Category Archives: Management

Women in the Commission

Some interesting stats have come my way relating to women in policy grades and management positions in the European Commission. I find them particularly interesting because they start the first year I joined.

The first table refers to all policy grades.

Women in policy grades in the EC

When I joined 23.9% of policy grade post-holders were women and now 41.6% are. So that’s a clear improvement. It’ll be interesting to see if the introduction of the new format entrance exams affects those figures in the future.

Next table is women in middle management, that is heads of section, deputy heads of unit and heads of unit. I’m not sure whether my current position as head of sector in a rep counts as a middle management job, but this is the kind of job I would expect to have when I leave London in a few year’s time.

Women in middle management in the EC

This shows that women are under-represented at middle management in the Commission. This is of course logical, as the figure for women in middle management in 2010 is broadly the same as the figure for all policy grade women in 1995. As it takes about 10-15 years to work your way up to those grades, that makes sense (at least on one level). Will that trend continue? Will it take to 2025 to see 40% of middle management posts occupied by women?

The final graph is women at senior management level, that is Director, Deputy Director-General, Director-General.

Women in senior management posts in EC

Here growth has been steeper, aside from the drop in 2004, which is probably due to new senior level posts and occupants from the new entrant countries (I don’t know whether they have a better or worse record on equality, though the figures suggest “worse” at least at senior level). While 22% certainly looks a lot better than 4%, it still means that 78% of jobs are going to men.

Clearly the overall situation has improved. But there is still a way to go for young women in policy grades to feel that they have role models in the upper echelons. The Commission has undoubtedly sought to introduce policies that allow a better reconciliation of work and family life (flexi- and tele-working, discouraging late evening meetings etc) but I still have the feeling that this is only dealing with some of the problem. Work/life balance affects women, certainly, but men have children too, and also have a lot to gain from family-friendly HR policies. And not all women have children. Encouraging women to apply for senior positions, and having a system in place that recognises a variety of experience and approach (rather than having a specific-shaped peg in mind) are both important as well.

I’m sure there are more profound things to say about these figures, and I’d like to hear them.

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The Mighty Quins

I had my first taste of season-ticket-holding Rugby League this weekend, when I headed to the Twickenham Stoop to watch Harlequins absolutely walk all over Warrington Wolves – 60-8 was the final score and 4 of those came from a try that was an individual run longer than the length of the pitch. Good stuff. Given that my sporting event recent past has been World Cups and various games at the Millennium stadium, I seriously over-estimated the crowd – max 3000, pretty much all of whom were in the one stand. But there was loads of noise, and a great atmosphere. Certainly a family game and a much less intimidating atmosphere than the last football game I was at. So I’m looking forward to a summer of Rugby League! One thing though – why have Quins nicked and rewritten the worst chant ever? “We’re Leeds Rhinos, we’re Leeds Rhinos” is now done as “We’re Quins RL, we’re Quins RL”. They did have loads of good chants, so why nick the worst one ever in any sport?! I particularly liked “can we play you every week” and “are you Salford in disguise”? Not highly original, but still funny.

Back to work today and the big boss was in town, Commission President José Manuel Barroso. We organised a press lunch for him, with some of the leading political and economic commentators, which was really interesting. Best bit for me was the team spirit – Nik getting the catering sorted at very short notice, David heading to Number 10 very early this morning and all the work he did on getting these august people along, Anastasia the intern happily jumping in to do rubbish jobs like taking coats and photocopying, Albena dealing with all the daily work of the office as we all ran around sorting out last minute arrangements. It’s a great feeling to have such a good team. And Emilia came back from maternity leave – it’s lovely to have her back. Now we just need Jen to come back from holiday next week and we’ll be at full strength.

Terrible news from Madagascar. I have a particular interest there, as my father was British Ambassador during the last crisis, when Ravalomanana was elected and there was gunfire and explosions on Tana… It’s like history repeating itself, the mayor of Tana takes on the President. Though the difference this time is that the president was elected. It’s such a shame for that country, which is the most amazing place I have ever been. I’m hopefully going to the next meeting of the Anglo-Malagasy Society on 1 April, so will find out more then.

