The employment and status of women in the labour market

The situation regarding the employment of women and their ability to succeed in the labour market is different in the Czech Republic from that in western European countries. The key factor influencing differences in the social and work status of women is socio-political: the legacy of the totalitarian regime in the Czech Republic and the democratic, largely social, market-based system in western Europe.

Wage differences between men and women by occupation exist in every economy, but their causes and scale may change. Differences can be identified both in countries with a developed market economy and in transformation countries, for various periods of time and for various socio-economic and organisational segments of the economy, etc. There are differences in the conditions and development of employment in the Czech Republic and in western Europe, including a number of specific aspects relating to the social and legal status of women: legislation and work regulations, the phenomenon of 'women’s work' and its significance, the structure and division of labour, the concept of family and work roles, informal patterns of social conduct or behaviour, to what extent women play an active or passive role in securing equal opportunities on the job market and the timing of changes in this area.

Characteristics of women’s employment

The status of working women in Czech society is characterised by the following:

  • women account for a significant proportion of workers of productive age, making up almost half the working population (the high level of employment among women in the Czech Republic has influenced the lifestyle and orientation of several generations);
  • compared to western Europe, women’s employment in the Czech Republic is specific in terms of the extent of working time and number of years worked as well as in the relationship between family and work roles;
  • women’s employment in the Czech Republic reflects their educational development: a constantly high proportion of women (approx. 30%) has only a basic educational level; less than 8% of women are university educated;
  • despite the existence of a large group of highly skilled women participating in all spheres of public life, women account for a very small proportion of the top-level professional hierarchy; and
  • the more highly structured an organisation’s management functions, the more pronounced is the pay inequality between men and women.

The universally binding legislation on remuneration for work in the Czech Republic (the Labour Code, the act on wages, the act on pay, implementing regulations) has long been based on the equality of wage fixing for men and women. If there is no collective agreement covering an employer, the valuation of work for setting wage levels according to the work’s complexity, responsibility, strenuousness and possibly other features is centrally regulated by a regulation based on uniformly defined criteria (procedures) and regardless of employees’ gender.

Gender differences in wages

Although the existing legislation establishes equal conditions in remuneration, statistical surveys conducted to date show that considerable differences in average earnings levels persist to this day, both overall and, for example, with regard to the amount of training required for the occupation. The average wage for women in the Czech Republic is currently 73% of men’s wage level. In long-term development terms, the difference between the average wages for men and women has shrunk somewhat: women’s average wage came 5.7 percentage points closer to men’s between 1984 and 2002. There were several landmarks in the development of men’s and women’s average wage during this period, however: from 1984 to 1996 the wage levels of men and women gradually converged; in the next two years they diverged; but since 1998 women’s wage level has been drawing closer to men’s again (the maximum level was in 1996 at 77.2%; the minimum was in 1998 at 72.0%).

The difference between the work incomes of men and women is thus 25% to 27%. The biggest wage difference was found in the category of middle-aged people, the lowest among younger people. As far as education is concerned, the biggest gender difference is found among university-educated employees, where there is the greatest variability of performed occupations. In job classification terms, the biggest gender difference is in the category of managers - women’s average wage is just 54% of men’s at this level. There is also a wide, and widening, gap in science and white-collar specialists; one characteristic feature is that there are big differences between teaching and other professions, e.g. workers in the finance industry.

Segregation in women’s employment

The segregation of women into certain occupations, both horizontally and vertically, continues to be a widespread phenomenon in the Czech Republic. Economic and social policy during the totalitarian era (1948-1989) that was systematically applied for a number of years through directive state mechanisms (the deployment of labour into sectors divided up between men and women, planning and regulating wages by sector) led to labour being divided up on a sectoral basis between men and women for a long time. The process of overcoming this established gender structure of employment and wage disproportions is slow, partly owing to the presence of social and economic factors that act as a brake on this process, e.g. low flexibility of labour or limited funds (particularly in the public sector).

The Czech Republic has a high concentration of women employed in four economic sectors or fields. Women account for more than half the people employed in the following fields: health care, education, catering and public and social services. Labour requirements that are acceptable more to women or men are one of the relatively stable factors of the sectoral nature of employment and have the equivalent effect in all developed (sectorally structured) economies. According to an article on the gender wage gap by Jurajda, that is also why certain features of the sectoral distribution of male employees and employed women are parallel in western European states (higher women’s employment levels in services and, conversely, lower employment in construction, etc.). In terms of their overall wage level, sectors with this gender characteristic of employment are in the bottom half of the earnings table; in particular, pay for skilled work in education and health care is low.

Vertical occupational segregation

Vertical occupational segregation also persists despite the fundamental changes, including changes in legislation, that have come about in the Czech Republic since 1990. Although the increased standard of education among women has also improved their professional qualifications, men still hold most management posts (around 77%). There are very few women in top-level legislative, management and similar posts. A survey targeting a selected sample of directors and presidents of large organisations revealed that the ratio of men to women in these prestigious, top-level posts is 19:1. Women account for a minimal number of management posts primarily in technical and agricultural fields, but even in sectors typified by a high proportion of jobs oriented chiefly towards women (education, health care) it is men who hold most of the management and highly specialised posts and achieve correspondingly higher wage levels.

The positive trend of improving skill levels among women is constrained in practice by diverse factors. Women’s access to more skilled posts is concentrated in the public sector, where recognition of women’s qualifications and professional skills is less problematic and where there is generally greater wage equality between the sexes. In contrast, in highly competitive sectors, where one can talk of a glass ceiling, women hold far fewer top management posts.

Commentary

In general terms, the unequal status of women in the labour market is linked to lower wages, less involvement in management and decision-making, lower prestige and a greater risk to their jobs and higher levels of unemployment. Eliminating the 'gender contract' is a long-term business, however, and primarily requires a change in the traditional view in society of the division of work in the family whereby men and women are equally able to perform both roles. In terms of practical effect, there is real significance to be found in employment policy instruments (supporting women to improve their 'value' on the job market through training and broadening women’s professional experience to include untraditional occupations), in social policy instruments (helping put in place the conditions allowing for a better work-family balance and providing child care to facilitate the running of a household) and also in the state’s family policy in the area of family planning, etc. (Drahomíra Fischlová, Research Institute for Labour and Social Affairs)

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