a network would be of value towards creating a focal/resource point where common understanding of the issues at hand and potential ways forward could be developed. As acknowledge by several speakers in a recent round-table on intra-EU mobility in Brussels[7], information is not enough, rather investment in people towards increase participation is need. What’s more, investment in people through appropriate responses is especially needed within a process of community building based on inclusion, solidarity and forward thinking.

In sum, as we witness challenging times ahead … last but not least, a mechanism in a form of an Intra-EU Mobility Platform could serve as a supporting instrument to the work of the Media and human rights defenders in countering xenophobia and misinformation. In addition, such platform could serve as a viable forum where intra-EU mobile citizens could voice their concerns and share experiences with a wider audience, including potential movers.


Reference: Victor Hugo, “You can resist an invading army; you cannot resist an idea whose time has come.” 

[1] European Commission, ISSN:2529-3281, second edition, May 2017, page 12.

[2] Ibid. page 13.

[3] Ibid.

[4] http://euonthemove.eu

[5] Role of European Mobility and Its Impacts in Narratives, Debates and EU Reforms, European Union’s 2020, http://www.reminder-project.eu

[6] EC Memo, “Questions and Answers – the rights of EU27 and UK citizens post-Brexit, as outlined in the Joint Report from the Negotiators of the European Union and the United Kingdom Government”, 12/12/2017.

[7]“Cities, Regions and Mobile EU Citizens: getting involved in getting involved”, Region & Cities, European Week, 2017 http://ec.europa.eu/regional_policy/opendays/od2005/fo/ViewWorkshop.do?doAction=viewWorkshop&previousDoAction=openFOSearchWorkshopsDialog&workshopId=1e2754f05d0ef6f8015d14883c390171&conferenceId=1e2754f05af7bd32015c9ad616ab000c

2017 International Women’s Day: Support “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50”… ‘because it’s’ 2017


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This month around the globe, we dedicate 1 out of 365 days to celebrate women and girls. This year, the spotlight was in the world of work. As stated in the message by the UN Women Executive Director Phumzile MLambo-Ngcuka,

Achieving equality in the workplace will require an expansion of decent work and employment opportunities, involving governments’ targeted efforts to promote women’s participation in economic life, the support of important collectives like trade unions, and the voices of women themselves in framing solutions to overcome current barriers to women’s participation […]

It also requires a determined focus on removing the discrimination women face on multiple and intersecting fronts over and above their gender […]

Addressing the injustices will take resolve and flexibility from both public and private sector employers. Incentives will be needed to recruit and retain female workers; … support their re-entry into work, […]”[1].

I was highly satisfied with the 2017 IWD focus on work as it aligned with the aims and intentions of this webpage. In addition, greater emphasis is needed to develop, implement and expand concrete initiatives aimed at recruitment, re-entry and retention of women in the labour market, in particular schemes supporting migrant/mobile professional women.

Recalling my last post, mid-career intra-EU mobile jobseekers need the support of employment mobility schemes, such as REACTIVATE[2]. Based on the REACTIVATE call for proposal, this scheme represents a step forward in supporting the unemployed and potential employers. Nevertheless, an important aspect requires clarification regarding specific eligibility criteria for intra-EU mobile jobseekers. That is, are jobseekers wishing to take part in the program only those “seeking a work placement in another EU 28 country” ? Or would an EU citizen already residing in another Member State be eligible? In principle, would unemployed EU citizens already residing in another Member State be eligible to register, thus benefiting from the services of the program?

These questions are raised because numbers of accompanying partners/spouses already relocated and seeking employment could benefit from such comprehensive supporting services geared exclusively to intra-EU mobiles. In light of the realities of intra-EU mobile families, perhaps in future calls or existing programs, the requirement for relocation of candidates could be waved in favor of “the best interest” of jobseekers already residing in another EU Member State.

Based on the UN Women Executive Directors’ call for the “voices of women themselves in framing solutions to overcome current barriers to women’s participation … [along side] incentives needed to recruit and support [the] re-entry [of women] into work”, I would like to put forth the following suggestion:

That both private and public sectors’ employers consider: (1) stepping up their efforts in the recruitment process aimed at greater diversity outcomes in support of female intra-EU mobile citizens and migrant workers[3]; and (2) develop, partner and implement “returnship”/re-entry like programs for women who have undergone a career break due to family care or migration experiences, as suggested in previous posts.

