Gender and career development

  • National Contribution:

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Date of Publication: 30 May 2007



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Author:
Helen Newell
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This comparative study examines the issue of gender and career development and explores the continuing barriers to achieving equality of opportunity in this area. Looking at the current European Union countries (with the exception of Sweden) and Norway, the study explores the extent to which career patterns are changing in response to the restructuring of work and organisations and how this impacts on women’s career experiences. It also examines the attitudes of the social partners regarding gender and career development. The study finds that although careers are changing in most countries, the nature of this change is best described as a gradual erosion of traditional work patterns, rather than a transformation which is likely to improve opportunities for women. Gender segregation remains a significant problem, despite women’s increased activity rates. Female-dominated part-time work, associated with poor opportunities for training and promotion, also persists. The study reveals that most trade unions have been proactive in campaigning on this topic and in increasing their members’ awareness of and ability to raise such issues with employers. However, it also shows that many employers appear to remain unconvinced about the need to prioritise gender and careers. While there are examples of some innovative attempts to tackle the problem, these often occur in isolation. In particular, translating legislation into practice at company level remains a significant problem.

The study was compiled on the basis of individual national reports submitted by the EIRO correspondents. The text of each of these national reports is available below. The reports have not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The national reports were drawn up in response to a questionnaire and should be read in conjunction with it.


Sectoral and occupational segregation

The issues affecting gender differences in career choices and career patterns are varied and complex, but continuing sectoral and occupational segregation remain key problems. Such segregation encompasses both horizontal segregation, where women are excluded from senior positions, and vertical segregation, where women are segregated into gender-stereotyped roles or functions. Despite the major increase in women’s participation in the EU labour market over the last two decades, along with considerable evidence of ‘upskilling’, the level of sectoral, occupational or job segregation has continued to persist. Women’s participation has increased in some sectors, but not in others; as a result, female employment is still highly concentrated in a limited number of occupations.

In summary:

  • although there have been improvements in recent years, gender stereotyping remains evident in many occupations;
  • both sector specific and occupational segregation continue to be major obstacles to the equal treatment of women and men in employment;
  • those occupations which are female-dominated are also often the lowest paid jobs;
  • men and women are roughly equally represented in the high-skilled, non-manual and elementary occupational groups. However, almost 40% of all female employment is in the low-skilled, non-manual occupations, whereas this accounts for only around 14% of male employment (European Commission, Employment in Europe 2006, November 2006).

Data provided by the EIRO national centres in this study confirm this broad picture. In selecting those economic sectors with the largest differences between male and female employment rates, the similarity across the majority of EU Member States is striking.

Table 1: Employment of women and men, by sector (based on NACE classification) and country (%)
Table Layout
Country Agriculture, hunting and forestry(NACE A) Manufact-uring(NACE D) Electricity,gas andwater supply(NACE E) Construc-tion(NACE F) Health and social work(NACE N) Education(NACE M)
  W M W M W M W M W M W M

AT

38

62

26

74

20

80

12

88

80

20

69

31

BE

29

71

23

77

22

78

6

94

79

21

67

33

CY

34

66

32

68

20

80

6

94

72

28

75

25

DE

27

73

23

77

21

79

11

89

75

25

57

43

DK

19

81

32

32

23

77

9

91

83

17

60

40

EL

43

57

27

73

18

82

2

98

64

36

61

39

ES

28

72

26

74

18

82

5

95

74

26

65

35

FI

30

70

29

71

-

-

7

93

85

85

66

34

FR

29

71

-

-

19

81

9

91

74*

26*

-

-

HU

25

75

39

61

26

74

7

93

78

22

76

24

IE

9

91

29**

71**

-

-

5

95

71

29

83

17

IT

30

70

-

-

-

-

6

94

-

-

-

-

LT

40

60

50

50

21

79

9

91

76

24

83

17

LU

30

70

18

82

-

-

7

93

74

26

64

36

LV

33

67

43

57

29

71

9

91

85

15

81

19

MT

4

96

20

80

9

91

2

98

53

47

65

35

NL

26

74

17

83

-

-

-

-

80

20

60

40

NO

23

77

25

75

19

81

6

94

82

18

66

34

PL

44

66

35

65

22

78

11

89

81

19

76

24

RO

46

54

47

53

23

77

9

91

77

23

73

27

SK

27

27

40

60

20

80

8

92

83

17

77

23

UK

21

79

24

76

25

75

10

90

79

21

73

27

Note: - Data not available; * Figures combine both sectors ‘health and social work’ and ‘education’; ** Figures relate to ‘other production industries’.