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Nothing else matters

Like I think pretty much everyone in the whole wolrd except Michael O’Leary, I couldn’t believe the reports that Ryanair are thinking about charging for use of in-flight bogs. Is that actually legal? But there is a good side – the endless creativity and humour that people can bring to bear to these kind of situations – look at this great blog post. Also enjoyed Gideon Rachman’s piece in the FT on losing his euroscepticism (not that I ever had him pegged as one!) I also love the fact that I found out about both of these via Twitter. (and they’re easier to find when you’re not been bombarded by Tweets from Stephen Fry on a donkey somewhere…)

Reason for the title is that i saw Metallica last night at the O2. Great stuff, proper old-fashioned rock, with huge flames and lasers and generally ROCK silliness. I also realised that I clearly play my bass with my legs far too close together and my guitar far too high up my body. Not like Robert Trujillo at all:

What a rock bassist should look like

What a rock bassist should look like

Loads of stories today in that white noise way we sometimes have to do things. A new campaign to highlight the iniquities of the gender pay gap is being launched – an issue that really needs to be highlighted, as it’s only going to get worse with the recession, as the types of jobs that women are generally in (part-time, services) are among the first to go. Here in the rep we’re hosting an event bringing together the new round of Life+, environmental projects financed by the EU budget. More about that later, either here or on our website, as our new intern, Anastasia, is following the event.

Lots of admin on my desk though – tenders for media montoring, planning documents for our internal use and Brussels, and recruitment to replace Greta who left last week. Best get back to it.

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The Sound of Silence

I’ve been very remiss about writing the blog recently, but as I pointed out previously, there’s a fine balance between being busy enough to have something to write about, and being too busy to find the time. We’re missing several members of staff at the moment, for a variety of reasons, so its been mayhem around here. There’s lots more admin in this job than when you’re a Spokesperson, and that has to get done. Also fewer press officers around means fewer people to answer the phone, so more time dealing with queries from the press. Not that I complain about that – it’s the best bit of the job (next to going to the National Theatre or, in the case of tonight, the Whitechapel Gallery!).

Also the health problem from last week is still around – no news from the NHS about the scan I was supposed to be booked in for, so will try a GP again tomorrow. Here’s hoping I don’t get sent to A&E YET again…

Had a lovely weekend in Brussels. On Friday night I got there in time to catch the second half of the Brussels Shakespeare Society’s Othello. A nice day with the Best Mate on Saturday, then went to my friend Michiel’s 40th that evening – we were at college together, and have known each other almost 20 years, so it was a real night for catching up with your past! On Sunday Best Mate had invited two other friends round for lunch – we were all feeling a bit ropey, so it was the laziest Sunday imaginable, finishing up with watching all 4 hours of the BBC’s adaptation of North and South. I won’t try to pretend that the main attraction was anything other than Richard Armitage looking moody!

My mother is visiting from France at the moment, and it’s been lovely having her here. Hopefully we’re off to a Korean on Friday and the Rugby League on Saturday, then she heads home on Sunday.

We’ve got quite a few Commissioners in town in the next two weeks, so we’re busy managing their media schedules, trying to fulfill interview requests we’ve had, or set up new ones. There have also been some interesting stories around, such as reducing the accounting requirements for very small companies.

There’s been a lot around about sheep tagging as well, but that’s a long story, so I’ll deal with that tomorrow.

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Local hero(es)

I attended an interesting meeting this morning at the Westminster Media Forum, on the future of local media. I missed the beginning, and am not sure what the rules it was done under, so won’t go into too much detail about who said what. But it was extremely interesting. It focused on issues of delivery (there was a fairly mind-blowing session by some top bod at Ofcom about spectrum allocation, which was liberally sprinkled with acronyms!) and also content. There was someone from an organisation called mysociety.org which is definitely worth knowing about. A source of information for any journalist, but especially ones looking at local issues. Another speaker raised an issue that I think is very topical: How will the rise in User Generated Content, on-line information etc impact on the “watchdog” role of journalists – the role they play in holding public authorities, businesses and others to account?