All efforts towards a gender balanced 50/50 world of work and beyond are relevant, ‘Because it’s’ 2017 [4].

[1] See more at: http://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2017/2/statement-ed-phumzile-iwd-2017#sthash.IY5i00Ct.4bvgnpVf.dpuf

[2] http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=629&langId=en&callId=485&furtherCalls=yes

[3] https://highlyskilledmigrantwomen.com/2016/02/01/2016-international-womens-day-women-employment-and-intra-eu-mobility/

[4] “Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s succinct “Because it’s 2015” explanation of his new, half-female cabinet”, Trudeau’s ‘Because it’s 2015’ retort draws international attention, The Globe and mail http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/trudeaus-because-its-2015-retort-draws-international-cheers/article27119856/

“Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee Program”: Operationalizing Innovative and Resourceful Measures to Support Mid-career Professional in Re-entering the Labour Market


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According to the 2016 EUROFOUND report on gender gap and employment in Europe, “The cost of a woman’s exclusion from employment throughout her working life is estimated at between 1.2 million and 2 million, depending on her education level”[1]. Hence, I found myself intrigued and hopeful when I read the following article: “The Youth Guarantee in practice: Tina’s journey from unemployment to her dream job[2]. Furthermore, I was curious if such a scheme could be transferrable to my area of interest; i.e., a successful program aimed at supporting mobile, mid-career professionals seeking job opportunities.

How exciting it was to envision the following story in alignment with such an aspiring goal!

The “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” in practice: Ana’s journey from unemployment to her new job

Ana Gomes was 41, when she moved from her country of origin (somewhere is Southern Europe) to another major EU capital. After one year searching for a job in a field where she had more than 9 years of work experience, she was unable to take part in any special programs for those searching for employment. This was so, since she was not considered as a vulnerable group, long-term unemployed, + 45, etc. In fact, most of the programs offered by the PES (public employment services) in her city of residence focus primarily on youth and low skilled. However, what Ana really needed was a kind of individual counseling/advise commensurable to her skills and experience, instead of the usual “how to write your CV, interview and presentation” skills tailored to young jobseekers. In fact, one of the counselors she saw from a special program for jobseekers told Ana that her motivation letter, CV and experience were perfect for the jobs she was applying, and after the second meeting declared that she could not help her any further.

Language skills were not Ana’s problem, since like many European professionals, she spoke three EU languages fluently. However, perhaps one of her main disadvantages was her lack of professional networks in the place of residence, and opportunities to demonstrate her skills to potential employers.

So after many trials and no success, Ana finally heard of a new program called the “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” scheme aimed at facilitating intra-EU mobile citizens integration to the labour market through an “on-the-job” re-entry program. All Ana needed to qualify for the scheme was: history as a of job-seeker and registration with PES, residence in another EU Member State, +35 years of age, at least 5 years of work experience in her field. As part of the program Ana received tailored support and a job placement for 6 months commensurable to her work experience.

When I first met Ana at the office (into her three months re-entry work experience) she had a big smile and a heart filled with renewed hope in the future. But as she started to talked she said: “When I left my country with a graduate diploma, language skills, more than 9 years of work experience, a vast network of professional acquaintances and some international working experience (pause) … let me tell you, I was confident and certain that I would find a job here and continue to thrive in my career. So when the opportunity came for my partner to move here, I did not hesitate … however, after a year of unemployment and isolation from my professional network, I felt that I made a big mistake in leaving my country towards a “EU adventure”. In fact, I realized that mobility is not always advantageous for those in mid-career path, because you are too old and experience for entry jobs and not so experienced to senior one. In addition, despite being an EU citizen, I am disadvantage when competing for jobs with those who are locally trained and known by potential employers”.

With help from the “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” program, Ana was able to gain a foot inside the industry, and in the process help to raise the awareness of her employer to the fact that many highly skilled mobile women are an added value to the industry. In fact, after three months in the re-entry post Ana started to network with her former professional network back home, in order to facilitate a partnership towards a major project her employer was considering applying, but for which was missing an important partner in the consortium. Her boss admitted that she has never though that highly skilled intra-EU mobiles experienced disadvantages in the labour market, and that perhaps through Ana’s networking and business skills a new partnership will come about that can be very positive to her enterprise.

