A RARE BREED: Presidents of Lithuania and Finland, Dalia Grybauskaite and Tarja Halonen attend a press conference during ‘Women Enhancing Democracy’ on June 30.
VILNIUS - From street-level handicraft and amber sales, to the president of the country, the surface visibility of Lithuanian women in business remains higher than in most European Union nations. This said, President Dalia Grybauskaite has warned at a ‘Women Enhancing Democracy’ delegation, attended by high-level officials and government heads, including U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and President of Finland Tarja Halonen, in Vilnius on June 30, that the numbers of women in prominent workplace roles was still far from enough.
While 91 percent of Lithuanian females have attained secondary and higher education, among the peak standards in the EU, the top jobs still evade them. In many key sectors, equality numbers are polarizing.
“Lithuania is lagging in the number of female members on business company boards. This is the paradox. Women make up less than 17 percent among the CEOs [chief executive officers] in business. Women make up only 18 percent of those elected to our parliament,” announced Grybauskaite during opening statements.
Debates took place over the course of the conference, investigating strategies of how to enhance women’s economic independence in Lithuania and globally, with heated views taken on male hierarchies apparent throughout European workplaces.
“Women are there, in every sphere, but there must be more,” Finnish Ombudsman Eva Biaudet told a panel, which included the (male) president of Mongolia, Tsakhia Elbegdorj. She called upon the panel to “Tell the others: ‘I want to be rich.’ We want to be successful, we want to have power.”
According to officials at the conference, a key to economic independence for women in Lithuania, and indeed worldwide, started not from the top, but from microfinancing ground-level entrepreneurs and independent projects, in poverty stricken and statistically embattled social echelons.
Finnish President Halonen, during a joint press conference with the Lithuanian leader, gave her impression of how, if the right opportunities for funding and social environments were put into place by individual governments, entrepreneurial women could achieve equal success in business sectors as their male counterparts.
“A woman doesn’t have to be doubly as good as a man. It’s enough if she does the same amount of good. We can change the world, and we can change society, but we must do it together,” she said, seemingly discounting a point from Grybauskaite’s opening speech to the conference, where she mentioned, “Whatever women do, they must do it twice as well as men to be thought of as half as good.”
Though Finland’s and Lithuania’s leaders may differ on certain opinions, in both countries women earn 20 percent less than men doing the same job.
“Research indicates that if we eliminated salary discrimination in the EU, we could expect the GDP to rise by 30 percent,” speculated Grybauskaite. “We can just imagine what the growth of the economy could be in the societies of emerging democracies and uprising regions if women were involved in business and were paid equally.”
Another sector in Lithuania where women remain absent from top positions was, ironically enough due to higher education statistics, the academic world. “About 13 percent of associate professors are women, but only two percent in Lithuania go on to receive a full professorship. That means among 2,500 female researchers, there are around 100 females who have been granted a full professorship. This means something bad for all the education [system],” relayed professor and director of the Gender Studies Center at Vilnius University, Dalia Leinarte.
Though gaps in workplace equality were evident, what was projected from the Lithuanian labor market onto the international stage was promising, with female leaders as prominent as Clinton praising the nations progress as a “trailblazer.”
“Just look at Lithuania today. […] It is setting a high standard for the rest of us: A female president, a female speaker of parliament, a female finance minister, and a female defense minister. Why, pretty soon they’re going to start comparing Lithuania to Finland,” joked the U.S. politician.
Last year, Finland ranked third on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, out of 134 countries, with Lithuania coming in still relatively strong at position 35. The report based its findings on the statistical divides between genders in the fields of education, health, economics and politics.
“We can look at this region and see an enormous amount of progress. But let’s be very honest with ourselves. There is still a long way to travel,” furthered Clinton.
In the current climate of open borders and globalization, examples of Lithuanian women occupying high-profile business positions were evident as far abroad as USA and Australia.
General Manager of the leading Australian government body, the Sydney Harbor Foreshore Authority, Australian-Lithuanian Egle Zizyte, said that despite the small number of Lithuanians in Australia (below 10,000), women of Lithuanian origin have had remarkable success in professions, academia and government. Though she noted, despite the distance, gender statistics between the countries were equivalent.
“Statistically, Australian women occupy few major corporation board positions, as in Lithuania,” said Zizyte, who believed the successes of Lithuanian women in Australia were due to their high-levels of educational attainment.