Source: EIRO national centres, 2006


The ‘glass ceiling’ effect

Women’s increased participation in the labour market has not automatically allowed them access to positions of responsibility within organisations and to pay levels that reflect such positions. Within various sectors, women and men are engaged in different jobs, often with different pay rates. Women are often underrepresented in the higher paid jobs, a feature commonly known as the ‘glass ceiling’ effect. While research suggests that, in much of the EU, women and men now comprise equal numbers in many professions such as law and medicine, and equally occupy junior to middle management positions, the top rungs of most professions and organisations remain heavily male dominated. The European Labour Force Survey (Eurostat) for 2006 shows that in Europe, 70% of managers are men and only 30% are women. Some variation does emerge, nevertheless, in this respect across the countries. In Latvia and Lithuania, the proportion of female managers are above average at 42% and 45% respectively, while in Malta and Cyprus the corresponding figures are well below average at 13% and 19% respectively. The range is greatest among 10 of the new EU Member States (NMS), whereas among the older 15 Member States (EU15), the proportion of female managers ranges from between 26% in Germany to 38% in France.

The gender gap appears to be largest for the highest-level category of managers – directors and chief executives – with 1.4% of men holding such titles compared with only 0.4% of women (EU Labour Force Survey 2006). Moreover, recent data from the Women and men in decision-making database (487Kb PDF) (DG Employment, Social Affairs and Equal Opportunities, 2006) show that women are almost invisible in the top 50 publicly quoted companies. On average, only 3% of presidents and just 10% of board members of these key companies are women.

Table 2: Women and men in managerial positions, by country (%)
Table Layout
Country Women Men

AT

27

73

BE

33

67

CY

14

86

CZ

30

70

DE

26

74

DK

23

77

EE

37

63

EL

26

74

ES

32

68

FI

30

70

FR

38

62

HU

34

66

IE

30

70

IT

32

68

LT

44

56

LU

26

74

LV

42

58

MT

14

86

NL

26

74

NO

-

-

PL

32

68

PT

34

66

RO

31

69

SI

33

67

SK

31

69

UK

34

66

Note: - Data not available

Source: European Commission, Database on women and men in decision making, 2006

The data provided by the EIRO national centres confirm that a significant gender gap still persists at senior levels in organisations, even within those sectors predominantly occupied by women – notably, the education and health and social services sectors. Accordingly, top management positions are predominantly occupied by men, who also fill most of the highest academic and scientific positions. Although the diversity of data made available by the different national centres makes it difficult to draw direct comparisons, it is nevertheless clear from the selection of responses that some countries, such as Finland and Norway, have higher levels of female representation among manager and senior manager positions than other countries (Table 3). Nonetheless, even the best case examples reveal that the glass ceiling has not yet been surpassed. For example, despite legislation in Norway, target quota levels have not yet been achieved.

Table 3: Women in senior management positions, by country
Table Layout
Country Proportion of women in senior management

AT

In one 2006 survey, only 14 out of 418 private limited companies and stock corporations had management and supervisory boards with at least one woman. In 227 enterprises, both bodies were composed exclusively of men. Only 35 out of 941 management board members were female (3.7%), while only 229 out of 2,979 mandates for the supervisory boards were held by women (7.7%) (AT0511201N).

CY

One study on Women in the labour market in Cyprus, conducted by the Cyprus Employers and Industrialists Federation (Ομοσπονδία Εργοδοτών και Βιομηχάνων Κύπρου, OEB) in 2004, reported that women occupy only 14.4% of top management positions; moreover, according to a later study by OEB on Women’s access to top management positions in banks and semi-state organisations, women hold only 5.2% of senior management positions in semi-state organisations and 27.5% of key positions in banks.

