A conversation with Yuriko Backes, Minister for Gender Equality and Diversity
17 May 2024

On the occasion of the European Diversity Month 2024, ILA had the honor to exchange with Minister Yuriko Backes to discuss the status of diversity and inclusion in Luxembourg and future developments in this area.

ILA: Minister Backes, since you have been a member of the government, diversity and especially gender diversity has been one of your priorities. Do you feel you have made a difference in this area and are there any achievements you are particularly proud of?
Minister Yuriko Backes: Gender equality and diversity are subjects that have always been very important for me, in every position that I've held in the past. It's something that I've always been very passionate about. Especially also in speaking to young people about the importance of gender equality and diversity. As finance minister from 2022 to 2023, I'm very proud of having launched the women in finance charter and also the Gender Finance Task Force.  I believe this is an excellent basis for the financial sector to become more gender equal. It's still very male-dominated even though we have fantastic women working in our financial sector. I think there's always room for improvement. So, I'm very happy about having launched these initiatives. 
Now, in the past six months, I have the honor of occupying the position of minister for gender equality and diversity.  There's lots of work ahead. Three things that I will be working on together with my team is the national plan around gender equality, which exists already but needs to be adapted. The same goes for the national plan for LGBTIQ+  persons, where a plan also exists and needs to be updated. In both instances, it's very important to speak to all the stakeholders and partners and take into consideration their expertise and experience. The third national plan is about Gender-Based Violence. It is the first time that we are working on a national plan around this very concerning issue. Gender-based violence is still considered somewhat of a taboo, but it's a serious issue in all countries, also in Luxembourg, that we need to tackle from multiple angles.
Allow me to emphasize more generally the importance of data. I'm also proud to quickly have followed up on the discussions to provide for a legal basis for the “Observatoire de l’égalité” which is managed by my ministry. It is also important to expand the scope to cover additional areas such as equality in the world of culture or in sports. I think we can only make good political decisions if they are based on reliable data. And, in the area of gender equality and diversity we are still in need of more data.  That is why I am looking forward to expanding work on the Observatoire.  

ILA: The European diversity month embodies the European Commission's long term commitment for diverse workplaces and inclusive societies. How do you assess the progress made here in Luxembourg in terms of diversity in the workplace? And what do you think needs to be improved and is important in order to support and promote women in the workplace?
Minister Yuriko Backes: I think the situation in Luxembourg is quite good, but there is of course always room for improvement. In Luxembourg, we don't really have a gender pay gap anymore. It is among the lowest, if not the lowest, in the EU. But if you look at the statistics concerning the pension gap, the numbers are quite dramatic, also in comparison to the other EU countries. There are different ways of how we can improve the situation, but there is no miracle solution to solve the problem overnight. One way to improve the situation would be to review our taxation system, which also the IMF says is to the disadvantage of women. 
But there are levers we can pull. For instance, we have a diversity charter in Luxembourg, that many companies from very different sectors of our economy have signed up for, and we invite many more to join. These are big steps in terms of commitments that companies are making to improve diversity in numerous fields of action. 
My Ministry also manages the “Actions Positives” initiative, a program assisting companies in improving gender equality. The way this works is that an analysis is made by an external expert, and on the basis of this analysis recommendations are formulated, which companies can then put in place. These programs that we are promoting will lead to positive changes in the working environment for the employees and in turn are in the interest of companies themselves. The last company that signed up to the “Actions Positives” is Post Luxembourg and Post Telecom, among the biggest employers in the country. We want to make this tool more known to our economic actors. So don’t hesitate to get in touch with my team if you are interested in participating!
ILA: ILA recently partnered up with European Women on Board, which has a chapter in in in in every country by now. And, one of the commitments we have given is to provide feedback on how the woman on board directive is implemented in our country. Can you tell us more about the implementation? 

Minister Yuriko Backes: This directive was proposed by the Commission back in 2012. I welcome the fact that it will soon be implemented in the EU. The directive, which is currently being transposed by the Ministry of Finance, foresees that by mid-2026 every stock-listed company within the EU must have at least 40% female non-executive directors or have a female representation of executive and non-executive of at least 33%. This directive will lead to improvements in female representation and leadership in listed companies, which I very much welcome. Of course, we need to be mindful that the administrative burden for companies isn’t too cumbersome. We also need to acknowledge that this is just one puzzle piece when it comes to fostering more women in decision-making positions. 
ILA: You mentioned the national action plan for the promotion of LGBTIQ+ rights before. What conclusions can you draw especially when it comes to equal treatment in the workplace?
Minister Yuriko Backes: The rights and needs of LGBTIQ+ persons used to fall under the responsibility of the ministry for family and integration. With the new government, this topic was transferred to the MEGA ministry, along with Diversity. We have a very good basis to continue improving the situation for the LGBTIQ+  community in Luxembourg. What we’re doing now is to include every ministry in the work, because it does concern all sectors of our society. To me it is also important to regularly exchange with members of the different communities, among them Cigale, Rosa Lëtzebuerg and ITGL. Perhaps I can just mention that ILGA – Europe recently issued its rainbow map for 2024. And, I'm happy to say that Luxembourg is in the seventh position in terms of overall quality of life for LGBTIQ+  persons, which is being measured by analyzing many different aspects of their life. This is indeed a very good result, but there's still work to be done and the way forward will need to include consultations with a variety of civil society representatives and the LGBTIQ+  community. 

ILA: When discussing diversity, most of the spotlight is usually attached on gender equality. But in a country like Luxembourg, where the proportion of foreigners stands almost at fifty percent, diversity means more than that. What opportunities do you see in such cultural and ethnic diversity?
Minister Yuriko Backes: Diversity is an integral part of what Luxembourg represents today, part of our identity. As someone who had the opportunity of growing up in a in a very multicultural and international environment, diversity has always been normal and something very positive to me. So I am convinced that diversity in all its forms, whether regarding origin, gender, sexual orientation, bodily ability or faith, is our strength.
Today, across the globe, we witness many pushbacks. We must push back against these pushbacks and push forward instead. And for me, the way forward is by promoting diversity. It's something that nobody should be scared of. It only makes our society stronger because it promotes understanding, tolerance and ultimately peace and prosperity 
ILA: Finally, Is there a message on the occasion of the European diversity month you want to convey?
Minister Yuriko Backes: Diversity is our strength. Diversity is the way how I see our future of living together. Diversity promotes creativity. Diversity promotes innovation, and we need all of that for our societies, our economies, our planet to thrive. You can count on me to do my part over the next years!

 Philipp von Restorff, CEO of ILA & Yuriko Backes, Minister for Gender Equality and Diversity

New ILA Members 2024 - May