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Věra Jourová is the European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality since 2014. She shares her message on gender equality in digital spaces today on International Women’s Day.

I am delighted to talk to you  today on International Women’s Day. This is a day to celebrate women’s achievements in many fields of life. For me, as EU Commissioner for Gender Equality, it is also a day to remember that we are far from equality between women and men.

One area where I’m sure you’ll agree there is still a large gender imbalance is in the digital field.

The digital opportunity

The sad reality is that women make up less than one in five ICT graduates in the EU, and this figure is only declining. Even our youngsters are not embracing opportunities. I find this depressing– it is not that women are incompetent or uninterested! On the contrary, we know that there are no major differences between the basic digital skills of young men and women.

We must ask ourselves what is shaping choices of girls from an early age? We found that only 16% of the almost 8 million people working in ICT are women. To make things worse, there is a high drop-out rate of women from digital jobs, which results in an annual productivity loss of around 16 billion euros in the EU.

However, for the women that do work in this sector, the digital sector is indeed a rather equal workplace. For example, research shows that, in the tech sector, men and women who share the same non-managerial jobs and similar backgrounds tend to earn the same. But, we must not forget that the hierarchical structures are still very much dominated by men, with women representing only a tiny portion of the tech industry’s top leadership.

All hands on board for gender equality

Empowering women in digital spaces goes hand in hand with gender equality and empowering women more broadly. With an average score of 66.2 out of 100 on the Gender Equality Index, the EU is still a long way off from reaching a gender-equal society. We need concrete actions and this is why, throughout my mandate, I have launched several initiatives which can bring real improvements.

A very important issue we are trying to tackle is equal access to economic resources. It is not just a matter of women’s economic independence. It is a prerequisite for the achievement of economic growth, prosperity and competitiveness. Progress has been slowing: in fact, the employment gap and pay gap have remained pretty similar in recent years. The persistence of these gaps led us to take action. We realised without action we would be stuck with progress at a snail’s pace!

In November 2017, we announced a concrete response to put an end to the gender pay gap through an Action Plan to be delivered until the end of this mandate, in 2019.

In April 2017, we announced the EU Social Pillar to give equal opportunities to men and women in the working place, specifically through the work-life balance proposal. With these new rules, we would be giving equal weighting to leave provisions for mothers and fathers alike. We want to offer people choice so they have opportunities to chase their dreams and arrange their lives how they see fit.

We are also working to improve the gender balance in companies at all management levels and encourage governments and social partners to adopt concrete measures to improve gender balance in decision-making.

And when it comes to digital, one of our top priorities is to tackle the lack of skilled ICT professionals. The Digital Skills and Jobs Coalition, launched in December 2017, brings together stakeholders who take action in order to tackle the digital skills gap in Europe. In one year, members of the Coalition have provided several million training courses on digital, both online and face to face, to Europeans and now they are running through 18 National Coalitions.

In 2017, we also launched the Digital Opportunity Traineeship. This is pilot project that will provide around 6,000 students with experience in cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, programming and big data in the period 2018-2020. This is of course is directed equally and women and men.

As you can see, many of the initiatives go beyond legislative action and they are a proof of the multi-stakeholder approach, which the EU has firmly embraced.

So, today, I call you, as company and business representatives, to action. You have a key role in helping people to upskill and foster their careers, by offering equal opportunities to men and women in the workplace.  Only with joint efforts will we make Digital a women’s world too. I am committed to defend equal rights and opportunities on the labour market for men and women and I am counting on your support!


I wish you all a Happy Women’s Day!

The British chamber blog is written by guest authors and does not reflect the views of the chamber.

Infirmiers de rue – pioneers in the idea of Ending Street Homelessness

It all started with two young nurses, Emilie and Sarah, who were convinced that street homelessness is not a fate, and something we do not have to accept. In 2005 they created the non-profit organisation Street nurses in Brussels. Their job initially consisted of taking care of the health of the homeless by cleaning wounds during their trips through the city and going to meet the most vulnerable people in our society. Quickly they realised that their health is not getting any better on the street. Therefore, these people need a home. Over the years comes the awareness that in order to have housing, housing opportunities must be created.

Building bridges

There are a lot of social services providing food, shelter, clothes, showers, and other resources to the homeless, but guidance is lacking. These people are so vulnerable they need professional help to get out of the street, and this is where we come in. We are building bridges between the most vulnerable people in our society, their environment, and health care services.

