Gender pay gap among highest in Europe

With a gender wage gap of 18% in 2005, the Netherlands tops the European average, according to a report by the International Trade Union Confederation. The disparity in wages experienced by Dutch women can to a large extent be explained by the fact that they often work part time. Moreover, relatively fewer women can be found at higher management levels. A government taskforce aims to achieve a target of 80% of women in employment by 2016; in 2006, this figure stood at 56%.

Report finds wide pay gap

The fact that Dutch women still earn less than their male counterparts was once again highlighted on International Women’s Day on 8 March 2008 (NL0702029I). A report published by the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) – Global gender pay gap (480Kb PDF) – found that the wage gap in the Netherlands remains significant. While, in 2007, Dutch men earned an average gross monthly salary of €2,400, the amount for women reached only €2,000. This represents one of the widest gender pay gaps in Europe today.

On average, women in the Netherlands earn 18% less than men, 7% of which cannot be explained on the basis of objective differences. Worldwide, women earn 16.5% less than men, while the European average totals 14.5%. Based on a European comparison, the Netherlands scores below Germany (22%), Austria and the UK (both 20%) but above Luxembourg (14%), Spain (13%), France (11%), Greece (10%), Ireland, Italy and Portugal (all 9%), as well as Belgium (7%). The Dutch pay gap is similar to that found in Denmark (17%), and in Norway and Sweden (both 16%). Among the new Member States since enlargement of the EU in 2004 and 2007, the wage gap ranges from 25% in Estonia to 3% in Malta (see p. 22 of ITUC report). The survey was carried out worldwide and these figures only apply to the formal economy.

Part-time work a primary factor

The ITUC report found that the additional disadvantage experienced by Dutch women can to a large extent be explained by the fact that about three quarters of them work part time; on average, women in the Netherlands work about 26 hours a week. Part-time workers often forfeit bonuses, are less likely to be considered for retraining and tend to miss opportunities for further professional development and/or promotion. Working part time presents an obstacle in terms of further progression into management positions.

The Chair of the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV), Agnes Jongerius, asserts that a hard glass ceiling still exists in the Netherlands. Discrimination is officially prohibited, so salary differences often arise unintentionally. It seems that women still lack the courage to confront their bosses over pay. Ms Jongerius noted the report finding that women who are members of a trade union earn more than other women; the difference in relation to men is 14% in this case, while the gender pay gap for non-trade union members can be as high as 22%. Trade union members are possibly more self-assured and feel more secure with the union supporting them. According to Ms Jongerius, they are therefore likely to negotiate more assertively about their salaries, bonuses and career plans.

It is noteworthy that the wage gap is wider for more highly qualified employees. The gap is also larger in sectors of the economy where greater numbers of women work, such as in healthcare and education.

Limited number of women in management

According to the report, the Netherlands still scores relatively badly in respect of the number of women in management positions. Only a quarter of all Dutch managers are women, whereas this proportion amounts to a third across Europe. Examining the highest occupational levels, it appears that women occupy only 5% of the positions on management boards and hold 7% of the positions on supervisory boards. Furthermore, some 11% of the heads of marketing or personnel departments are women; these particular roles often lead to top management jobs.

Overall, women occupy about 22% of the positions at the second highest management level, comprising chief executive officers. It is of some concern that this proportion at least is not replicated at the highest level. It appears that the criteria for upper management positions are male centric, with key attributes being dominance, a competitive approach and being fully available. A survey carried out by Woman Capital, a top-level recruitment consultancy aimed at women, shows that so-called female characteristics – long-term vision and greater sensitivity towards people within an organisation – are awarded a lower score. The women’s organisations involved in the survey were critical of this situation and emphasised that more women at the highest management level would mean higher motivation throughout the workforce, a better company image, greater customer satisfaction and more favourable financial results.

Part-Time Plus Taskforce

The Dutch government’s new ‘Part-time Plus Taskforce’ (NL0711029I, NL0710049I, NL0707069I) is set to commence activities in the near future and aims to encourage women to take up part-time jobs of a larger scale. Ms Jongerius hopes that the taskforce will also review the under-valuation of those professions and sectors in which predominantly women work. The taskforce is intended to contribute towards achieving the target set by cabinet of 80% of women in employment by 2016; this proportion stood at 56% in 2006.

Moreover, the cabinet believes that women should work longer hours. In 2006, about 70% of the jobs that women undertook were part time. While the policy on working longer hours takes account of the ageing population, it also considers the economic independence of women, which currently only a third of working women enjoy (NL0502102F).

Marianne Grünell, Hugo Sinzheimer Institute (HSI)

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