EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Women’s access to top jobs at 20-year standstill

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The past 20 years have seen a significant improvement in women’s situation in the labour market and in society as a whole, according to a survey by the research company Focus Bari. The increase in working women is associated with a considerable improvement in their educational qualifications. However, women’s share in top-level jobs has remained unchanged since 1998, showing that there is still a long way to go before gender equality will be achieved in the Greek labour market.

About the survey

In May 2009, the independent Greek research company Focus Bari Marketing Research Services published a survey on ‘Women in leadership’. The survey examines important aspects of the development of female employment in Greece over a 20-year period between 1988 and 2008. Focus Bari carried out the survey using telephone interviews among a sample of women aged between 18 and 54 years.

Main survey findings

Labour market participation and educational qualification

Over the past 20 years – that is, between 1988 and 2008 – women’s participation in the labour market has increased significantly among all age groups examined in the survey. The greatest increase in the proportion of working women (by 34 percentage points) was recorded among those aged 45–54 years, while the smallest increase (six percentage points) was observed among those aged between 18 and 24 years (Table 1).

Table 1: Proportion of working women, by age, 1988 and 2008 (%)
Age group 1988 2008
18–24 years 26 32
25–34 years 40 62
35–44 years 35 64
45–54 years 19 53

Source: Focus Bari, 2009

This positive development regarding women’s increased participation in the labour market is linked to the substantial improvement in their educational qualifications (Table 2). The most significant rise in the proportion of women attaining higher education occurred in the 18–24 years age group (by 31 percentage points). When including knowledge of a foreign language, the largest increase (by 24 percentage points) occurred among those aged between 25 and 44 years.

Table 2: Educational level of working women, by age, 1988 and 2008 (%)
Age group 1988 2008
Higher education
18–24 years 26 57
25–44 years 18 45
45–54 years 9 29
Higher education including knowledge of foreign language
18–24 years 73 85
25–44 years 50 74
45–54 years 27 45

Source: Focus Bari, 2009

Professional status

Although the important advance in women’s educational qualifications improved their access to the labour market and to ‘middle level’ jobs in particular, it did not succeed in breaking through the dividing line that continues to prevent women from reaching ‘top-level’ occupations (Table 3). Regarding ‘high level’ jobs, no increase in the proportion of working women reaching such positions has been observed in the period 1988–2008, with levels remaining at only 3%. Overall, women’s labour market participation has risen most significantly in the broad spectrum of occupations below the higher and middle levels, increasing by 13 percentage points.

Table 3: Professional status of working women, 1988 and 2008 (%)
Level of profession 1988 2008
High level 3 3
Middle level 10 20
All other jobs 20 33

Source: Focus Bari, 2009

Impact on families

However, women’s dynamic entry into the labour market does not appear to have been achieved without sacrifices. Given that the proportion of married working women with and without children has declined among all age groups between 1988 and 2008, it can be assumed that the age at which women marry and have their first child has increased considerably in relation to the past (Table 4).

Table 4: Proportion of married working women with and without children, by age, 1988 and 2008 (%)
Age group 1988 2008
18–24 years 25 13
25–29 years 75 44
30–34 years 87 72
35–39 years 89 81
Married with children
18–24 years 15 9
25–29 years 57 32
30–34 years 68 62
35–39 years 52 64

Source: Focus Bari, 2009


Compared with previous decades, women’s status in the labour market, the family and society at large has noticeably improved in recent years. This move away from traditional gender roles has been a difficult struggle and not without sacrifices, often at the family’s expense. The improvement of women’s labour matket situation did not come about so much through an adaptation of working conditions to the characteristics of both genders as it was through women’s adaptation to the needs of a male-dominated labour market.

However, this only explains to a certain extent why more women have not accessed higher ranking jobs in 2008 than in 1998. Nowadays, so-called top-level jobs – such as executive and managerial posts, upper administrative jobs in the public sector and academic posts – are still held by men of an older generation, who preserve traditional structures and mentalities in the workplace. This means that they maintain mentor-pupil relationships, assign demanding work tasks to male subordinates and take an adverse attitude to maternity, by taking away responsibilities from working women, thereby pushing them to resign.

Up until now, the Greek labour market continues to adapt to this male-dominated model. As a result, despite their abilities and competencies, women refrain from seeking top-level jobs, refusing to adapt to the model of ‘successful professionals’ that is still imposed by a male-dominated society.


Kourtoglou, X. (ed.), Women on leadership, Focus Bari Marketing Research Services, March 2009.

Sofia Lampousaki, Labour Institute of Greek General Confederation of Labour (INE/GSEE)

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