March 8th 2022: International Women’s Day

The place of women is at the heart of our society today. For a long time, women were relegated to the home. In the 70’s, the question of the active woman was still a debate among men: “Women who work, if it’s to help in the household, fine, but if they stay at home, it’s just as well”, they said, “they shouldn’t work because they can’t do two things at the same time, work and the household, that’s not possible”; the woman was not really free to make her own choices… (Doc Ina) But fortunately our place was taken! However, fifty years later, inequalities persist, whether in everyday life, at home or at work. To celebrate Women’s Day, this 8th of March 2022, we have chosen to meet some of you, to evaluate the evolution of the women’s position, to see the possible improvements, the perspectives that would improve the life of each of us. ALEBA has also chosen to talk specifically about endometriosis during the European Week of Prevention and Information on Endometriosis (from 7 to 13 March), to give visibility to this subject which affects so many women (1 in 10 women). ALEBA welcomes the EU’s willingness to encourage its Member States to address the issue ( ALEBA also supports the measures concerning the situation of women suffering from the disease in Luxembourg (recognition of the disease, additional leave, assistance, etc.).

Portraits of some women from ALEBA

Josiane Kremer has been working at BGL BNP Paribas for 36 years, where she has been an ALEBA delegate since 2003 (ALEBA member since 1986) and also represents us at the CSL. She is currently working in HR in administration. She would like to see more positions of responsibility given to women. And she has already experienced discrimination: “Every time I asked for improvements to the programmes I was using, the answer was “no budget available to do so”, hence I was never allowed to save time and had to encode and manage manually”. She advises young women to negotiate their salary.       Martine Birmann worked for 39 years at BIL and is now in the individual market, Head of private banking north and south. She has used a lot of patience and perseverance to get, as she says so well, “the position that is due to me”. She had to fight and often saw men being appointed before her. It is her fighting spirit and her optimism that have enabled her to get to where she is today. As for improving the status of women, she believes that it can only get better, the key is education. On the subject of endometriosis, one of the themes of Women’s Day, she says: “It is an important subject and one that needs to be known… Often men do not know what women endure and do not even know about the disease”. The final word for all of us: “Never give up, stay optimistic, join together as women”.           Christine Scholl-Gonner, is a married woman with three children who has been working in the financial centre for 39 years. She is a first-time ALEBA staff representative (for health and safety). She started her career in the Nostro (accounting department) and after two years moved to the IT department (at that time male-dominated). She has always had a passion for IT, but as she did not study in this field, she attended evening classes for the first 10 years. She continued in this direction and is now in the IT helpdesk. She has a lot of know-how, but has had to adapt to changes in technology as well as to changes in departments and various changes in the company. But each change was an opportunity for her to face new challenges. However, she has never experienced discrimination and has always had the chance to be recognised for her professionalism, knowledge and commitment. But she had to assert herself from the beginning: “During my first years in an all-male department, a boss at first considered me as the secretary of the department, and once asked me to make him coffee. I told him: “Sir, if you drink the coffee I make, you won’t drink much of it.” So he ended up making his own coffee.” Regarding inequalities, the first one that comes to mind is that of salaries, she deplores the fact that women still earn less than men in general for equal skills and positions. The concern is that it is difficult to compare her salary with that of her colleagues, which is kept secret, and therefore to prove this inequality. But she is not giving up hope; for her, the situation for women has already improved significantly. Delphine Nicolay has been an employee of The Bank of New York Luxembourg SA since 2004. President of the Staff Delegation, she is in her 3rd mandate: paid delegate since August 2021 (before that she was Lead Analyst in internal control). She is the General Secretary of ALEBA since May 2021. Concerning inequalities at work, in her bank, she has never felt it. At BNYM Luxembourg, many women have access to positions of responsibility, so she does not feel any real difference in treatment between genders. But when she was younger, she was confronted by a misogynistic man and had to leave her job because of it. But with hindsight and experience, she would no longer let this happen to her. Although she herself no longer suffers from discrimination as a woman, she meets many others through ALEBA who experience it on a daily basis in their workplace: touching or worse. A recourse for her would be to be able to speak out at the first opportunity, but unfortunately, the shock often makes them wait too long to succeed in speaking out: their delegates or someone from the union are there to help them though. Points for improvement: For Delphine, companies should be more transparent with staff delegations, by providing figures on their workforce, and statistics on gender, wages. They could then let the delegations carry out a statistical analysis and then take into account the comments that emerge. Similarly, for endometriosis, which is affecting more and more young girls, but which is still very little known, special leave should be granted to these women, and the illness should be recognised as a long-term condition. But fortunately mentalities are changing! “Forty years ago, there were many housewives, but today it is becoming rarer”, and as far as daily life is concerned: “You have to say what’s on your mind, don’t brood. Don’t hesitate to delegate, even at home: the boys we raise today will be the men of tomorrow”. And one last piece of advice to share with us: “Negotiate your wages! My mother taught me when I was a child that a woman must be financially independent. So you mustn’t give up, combining family life and work is one thing, but you must also be able to appreciate what you do, which is not always easy!” Colette Weber, 55 years old, married with two children, has been working for Foyer Assurances for 36 years. She is a Senior Advisor in the Sales Department. She has only had one employer and has therefore benefited from internal mobility. Moreover, the restructuring has prevented her work from becoming monotonous: “You mustn’t be discouraged and look forward, not be afraid of the new. On the contrary, it’s a chance for professional and private fulfilment”. She has always been respected as a woman in her work. But for her, a point of progression would be the salary and a good balance between private and professional life. This could be implemented on a daily basis through advice on reconciling work and private life, training on well-being, and round tables for exchange. The situation for her will improve further. Young women today are well trained and know what they want, the majority of them will make their way. One piece of advice: “Take care of your health and look for a good balance between your private life and your job. Particularly with regard to endometriosis: “Their colleagues must understand their suffering and support them. It’s important to talk about it and inform”. But what worries her most is the situation of women in other countries where they have no rights and depend on their husbands. She thinks a lot about what has happened in Afghanistan, about women who have known life in freedom and are now forced to submit to oppression and suffering: “On 8 March I think especially about these women.”   We thank these exceptional women for their testimonies, and think well of all our friends, colleagues and all women on this day. Have a great day to all women! by Rebecca Mansard