It did get me thinking (you’ll be surprised to hear…) about the terms we use. Like here, you might conceive of a hierarchy of local/regional/national/European. But so many things that we deal with are regional or national stories without ever being national. Not just in terms of the work with do with local bodies to fund local projects, but also thinks like fishing quotas, or electronic identification of sheep or ship dismantling. That was why I wanted to go along to the event, and why someone in our team will from next year be looking at developing our services for local media.

We had our Christmas reception last night, with lots of the people we’ve worked with during the year there. For the press section that meant our media monitoring people, the Foreign Press Association, the Association of European Journalists, past team members (both recent and longer ago), people from the Arsenal Double Club, working journalists (Brian Hanrahan added a bit of celebrity to the event!),a couple of guys from the National Theatre. I also met some new people – a researcher working on a European project, a nice Dutch woman from a think-tank and a somewhat over-exuberant architect! It was a really pleasant evening, and also crazy to see how many people there are working in this fairly niche area that I just don’t know!

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Christmas is coming…

Isn’t it just. I suppose now that it is actually December it’s allowed, but it does seem to have snuck up a bit – where did November go?! Anyway, here’s a little bit of Christmas cheer from the London rep:  showcasing the best in young film talent from around the EU, an interactive advent calendar.

I was just in Brussels for a few days with a group of journalism students who were interested in finding out about how the EU works. It was great to be back and to see friends and colleagues, but there was no regret about the decision to come and work here at the Rep – any regret I did feel was for not being able to see my great friends more often. The students seemed to get a lot out of it, and they got access to some really good people while there, as well as having a day on the streets of Brussels talking to people about the role of the EU in that city.

The run-up to the end of the year is getting pretty packed, with Christmas events, of course, but also getting things finalised here budget-wise, several top-level visits and trying to organise things for a smooth start to 2009.

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These are crazy crazy crazy crazy nights

Sorry it’s been so long, but the last few days have been a bit mad. On Thursday and Friday I was up in the North-East, representing the European Commission at an event for local authorities, universities and businesses in that region, to highlight possible sources of European funding and where to fgo for assistance and advice on policy areas of interest to them. I also took the opportunity to meet some of the regional press – it’s always good to make human contact with someone, and the regional press tend to have a strong interest in some issues that don’t make it into the national dailies, such as farming or some industrial issues, as well as the obvious regional funding aspects. I was at my friend Clare’s engagement party on Friday night, which was a lovely opportunity to catch up with some people I haven’t seen since my landlords left. On Sunday my friend Kathryn came round for lunch with her little boy Sam, who is a little sweetheart. That evening I containued my advantage-taking of London’s cultural scene by going to the Electric Proms (not the Oasis gig, but rather the Introducing… night featuring new bands. Headliners were the really-rather-good Pete and the Pirates.)

Monday started with a meeting at the London Development Agency, to plan an event in early December with the Regional Policy Commissioner. If Kissinger joked that he didn’t know who to call in Europe, he would enjoy talking to London people… I think three or 4 acronyms were chucked at us during the meeting!

Tuesday was CRAZY! Meglena Kuneva, the Consumer Affairs Commissioner was in London and we had set up visits to the Watchdog and You and Yours stdios. I had to meet her and her team at St. Pancras at 9.38. I left Balham at 8.30 and at 9-ish was sat at London Bridge. For quite a while. Just as I began to panic, the voice came over the intercom “Northern Line suspended, please seek alternative routes”. Oh and by the way the Victoria line was stuffed as well. (This was after taking 90 minutes to get to Camden from Balham on Sunday. I am so over the Northern Line).  So I went haring up the escalators, out onto Borough High Street, and jumped into a cab, which took 10 minutes to get from London Bridge to Bank! By this time I was getting seriously panicky about whether I was going to make the meeting at all. Luckily the cabbie tok pity on a fellow South-Londoner and hot-footed it up to Kings Cross, making it with 3 minutes to spare! then it was into the car and off to the BBC’s media centre. We had a really interesting hour or so with the Watchdog team in their shiny new studio and got a real insight into the work they do and how they organise themselves. then back in the car to Broadcasting House to visit the You and Yours Team. The Commissioner was interviewed for the programme, and then we headed over to the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform, where she met the Minister. I then had to shake tail up to Emirates Stadium for a meeting of the Languages steering group, linked to the Double Club, a meeting I was over an hour late for, which I hate so much. we were in a box overlooking the pitch though, which was very cool! After that meeting, I went to meet Kate in their press office to talk about the Brussels visit, which is next week. I then got a call from the office asking if I could do an interview on Radio 5Live’s Richard Bacon programme, which would mean going into their studio at…wait for it…11.45 at night! I said I’d do it, because it was on a campaign that Sainsbury’s are doing to get us to drop rules on fruit and veg marketing standards which we’ve arelady said we’re going to do. So at half ten I headed over to the BBC, sat around for a while and then did the piece which lasted all of about 2 minutes! Then home again to bed. Crazy night, indeed.