DE

Although data are limited, surveys suggest that women occupy around 30% of all management positions. In healthcare and other private sector activities, women occupy less than 50% of top management positions, despite making up 75% of the workforce.

FI

Nearly 46% of all managers in administrative, managerial and professional occupations are women. This figure drops to 29% for senior staff and upper management and to 33% for senior staff in research and planning. However, women are better represented among senior staff in education and training (65%) and among other senior staff (55%).

FR

In 2002, women comprised 29% of executives in companies and the civil service. A number of studies have widely emphasised the scarcity of women in top-level positions in companies, the civil service, scientific research centres and at decision-making levels in France. Women represent only 7% of the managing executives of companies and occupy only 12% of senior positions within the civil service. Nonetheless, within the state civil service, women account for 54% of executive positions and senior professions. In French universities, only 18% of professors are women compared with 37% of lecturers.

HU

Research into the top 50 companies in Hungary clearly shows a ‘glass ceiling’ effect between middle and higher-level managerial positions. However, between 1992 and 2002, the proportion of women in high-level manager positions, senior professional or official categories increased from nearly 4% to just over 9%. Over the same period, an 11% increase to 27% was observed for women in the lower-level managerial, professional or official categories. Nevertheless, only 11% of women are present at the highest managerial level, while only 5% of company presidents are women.

IE

Only 31% of managers and administrators are women. In higher education, only 5% of professors are women, compared with 16% of senior lecturers and 37% of lecturers. In the civil service, women represent 4% of secretary generals, 10% of assistant secretaries and 12% of principal officers. Women account for just 8% of Irish chief executives, 21% of senior managers and 30% of middle managers, and make up only a quarter of all managers. In general, the more senior the management position, the wider the gender gap.

LT

Women are underrepresented in management positions and a widespread glass ceiling effect is evident, irrespective of discrimination laws. While many women are employed in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), few women manage large businesses. Although 33% of scientists in Lithuania are women, research shows that informal practices exist when conferring higher academic status and positions that impede the professional career of women scientists.

NL

Women’s participation in the higher ranks of education, healthcare and decision-making bodies ranges from between 20% and 30%. In the judiciary, women nevertheless make up 47% of the higher ranks. Women’s participation in management below board level is only 5%. At board level, women’s participation stands at around 4%–5%, depending on the sector of activity.

NO

Norway is the only country in the European Economic Area (EEA) where legislation exists covering the representation of women at board level in public limited companies (NO0306106F; NO0412104F). Even so, only 32% of public limited companies met the legal requirement for female representatives on the boards of directors elected by the owners and only 51% of public limited companies met the requirement for female employee representatives on the boards of directors, while only 10% of directors and chief executives of large enterprises in Norway are women. Private limited companies are not covered by such legislation. In these companies, 16.4% of board members and 11% of chairpersons are women. In general, the larger the company is, the lower the proportion of female managers. In companies with more than 50 employees, only 7%–8% of general managers are women. In companies with between one and nine employees, the respective figure rises to 17%. Overall, 19% of general managers and 29% of all managers are women, while 32% of middle managers are women.

PL

Lack of reliable data is a significant problem when attempting to analyse the position of women in senior positions in Poland. Approximately 32% of all Polish mangers are women. The situation in the private sector is thought to be worse than that in the public sector. Underrepresentation of women is significantly worse at company director and president level, possibly falling to as low as 2%.

SI

While analysis of all managerial positions in 2003 showed that 20% of such positions were occupied by women, the proportion of women in the top managerial positions is likely to be much lower. However, a 2005 survey of 101 companies revealed that five general manager positions were held by women, while in the 20 biggest Slovenian companies, 12 out of the 54 board members were women (22%).

UK

In 2006, 78 of the FTSE 100 companies had women directors on their boards, representing an increase of 13% compared with 2005. Moreover, 11 of the FTSE 100 companies now also have women executive directors. However, in 22 of the FTSE 100 companies, there are no women whatsoever present on the boards of directors. Overall, women comprise up to 34% of managers and senior officials.