Within 6 months of completing the “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” program, Ana was able to gain: work experience in the country of destination in her field, access a professional network of colleagues and mentors, gain access to information on the “hidden job” market (including projects in the pipeline), and develop new skills, such as project development.

I am happy to state that at the end of her 6 months program Ana was given a chance to re-integrate into the labour market, as she was able to secure a temporary consultancy position with the company while they are waiting for the project she helped to develop to come through. Ana and her employer hopes that her journey will culminate in a job offer which will secure her a 3 years contract with the company and a prospect for more to come. Now as a consultant she is working full-time in a field that she not only love, but she sees her investment in her studies and work back home paying off. She said: “I am very grateful, because my talent is no longer wasted on being unemployed, I have a renewal hope on my career prospect and future opportunities to contribute to my family, employer and my host community; yet others [like me] are not so lucky, since they don’t have the opportunity to participate in a kind of support program that de facto gives you the opportunity to gain access to the labour market through employment”.

The “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee Program” consists of a six-month’s re-entry work placement for qualified intra-EU mobile workers, age 35+, seeking employment, residing in another EU Member State, and having minimum 5 years of work experience. Placements are commensurable to workers experience and language skills, while support on language training is also offer by the programme. Participants receive a wage subsidy provided by the program, and employers are encouraged to consider them as potential candidates on new openings. Besides on-the-job training employers are encouraged to provide professional network support through for example, mentoring and career supporting activities.

Since it’s launching a year and half ago the pilot “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” program has had more than 300 participants throughout the European Union, with a considerable success rate on labour market integration according to the main implementers, the Public Employment Services and partners. Given its high demand by intra-EU mobile citizens and preliminary evaluation among the employers, this program is due to expand in 2017.

Like Cinderella, this story would be great news if it was, in fact, true. Unfortunately, the “Intra-EU Mobility Guarantee” program does not exist. Unlike in the fictitious story of Ana[3], many highly skilled intra-EU mobiles remain unemployed and without a re-entry program which could, like in the case of ‘Youth Guarantee’, produce concrete results in facilitating the integration into the labour market in another EU Member State and consequently increase the prospect of mobility in the EU.

Fortunately, all this may change. While writing this article, I came across a call for proposals with a new European Commission Program called: REACTIVATE – Intra-EU job mobility scheme for unemployed over 35”[4]. The program aims to support unemployed citizens in the 35+ age group, including long-term unemployed, to help them find a job, traineeship or apprenticeship with at least 6 month duration in another Member State. Reactivate will be featured as an intra-EU labour market activation measure, combining tailor-made recruitment, matching and placement services with financial support for jobseekers and employers (SMEs).

The action supported by the projects shall:

  • deliver a comprehensive, tailor-made package of mobility services, combining customized activation measures with direct financial support to both the target group of EU citizens over 35 years of age and employers (in particular SME’s);
  • include at least information and assistance with offers and vacancies, matching these with candidates and the preparation of the placement /recruitment in a number of Member States involving jobs, apprenticeships and/or traineeships; and
  • provide one or more items of direct financial support to both the target group of EU citizens over 35 years of age and employers (in particular SME’s).”[5]

From my perspective, REACTIVATE is great news! I look forward to reviewing the selected projects. I feel this scheme represents a step forward towards concrete activation measures in supporting jobseekers and potential employers through the process of recruitment, matching and placement services. Congratulation to DG Employment, Social Affairs & Inclusion and European Parliament for supporting this new intra-EU mobility scheme.

As stated in my previous post, current re-entry programs are no panacea. They support qualified and experienced workers gaining back a foot in the labour market after a period of unemployment or transition. However, as in the case of immigrants in Canada and United States, it has been proven that bridge and re-entry programs work. Why not try new creative schemes that support mid-career professionals back into the labour market through on-the-job re-entry?

As expressed in: “Commission Work Programme 2016 – No time for Business as Usual”, “History has shown that Europeans have an inherent capacity to work hard, innovate, to create and to sell their ideas to the world. We cannot afford to lose a generation of this talent and potential.”[6]

In light of the above statement, may public services and other key stakeholders consider establishing a re-entry program consisting of work placements for professional intra-EU mobile citizens, 35+, jobseekers, residing in another Member State in line with the REACTIVATE program as a concrete response towards facilitating access to the labour market, gender equality, diversity and inclusion. After all, first and foremost, Employment is the primary motto for intra-EU mobility while the proportion of highly educated among recent intra-EU movers has increased substantially (from 27% in 2008 to 41% in 2013) [among] all citizenship groups.[7]

May 2017 advance many concrete initiatives in support of highly skilled migrant/mobile job-seekers in Europe, fostering inclusion in opportunities to participate in the labour market, creating true peace, harmony and joy for both the individual as well as their respective family members.