So today has been my first proper day in the office for a week. I spent it sorting through e-mails and just getting organised – things really pile up when you’re out for so long. We had our weekly planning meeting today as welll, which is always good for getting our heads straight about what’s coming up. Off this evening to meet this year’s recipients of the One World Media Fellowships - looking forward to talking to the Fijian, in particular, as my parents lived there and I visited several times.

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The sound of silence

Sorry, have been very negligent in my blog-writing duties. It’s not even that we’ve been totally swamped with work. It’s been quite busy, but in a very bitty way, doing a lot of admin and financial procedures for the various events that we have coming up before the end of the year and doing a lot of planning, so we are on top of upcoming issues. It’s my mantra that it’s better to plan what you can and give yourself the space to deal with last-minute emergencies rather than being in a permanent state of stress because everything is being dealt with at the last minute. It seems to be working quite well, though as long as most people in Brussels operate at the last minute, there’s not much we’re going to be able to do. Which is what is nice about this job. We are dependent on Brussels for the majority of our work, but at the same time there’s a lot that’s in our own hands and so we manage that as best we can.

We’ve been meeting all week with providers of contact databases for journalists, as our contract is up and a new tender is underway. I’ve never used one of these before, so it has been interesting to see what systems are out there. Looking forward to sorting it all out and starting work with one of these systems, which will hopefully allow us to manage our contacts with journalists better.

The telly in the office has had unprecedented levels of pictures of Brussels on it. The summit was given practically blanket coverage on News24 – have you ever seen a Berlaymont VIP corner live on British TV? Great stuff.  My favourite moment was when they covered live Angela Merckel’s comments to the press as she went in. In German. Without subtitles/interpretation. Cue lots of confused looking people in the BBC studio, saying things like, well I have German O-level but didn’t understand a word. Heehee.

Took advantage of the lovely weather to go for a walk this lunchtime, over Westminster Bridge, along the river, back over Lambeth Bridge and past the Houses of Parliament. We bumped into George Parker, Political Editor of the FT and former bureau chief in Brussels, which is always a pleasure.

I’ve got the house to myself at the moment, as the Housemate is away on a work trip which he is turning into a long weekend. Not that I’ve got much planned. Tomorrow I’m going to go to the meeting of the Anglo-Malagasy Society, sort of representing my father, sort of for myself (looking forward to the Zebu sarnies…!) Sunday I’ll be round at my aunt’s for lunch. It’ll be great to catch up with her. Otherwise a very quiet weekend ahead.

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The financial storm

Reading this blog recently, you might wonder whether I’m even aware of what’s going on in the world at the moment. Naturally, the answer is “of course I am”. It’s just that it hasn’t had a very direct impact on us. These things are going on at a different level to an office like ours. But my colleagues in Brussels are certainly feeling it! When I was back there last week, it dominated discussions at our midday briefing, with several of my former colleagues involved: Jonathan on competition issues, Oliver on regulation of financial markets and Amelia on central bank coordination.

It’s a real challenge doing a job like this at a time like this, when there is only one real story on the news. Of course, we’ll often try to make the link with that story, or focus on issues that are relevant. But there will always be interesting things that go unnoticed that at another time might have got more coverage. An example today was the announcment on strengthening consumer rights. The proposals cover a whole range of issues of concern to consumers such as clear information on price, additional charges and fees before they sign a contract. They will also strengthen consumer protection against late delivery and non-delivery, and set out EU-wide consumer rights on issues such as cooling off periods, returns, refunds, repairs and guarantees and unfair contract terms. This isn’t just a consumer story though – it’s a business story too, because with a clearer system in place across Europe, there will be greater opportunities for selling Europe-wide, especially online.