Street nurses is convinced that in order to end homelessness, we have to work on three major components for a global approach to face the problem. First of all, our dynamic team of nurses and social workers actively goes out and finds people living on the street. We accompany our patients for several years, guiding them from the street to a stable home, and continue to follow-up on them even after they have moved in to prevent any return to the street.

As our organisation aims to build bridges between the homeless people and the different existing services to help them, we are glad to share our knowledge and experience with other professionals who encounter them. This year, more than 340 people benefited from the hygiene & vulnerability training that we organise.

There are some facilities for homeless people like public fountains, toilets, and showers, but they do not especially know where these are located. This is why it is important to work on infrastructure and access to information. We make these facilities effective by helping people to get to know them with maps which are regularly updated. We also spread information about hyper- and hypothermia prevention, as well as other sickness prevention.

100 people out of the street

Working on these three aspects at the same time has proven effective, because by now more than one hundred homeless people in Brussels have returned to a much safer, healthier and more enjoyable life and are now living on their own or in institutions, according to their needs and thanks to our services.

 Not only were we able to rehouse more than one hundred vulnerable people, but we also changed the mentality in this field. The organisation was a pioneer in believing that we can end street homelessness in Brussels, and by now the vast majority of organisations accepts the idea that this goal is achievable in the medium term. We hope that making Brussels free of homelessness will provide an example for other cities in our country and beyond.


Our role as a society

As a society, we should invest in support for the most vulnerable people, for they should not be excluded from our society. They should be a priority, because only with the necessary guidance and support can they make a decent living again. The society should put the necessary efforts into making core needs and basic rights accessible, even to the most vulnerable people. Having a roof above your head or enough food and water are rights enshrined in the constitution.

In our daily work, we focus on the hygiene and the self-esteem of every person we follow. We believe everyone has wonderful resources and talents and we try to put these forward, helping people to believe in themselves again. We respect our patients with their own choices and preferences. Every person has their own life story and past to deal with and we respect their rhythm, take the time they need to improve their situation and get them out of the street.


Social justice as a solution

Our advocacy for more support and follow-up for the homeless people is part of our vision of social justice. What we want to achieve is equal access for everybody to the different services included in our healthcare system. In order to make this possible, justice is not enough. Justice means that everybody is equal, which implies that the same effort should be done to make some service accessible to someone. In reality, vulnerable people need more help to get access to those same services, because they stay way further behind. What we ask for is social justice, which does not mean that everyone gets the same help, but the same access, no matter how much effort has to be put into certain groups to help them get access. With this definition of social justice, proportionated universalism is made real.

“Resourcing and delivering universal services at a scale and intensity proportionate to the degree of need” (NHS, 2014), also known as proportionated universalism, is the best available solution to help the ones who need it. In this sense, social justice is a value we should cherish and hold dear. The benefits of proportionated universalism are numerous. First of all, in this system, nobody is left apart. The most vulnerable people, but also the people with a precarious lifestyle can get enough help. For society in general, this term is given sense and the end of homelessness is something we can all be part of. Also in our field we can be a source of inspiration for other organisations and services by carrying the idea that it is a matter of rights and that it is possible to achieve our goal, a city without homelessness.

For social services, it is a matter of responsibility to be accessible to those in need, and even if they are mostly favourable, they do not always have the means to overcome the difficulties the care of the patient brings with it. They should get the necessary support to learn how to handle different cases. Being open-minded and showing flexibility in procedures is not a matter of making rules unimportant, it means adapting to your public to help them in the best way you can. The future is in our hands, the solution is ours, and by taking responsibility as a society, we can and will end street homelessness.

Works Cited

NHS, S. (2014, October). Proportionate universalism and health inequalities. Retrieved from


Professor Dame Caroline Dean – who is one of the five L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science laureates for 2018, explains how her interest in flowering plants and a curiosity to understand how this works has guided through her career as a scientist.

What advice would you give to those who want to pursue a Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics and Medicine (STEMM) career?

I would encourage everyone to follow their curiosity. When you’re really interested in something then you’ll be motivated to find out more about how that thing works. This is how most STEMM careers work – we ask questions, and the journey to the answer is what we do every day as scientists.

Don’t let others put you off, or make you feel like you can’t achieve something because of your gender, or what you look like or where you were born. Those barriers pale into insignificance if you have a genuine curiosity for something.

Women in STEMM industries are still underrepresented as compared to their male counterparts. What can be done to improve female representation in science?