[1] Eurofound (2016), The gender employment gap: Challenges and solutions, Publication Office of the European Union, Luxembourg.

[2] http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?langId=en&catId=89&newsId=2624&furtherNews=yes

[3] Ana Gomes is a fictitious figure, but her story is based on anecdotal accounts by intra-EU mobile professionals and personal experience of the writer.

[4] http://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=629&langId=en&callId=485&furtherCalls=yes

[5] http://www.newslettereuropean.eu/reactivate-new-call-for-proposals-of-eu-job-mobility/

[6] http://ec.europa.eu/atwork/key-documents/index_en.htm

[7] http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_SPEECH-14-622_en.htm

Employment and Diversity: Female Professionals on the Move – An Untapped Pool of Skilled Workers in the European Union


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A number of exposes in recent years have pointed out that professional women, who have had a period of absence from the labour force[1] and want to return, is an untapped pool of skillful workers. However, studies show that those who wish to re-join, face a number of structural challenges, including high unemployment and underemployment rates, as well as more subtle forms of gender and/or age related bias, i.e., perceived lack of commitment, not having an up-to-date technical skills, etc.  As highlighted by Rosati in her piece The Diversity Triangle – Why Women, Businesses and Headhunters Need to Work Better Together”[2]: “As a general rule, rightly or wrongly, men are still viewed as being able to make a full and strong commitment to work, whereas women are often viewed as facing competing priorities, particularly at a senior level.

In an article to HR Magazine by Natalie Bickford, European HR Director at Sodexo[3], she stressed that mid-career level women are finding a struggle to access job opportunities, while there is a need for businesses to move in the direction of enabling this group of professionals to re-enter the labour market. While concurring with Bickford, in my opinion this message also goes for employers in the public sector as they are one of the main sectors employing a large number of female professional workers; i.e., social services, health, education as well as public policy and programmes. The appropriate incorporation of experienced mid-level career professionals is an important feature when trying to increase the participation of women in the work force in Europe[4], as we face demographic changes; i.e., ageing population, combined with the need to step-up productivity.

However, what can be done to mitigate this challenge and create a win-win solution?  To my knowledge, most experiences in support of women re-entering the labour market have been those programs which focus primarily on returnee professional mothers.  In my opinion, the group of highly skilled intra-EU mobile/migrant women  is  still overlooked by those in search of professional workers; i.e., employers or by those in support services for jobseekers; i.e., public employment offices. Based on evidence from studies on highly skilled migrant women and on-going research[5], female highly skilled intra-EU mobile and migrant jobseekers’, may share a similar feature to those of mothers wishing to return to the labour market, that is, a non-linear career trajectories, ‘loss’ touch with relevant professional networks, and a “career-break” triggered by mobility/migration. Moreover, through the process of mobility/migration, female highly- skilled workers, may also experience a number of additional hurdles or disadvantages; i.e., lack of support with childcare responsibilities, employment services which do not understand their experience and diverse talents, which makes their re-entry experience even more challenging compared to their non-mobile peers.

Bickford is insightful in her analysis that business is not pulling their weight on supporting and promoting mid-career level women who want to return to the labour market.  I can add that neither are public institutions offering specific programs for mid-career level mobile jobseekers. As echoed in this webpage, there is an absence of appropriate programs for mid-career level jobseekers on the mobile path, in particular intra-EU mobiles. Mid-career returnees on the mobile path can certainly benefit from dedicated programs aimed at integration into the labour market, instead of the on-going programs for jobseekers which do not take into consideration the specificities of this group; i.e., age, background, years of work experience and hurdles related to mobility. For example, take the experience of special programs for returning mothers which offers a kind of re-entry program aimed at labour market integration.

So why are such programs  not offered to mobile/migrant mid-level career women? Business could certainly profit from both the international skills and years of professional experience that those women can bring to the table. In fact, in Europe, for intra-EU mobile workers, there are no hurdles for employers  related to work permits or cumbersome accreditation of qualifications from abroad. For those interested in promoting diversity and inclusion, this is a group that owns a multiple edge – age, European/international background and gender, combined with professional experience.