Went to the National Theatre last night, to see The Year of Magical Thinking. A tour de force performance from Vanessa Redgrave, but I thought the play was a little too long for the format (a woman in a chair talking) and there were some directorial decisions that I would question (if an amateur like me is allowed to question David Hare!) I went with Irina, one of my fellow Eisenhower Fellows, and it was lovely to see her again. While there I bought tickets for Every Food Boy Deserves Favour, a new play by Tom Stoppard and Andre Previn, which has a full orchestra! Sounds mad. I’ll have to wait till January to find out what it’s all about though – tickets are for then.

We’re making progress on the Double Club’s trip to Brussels, which I hope will be a lot of fun for those involved. They’re going to visit a school, take part in lessons, play football with them, go to an Anderlecht game and then do lots of sighseeing. we need now to work on the Monday, which is the Commission/Parliament end of things.

The new stagiaire (intern) started today, and it’ll be great to have someone around to give a hand with some of the research that we find difficult to get done. Sometimes the difficult bit is remembering that you have someone there to ask to do things when you’re used to doing them yourself – always the first challenge when you get staff.

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Back in the hotseat

Sorry it has been quiet for a bit. I was in Brussels Monday and Tuesday of last week for a meeting of the people who do my job in all our reps across Europe. It was great to meet them at last – most of them have been just voices across the ether or very small pixellated images on the daily press conference. They had a better idea of what I looked like, so it was a little disconcerting to be hailed as an old acquaintance by people I didn’t know I knew! We also had a meeting with press officers from the European Parliament, looking in particular at next year’s European Parliament elections. It was of course very useful to talk about what we had in common in our work and what is so different. We’ve had the press officer from our Romania delegation, who was saying that a visiting Director-General did several interviews – we can barely get people interested in Commissioners!

I stayed on a day in Brussels to catch up with what was going on in the different portfolios of the Commission and talk over some upcoming issues. I also took the time to catch up with my friends from the Potocnik Cabinet, which was of course as delightful as ever. I do miss them all alot, though not sure I miss the work that much!

On the Wednesday evening I went to Paris and then caught the night train to Tarbes, as my furniture was being delivered to the house in France. My parents and I worked really hard over the next few days, first cleaning the house, then dealing with the delivery and then getting things sorted. I don’t have a bed yet (the packers in Brussels broke the one I took down there) but otherwise the place is looking pretty good. We had Sunday lunch in the little hostellerie across the river from the house – mine host comes into the dining room every 15-20 minutes and regales the diners with jokes and stories. Great meal though, in a French country restaurant kind of way (which is totally fine by me).  I feel so happy about the decision to get a place down there. It’s lovely to keep that French link, which I have been missing since I left Brussels (even spoke to the Francophone guy in Thorntons this mornin in French!) and the place is just so wonderful – life moves at such a relaxed pace you can’t help slowing down yourself. Twice driving to the house we got caught in a traffic jam caused by herds of cows walking along the road!

Last night I went to see Tricky at the Barbican. Amazing. Words used in reviews I’ve seen were “feral” and “unique” and that’s pretty much on the money. It was a one-off experience, totally strange, but mesmerising. He didn’t even sing on all the tracks, but you can kind of see why because it was so involving and hypnotic when he did, it almost would have been too much to have that for over an hour. Really glad I went.

So it was back to work this morning: the Northern Line had packed up so the train was mobbed, just to remind me that I wasn’t in Kansas now, Toto. Most of the day has been spent in just trying to catch up after more than a week out of the office and handling the backlog of e-mails. Of course, I missed all the Mandelson fun while I was out, and the pile of press cuttings about that is its own backlog. Today was mercifully a lot quieter on the news front, but there’s still quite a bit to do for the Brussels trip of the Double Club, the Mock Council and of course, quite a few admin tasks, now that I’m in a management position! In fact, we did a recruitment interview – seems longer ago than this morning!

Off to the theatre tonight with Irina from the Eisenhower Fellowship. Will be lovely to see her again.

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