There is a need for role models to encourage the next generation of scientists. I hope this year as a L’Oreal-UNESCO Women in Science laureate I can provide something positive for a wide range of people. As female scientists we can raise aspirations by being more visible and honest about what a career in a STEMM subject is really like, and how a diversity of personalities and skills is essential to success.

The Athena SWAN Charter is a useful scheme here in the UK which recognises organisations who are working to improve in areas where women are traditionally underrepresented. Their bronze, silver and gold awards give a visible sign that the organisation understands the values of a diverse workforce.

Now there are also many schemes that enable women to have families, and to work in STEMM subjects, you can do both. For instance, here at the John Innes Centre there are family and career break initiatives, support for attending conferences, or fellowships designed specifically to enabling women to return to STEMM careers following the birth of a child.

You are a distinguished and award-winning scientist in your field. Tell us about the importance of role models and mentorship.

My passion for science was born through watching Jacques Cousteau on TV as a child, really enjoying lab experiments at university and then working with visionary scientists in my early career. Watching those minds linking apparently unrelated results into a unified picture describing a new concept was inspirational.

Is there a need for workplaces to become more culturally inclusive so women do not face barriers but can reach their full potential?

Indeed, work places need to be culturally inclusive, but the greatest challenge for a woman’s advancement is herself. Constantly working just a little out of one’s comfort zone increases self-confidence and enables those apparently unattainable goals to be reached.

How can STEM industries attract more women and girls into the field?

By helping to nurture their scientific interest from an early age and fanning the desire to discover.

“Excellence THEN relevance.” It was the persistent message from the Chief Executive at BBSRC, Professor Julia Goodfellow, in the late 1990s.

This struck a chord with me. I’ve spent most of my career at the John Innes Centre, where fundamental research into plant and microbial science is central to our ongoing success.

The impact of these new discoveries may not be obvious at the outset. It’s not always easy to see where relevance will appear but excellent science will always have impact.

Professor Goodfellow’s message has been very influential in my own research. Many years ago, as a post-doctoral researcher in California in the 1980s I’d noticed the seasons were less distinct than in my home in the north of England. I was intrigued and began to investigate why.

Then there was a moment that cemented my interest. I went out and bought some tulip bulbs, and the man who sold them to me said: “Don’t forget to put them in the fridge for six weeks before you plant them.” That moment triggered my interest in how plants align their development with the seasons.

Many years later, when I applied for a position at the John Innes Centre I proposed to work on vernalization – the requirement for prolonged cold before a plant flowers. Commercial plant breeders had exploited this process to breed winter and spring-sown varieties, but we had no clue as to the molecular mechanism.

I began with three research questions: why do some varieties of plants not flower until they have had cold? How does the plant know it’s had prolonged cold? And how have those molecular mechanisms enabled adaptation to different climates?

All three questions led to a focus on the regulation of a single gene, Flowering Locus C (FLC).

FLC acts as a brake to flowering, if the plant is making this protein it stays vegetative: it won’t flower. Interesting and conserved mechanisms involving non-coding RNAs and chromatin (the interwoven DNA and protein that makes up our chromosomes) underlie all three questions we had posed. How much the gene is expressed affects whether plants need to overwinter. Winter is registered by progressively switching off the gene in more and more cells. Adaptation is the result of small changes that affect the regulation of the gene.

So, after 30 years my research has come down to a very detailed study of basic principles of gene regulation. But it is this same regulation that is important in humans too. Instructions are given to genes in the embryo (human or plant), but the initial instructions don’t stay around all the time, instead the instruction is remembered. The memory is passed down from mother to daughter cells by epigenetic regulation- through non-coding RNA and chromatin regulation.

You will read about epigenetics everywhere at the moment – in the context of how the environment affects our genes. When memory mechanisms go wrong and genes turn on and off at the wrong place, disease is the result: most cancers carry genes that are expressed in the wrong place.

What is also amazing is that we can now build on our fundamental understanding of the vernalisation mechanism to help plant breeders produce Brassica varieties that respond to winter temperatures in predictable ways. New varieties could flower earlier, or be resistant to cold snaps, where previously premature flowering led to a glut of certain varieties in the supermarkets.


This year once again saw a host of brilliant companies as finalists in the Golden Bridge Trade & Investment Awards at the British Residence in Brussels. The evening celebrated the ever growing UK-Belux trade, with all our finalists showing initiative and success to make the UK-Belux relationship even stronger. The three 2017 winners, ALE, Les Carrières de la Pierre Bleue Belge and Renson have taken the time to tell us about their success as a Golden Bridge Trade & Investment Awards Winner.