The first step in a fruitful business proposal is to recognise an unmet opportunity. However, he next step is even more critical. How will it work? As such, it is vital to work towards establishing and implementing appropriate programs and matching mechanisms which can serve both the business rationale for suitable and experienced workers, as well as identify potential candidates that can be recruited and engaged in a timely manner. This successful,  avoids the impasse of “too young to retire; too old to rehire”[6].

Retirement age everywhere in Europe is increasing given extended life expectancy. This is resulting in an increase in human capital pressures and costs to the public health system.  One might ask: What is the percentage of work performed by the public employment services on case management aimed at matching employers and potential highly skilled candidates?

I understand that such services are very difficult and time consuming to perform. However,  based on evidence at hand, when this takes place, the chances to increase the number of employed individuals is higher[7] compared to other services, such as skills upgrading without a connection to an specific job, CV writing, or preparation for an interview. There is a need to balance the disproportional emphasis on the “skills debate”, which many times is based on employers’ surveys on what they want versus what are the jobs being offered.

I submit an alternative option – focus on improving job-matching services and increase dialogue with business towards multiplying the potential for an appropriate matching. After all, as we have seen in the migration debate, “labour shortage” and demand for specific workers may not always be a problem of “availability of workers”. It may well be related to structural issues[8], such as: recruitment costs, inability to identify the right candidate, low wages and work contracts which may not attract the right candidate[9], etc.

Based on anecdotal accounts commencing with my research in 2011, it strongly suggests that mid-career mobile jobseekers are finding it extremely challenging to re-enter the labour market.  There are a number of reasons for this, including: lack of appropriate language skills, period of absence from the labour market (sometimes due to mobility) and the struggle to find opportunities of employment in accordance to their professional experience and in their location/economic sector.  In fact, it  is  astonishing to see on several online employment databases how many positions there are for internships in professional fields as  social science, communications, just to name a few compared to mid-level jobs in project management.

We are certainly living in times of transition, in which the certainties, experienced by the graduate “baby-boomers”, no longer holds true. According to some analysts, the economic crisis has only exacerbated the speed in which things are changing. It has shed light on the challenges we are now facing in the labour market and the economy with its increasing level of inequality felt so strongly by the middle class.

However, not all is “doom & gloom”. We are also living in extraordinary times in which acquisition of knowledge can be at our disposal as a vehicle for positive changes – provided there is a will and the resources to implement them. With years of trans-national collaboration, through the support of the European Commission, funding mechanisms and programs in the area of research, integration and employment,  have  been learned and exchanged in terms of good practices. In addition, from a gender perspective, Wittenberg-Cox in a recent article for Harvard Business Review “What Work Looks Like for Women in Their 50’s” stated: “Some companies are recognizing that a more gender-balanced talent pool requires a rethink of career phases, and are extending the age of talent identification from the 20s through the 40s … [while] becoming flexible enough to enable their (relatively) late blooming, tapping into a potent new force in global business. For these smart, innovative employers, the silver decades may yield gold.”

Thus, there is a need to intensify the implementation of appropriate practices that can mitigate the persistent challenges of integration into the labour market of diverse groups in a sustainable way, such as the scaling –up and intensification of one-on-one services for jobseekers, as well as special programs that can facilitate entry, retention, and advancement into the labour market of mid-career professionals.

My topic of ‘female highly skilled mobility’ is still under-research. It is exciting to explore the evidence-based studies of barriers faced by non-mobile professional women in the labour market and on support programs for immigrants.  They have afforded me examples of true inspiration and  good practices, which I believe could be adapted to  support  intra-EU mobile professionals.

For example, in 2011 while researching for a project proposal on integration of women into the labour market, I came across the example of a “Returnship Program” for career breakers[10]. Merging the examples from this proposal while adding  my own experience on migration and integration, I  developed a project facilitating the creation of  a programme that could function as a vehicle in support of mobile highly skilled jobseekers as well as  potential employers, serving both diversity and labour market integration.  Unfortunately, in 2011 that idea was ahead of its time. The pragmatic ideas were dismissed   mostly due to the lack of evidence showing the exact numbers (data) and specific challenges this group experienced as they sought employment in other countries in the EU.

