Spotlight on women’s position in the labour market

A survey on women’s position in the Cypriot labour market found low awareness of laws on equal treatment and motherhood at work. Just over half of all respondents believed female workers were not treated as well as men and two thirds thought female entrepreneurs faced challenges that men do not. Family obligations and lack of childcare were felt to be the biggest barriers to women’s employment and career advancement. However, participants felt the situation could be improved.

About the survey

In March 2011 the Employers and Industrialists Federation (ΟΕΒ) and the Cyprus Federation of Business and Professional Women (ΚΟΓΕΕ) published the findings of a survey on women in the Cyprus labour market. The survey was based on a questionnaire sent to enterprises, employers and employees from all economic sectors in Cyprus, women’s organisations, trade unions and the public services. The research examined:

  • women’s position in the Cyprus labour market;
  • the differing perceptions of men and women of women’s employment;
  • the obstacles faced by women in advancing their careers;
  • effective potential measures to improve women’s participation in the labour market.

The questionnaire was distributed on a nationwide basis and consisted of 32 questions. A total of 958 questionnaires were returned (25% completed by men and 75% by women).

Survey findings

Position of women in the labour market

The vast majority of respondents (94%) stated that the work environment is friendly towards women. For example, there were separate toilets for men and women, rules for protection from sexual harassment and arrangements for pregnant women.

There was a ratio of one woman to three men on boards of directors or in top executive jobs.

The proportions of both men and women who were familiar with the laws on equal treatment and motherhood at work appeared particularly low. The highest proportion recorded, for the law on parental leave, was just 25%. The lowest percentages involved the laws on equal treatment in social insurance schemes (16%) and equal pay for men and women (17%).

Some two thirds (66%) of the respondents believed that equal opportunities exist for advancement of both sexes in the workplace. Most men believed them to be equal or better for women, and conversely most women believed them to be equal or better for men.

Just over half (55%) of all respondents (men and women) believed women suffered worse treatment than men both on the job and in their pay. The largest share of the sample believed that women’s organisations (25%), trade union organisations (29%) and employers’ organisations (29%) play a neutral part the promotion and achievement of equal treatment for men and women at work. It is also worth noting that 20% believed that the trade unions play a major role in this, whereas the corresponding figure for employers’ organisations was only 14%.

Views on women’s employment

Some two thirds (67%) of those surveyed ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ with the statement that ‘because of their gender, women entrepreneurs face challenges that men do not’. The survey also found that:

  • 80% ‘believed’ or ‘strongly believed’ that women’s family obligations inhibit opportunities to advance their careers;
  • 52% believed there is prejudice from male employees about women’s opportunities;
  • 68% of respondents ‘disagreed’ or ‘strongly disagreed’ with the view that it is difficult for women to take decisions and deal with difficult situations;
  • 49% ‘disagreed’ or ‘strongly disagreed’ that longer maternity leave and paid parental leave would inhibit greater participation by women in top executive positions because it would keep them away from work for longer.

Obstacles to women’s participation in work

Family obligations and the lack of suitable/adequate childcare infrastructure were claimed to be the biggest obstacles to women’s employment and career advancement (Table 1). Other barriers to women’s participation in the labour market included:

  • absence of flexible working hours;
  • difficult working hours;
  • obligations in connection with children’s education.

However women’s lack of qualifications, husbands’ refusal to let their wives work and sexual harassment were not given particular weight by the respondents as these obstacles received the lowest percentages (Table 1).

Table 1: Obstacles to women’s employment and career advancement

Obstacle

Response

‘Not at all important’

‘Slightly important’

‘Important’

‘Rather important’

‘Very important’

Family obligations (children, spouse, elderly people)

3%

4%

14%

31%

48%

Prejudices, stereotypes

12%

15%

29%

27%

17%

Absence of flexible working hours

4%

7%

21%

36%

32%

Sexual harassment

33%

31%

22%

10%

4%

Women’s lack of qualifications

56%

18%

17%

6%

3%

Lack of suitable/adequate childcare infrastructure

5%

7%

18%

32%

38%

Husband’s refusal to let his wife work

33%

31%

23%

8%

4%

Fewer prospects for advancement compared to men

13%

18%

35%

23%

12%

Difficult working hours

3%

9%

21%

37%

30%

Obligations with regard to children’s education (private evening schools)

4%

5%

19%

36%

35%

Source: OEB and ΚΟΓΕΕ (2011)

Measures to improve women’s participation in the labour market

Survey participants were also asked to evaluate a series of potential measures to help improve female employment. As shown in Table 2, 89% of respondents considered arrangements for childcare to be an ‘important’ to ‘very important’ measure. The provision of equal opportunities for career advancement, help in the home by husbands and working from home were ranked next, being judged as having approximately the same importance.

Table 2: Measures to improve female employment

Measure

Response

‘Not at all important’

‘Slightly important’

‘Important’

‘Rather important’

‘Very important’

More arrangements for childcare

2%

3%

7%

25%

64%

Provision of equal opportunities for career advancement

4%

4%

17%

28%

46%

Working from home (tele-working)

4%

6%

18%

30%

42%

Help in the home by the husband

3%

5%

18%

37%

38%

Provision of state assistance to women for starting up a business

3%

6%

21%

30%

41%

Wage increases

4%

6%

20%

30%

39%

Source: OEB and ΚΟΓΕΕ (2011)

Commentary

The survey results suggest that women are more disadvantaged than men in the Cypriot labour market. The fact that both sexes are aware of this discrepancy sets the issue on a new foundation with a better chance of a lasting resolution. Female career advancement, women’s participation in top executive positions and women’s pay are among the most pressing issues that have widened the gap between men and women, due mainly to the multiple roles of the working woman as spouse, employee and housewife. Another important response is that participants felt it would be feasible to improve the current situation. This finding has been widely discussed among the social partners, with the main demand being reconciliation of work and family life.

Reference

OEB and ΚΟΓΕΕ (2011), Η γυναίκα στην Κυπριακή αγορά εργασίας (707Kb MS Word) [Women in the Cypriot labour market], Nicosia.

Polina Stavrou, Cyprus Labour Institute INEK-PEO

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