Golden Bridge Award for Best Innovation in Export for a UK company

Ale logo“When we filled out the application form we were not sure what to expect and throughout the process we were questioning how well we would do. Our client was convinced of the added value we could bring to the project in Zeebrugge, Belgium, but, was wondering whether others, not necessarily from our industry, felt the same way.

After being shortlisted we had the opportunity to present to the judging panel. This was a great experience, as we only had limited time the elaborate how the project had become reality. Starting with a simple request from our client we began adding additional scope and grew it to a solution we could not have imagined at the beginning.

ALE created a joint venture with two Belgian companies, ICO and Iemants. This joint venture combined its services to deliver an integrated solution that truly crossed bridges and led to success similar to what we have done, again, for the Golden Bridge Awards: The British and Belgians working together.

Winning the Golden Bridge Award for Best Innovation in Export is a wonderful achievement and a true dedication to the entire project team that worked on the project executed in Zeebrugge.”, said Yannick Sel, Sales Director.

Best Small and Medium Sized Enterprise

Pierre Bleue Belge“We are delighted that our partnership with quarry Pierre Bleue Belge has won the 21st Golden Bridge Award for Best Small and Medium Sized Enterprise, celebrating the export success of the world famous Belgian blue limestone (Bluestone) to the UK.

The award acknowledges the consistent growth Pierre Bleue Belges exports to the UK, currently they export 28% of turnover with 5% going to the UK. The judges were particularly impressed with the ethically secure supply chain, in compliance with the Modern Slavery Act and environmental factors as the quarry is less than 200 miles from London.”, said Alan Gayle, Director.

Golden Bridge Award for Belgian company

Renson“Winning the Golden Bridge Trade & Investment Award was a huge honour, Renson’s UK Sales Director Bill Hayward says: “It supports Renson’s choice to expand into international markets, specifically in the UK. Renson invests heavily in innovation, communication and internationalisation, always with the focus on a healthy and comfortable indoor environment. The company entered the UK market over 20 years ago understanding the importance of the UK market to its growth. Winning the Golden Bridge Trade & Investment award proves that Renson’s belief in a strong relationship between Belgium and the UK is absolutely key to the success and growth of us as a group. At the same time, it reinforces our pride in our Belgian roots and emphasises our will to support local initiatives whilst respecting our company DNA. Having a local factory in the UK helps us to respond to local needs in a fast, efficient manner, being awarded for this cross border relationship takes our mark to a higher level both in the UK – where Renson can continue to build market share and leading innovation from the front, as we are proud to do in Belgium.”

The 2017 winners’ testimonials clearly show the value that the Golden Bridge Trade & Investment Awards initiative has for winning companies. Once again we congratulate this year’s Golden Bridge Trade & Investment Award winners and look forward to following their journeys.

The application process will soon open for our next Golden Bridge Trade & Investment Awards, which will be held in London.

For more information on the Golden Bridge Awards opportunities and how you can get involved, contact Alexandra.

The EU Committee at the British Chamber of Commerce|EU & Belgium welcomes the newly appointed vice-chairs, who will run for a year mandate. They will help the EU Committee team to shape the programme and provide a platform for engagement. “The EU Committee team is now stronger with a very competent team and I am very confident in their contribution to put key EU legislative files on the agenda that will meet our member’s needs” commented Nikolaus Tacke, EU Committee chair.

A survey that we have conducted in July 2017 showed that only 52% of our members feel confident in the future political prospects of the EU. Our mission for 2018 will be to find ways to enhance a stronger relationship between the policy-makers and our members, through a very strong programme and also around discussions about the Future of Europe.

The British Chamber’s EU Committee for the year 2017-2018 is composed of five task forces covering fundamental EU policy issues. Please find below the list of our leadership and task force team for 2018.

EU new team table

18 months before the European Parliament’s election and the nomination of a new commission, we are delighted to be welcoming Mr Katainen, Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness at the European Commission; Dominique Ristori, Director-General at DG Energy; Francisco Fonseca Morillo, Deputy Director-General, DG JUST and a few leading MEPs such as Birgit Sippel or Axel Voss. To find out more, please check our programme.

If you would like to know more about our EU Committee activities or be more involved, please email Nikolaus, EU Committee chair at or Charline, EU Events and Policy Executive at


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