As a result of this experience, I shifted the focus of my research to the subject of intra-EU mobility of highly skilled women’s integration into the labour market. This webpage grew out of this passion with the intention of raising awareness of the significant challenges which effect a great deal of professional women on the mobile path.

The fact is that matching supply and demand is an essential element which makes it possible for all of us to contribute in a meaningful way to society. We live in times of competing priorities and agendas facing a standstill, or worse, a deterioration of women’s advancement in the workplace. So that crises’ do not overwhelm or displace the important issues, it is paramount to keep our attention on our intentions for gender equality and employment opportunities.

The workforce pipeline combined with outward barriers for women who aspire to senior management positions, may not be consider by some as a “crisis” worth tackling. However, evidence in the results of the 2015 CEO Success Study by PwC show: “Only 10 women were among the 359 incoming CEOs at the world’s 2500 largest companies in 2015 at 2.8%, that was the lowest share since 2011.[11] (!). These findings lead to the article, “2015: Not the Year of Women CEO”, which underlines:  “Despite this year’s reversal, we [the authors] remain confident that demographic, educational, and societal forces will continue to promote greater diversity in the C-suite.”[12] I wish I could share the same optimism. Unfortunately, based on the World Economic Forum 2015-Global Gender Gap Report, the progress on gender equality is rather slow and more efforts are needed.

Finally, on gender equality and diversity, one often hears that there is “a lack of women in high positions to choose from”. This leads me to believe  that unless society is able to address the workforce pipeline, one may never “have enough” talent to choose from no matter how much society has changed or women have surpassed men in numerical terms as university graduates. Well argued by Roseti: (2014) Recruiters and search firms have a responsibility to produce balanced shortlists and find suitably qualified female candidates. Recruiters have to be willing to challenge their client’s brief or the required skills, but ultimately clients are the final decision makers and they are the ones who have to make the changes […], there are many talented women out there and recruiters need to be prepared to look beyond the obvious to find the exceptional.

I end this piece offering a challenge to potential employers, HR personnel and service providers supporting jobseekers. The next time you are about to engage in a recruitment process, among your potential candidates, consider a female, highly-skilled, mobile/migrant worker.

I look forward to engaging in a dialogue with potential supporters wishing to collaborate in the Integration Project mentioned above. I would also welcome constructive dialogue and exchange of ideas on this topic with the aim of creating practical, pragmatic outcomes. Together we can co-create the change we wish to see on gender equality, diversity and greater employment opportunities in the European Union.

A heartfelt thank you!



[1] Reference in particular to professional women who have “left” the labour market to care for family members.

[2] Carol Rosati, Posted: 11/02/2014 10:32 GMT Updated: 12/04/2014 10:59 BST

[3] “Natalie Bickford: Women are Struggling to re-enter the world of work”, HR Magazineonline, Sep.2015, http://www.hrmagazine.co.uk/article-details/natalie-bickford-women-are-struggling-to-re-enter-the-world-of-work

[4]European Commission, “Growth potential of EU human resources and policy implications for future economic growth”, 2013.

[5] Riano, Kofman, Zulaef, Ackers, Liversage and others (see reference), as well as my on-going research on intra-EU mobility of professional women.

[6] Polyak, I “ Quite a dilemma: Too young to retire, too old to rehire”, 2015 http://www.cnbc.com/2015/01/10/quite-a-dilemma-too-young-to-retire-too-old-to-rehire.html

[7] Ichino, A., G. Schwerdt, R. Winter-Ebmer, and J. Zweimuller, “Too Old to Work, Too Young to Retire?”, IZA DP No. 3110, 2007, Behncke, S., M. Frolich, and M. Lechner, “Public Employment Services and Employers: How important are Networks with Firms?”, IZA DP No. 3005, also Reports on Long-Term Unemployed (See Reference Page)

[8] Cangiano, A. “Migrant Care Workers in Ageing Societies: Research Findings in the UK”, CAMPAS, University of Oxford, 2009.

[9] Gabriel, Yiannis “Job Loss and its Aftermath among Managers and Professionals: Wonded, Fragmented and Flexible”, Work, Employment and Society, 27(1), 2013

[10] Cohen, C. Fisman and V. Steir Rabin, “Back on the Career Track”, 2007

[11] http://www.strategyand.pwc.com/ceosuccess#VisualTabs3

[12] http://www.strategy-business.com/article/2015-Not-the-Year-of-the-Woman-CEO?gko=20b3e