Source: EIRO national centres


Qualifications and training

The underrepresentation of women in senior positions is not necessarily a reflection of a lack of education or skills among women. In 2005, the skills composition of the working age population at EU level was very similar for both men and women and, in fact, reflected the relatively greater upskilling of the female population in recent years.

Table 4: Population aged 25–64 years with at least an upper secondary level education, by sex and country, 2005 (%)
Table Layout
Country Total Women Men

AT

80.0

75.0

85.0

BE

65.5

65.1

65.8

CY

65.3

63.2

67.5

CZ

89.9

86.2

93.6

DE

83.2

79.8

86.6

DK

81.1

79.8

82.4

EE

89.1

91.0

87.0

EL

59.7

58.5

60.8

ES

48.4

48.5

48.3

FI

79.1

81.1

79.1

FR

66.4

64.6

68.2

HU

76.1

72.3

80.0

IE

64.6

67.7

61.6

IT

50.3

50.5

50.0

LT

87.1

87.9

86.2

LU

65.9

61.7

70.0

LV

83.6

86.2

80.8

MT

26.2

19.9

32.5

NL

71.7

68.3

75.1

NO

88.4

88.2

88.7

PL

84.6

83.5

85.7

PT

26.2

28.3

24.1

RO

72.8

67.5

78.3

SI

80.5

78.0

82.9

SK

87.6

84.6

90.8

UK

71.2

66.8

75.5

Source: Eurostat, EU Labour Force Survey, Spring 2005


Part-time employment

A key factor in understanding why women’s careers differ from those of men is part-time employment. Part-time work has been shown to be associated not only with less training, and therefore with fewer opportunities for upward occupational mobility, but also with lower pay and downward occupational mobility. In general, part-time work is largely female dominated: as many as 32.6% of women in employment work part time, while only 7.4% of working men hold part-time jobs. Although recourse to part-time work may enable people to enter and remain in the labour market, as long as lower pay rates and lack of training and development opportunities are associated with part-time work, it will continue to present a major barrier to ending gender discrimination in the workplace.

Table 5: Part-time employment as share of total employment, by country and sex, 2006 (%)
Table Layout
Country Women Men

AT

40.9

6.9

BE

42.6

7.9

CY

12.0

4.6

CZ

8.7

2.3

DE

45.8

9.3

DK

35.9

12.8

EE

11.6

4.6

EL

10.4

3.0

ES

23.5

4.5

FI

18.2

9.2

FR

30.7

5.8

HU

5.7

2.8

IE

-

-

IT

26.7

4.7

LT

11.8

6.5

LU

38.2

2.5

LV

8.7

4.6

MT

21.8

4.5

NL

74.7

23.2

NO

45.6

14.1

PL

13.5

7.1

PT

15.9

7.5

RO

10.2

9.3

SI

11.8

7.8

SK

4.8

1.2

UK

42.6

10.6

Note: - Data not available

Source: Eurostat, EU Labour Force Survey, Summer 2006

Overall, part-time work generally tends to be higher in countries with higher employment rates of about 67% and above – with the notable exceptions of Cyprus, Portugal and Finland – and much less frequent in those countries with lower employment rates, including Greece, Hungary and Slovakia. However, it is important to note that a high proportion of part-time work is not necessarily a precondition for a high female employment rate, as Finland and Portugal show. At the same time, rather than introducing policies that could extend part-time work or job sharing arrangements to senior jobs and male employment, part-time work remains almost exclusively confined to jobs at the bottom of the occupational hierarchy and to female employment. In Norway, for example, while 46% of all employed women work part time, only 11% of female managers (general and middle managers) work part time.

The data provided by the EIRO national centres and summarised here broadly confirms this situation (Table 6). However, two particularly striking details emerge from this data. Firstly, in most countries there is no systematic collection of data relating to the impact of employment status on training provision. Secondly, only in one country, namely Norway, do the figures show that women in part time employment receive equal access to training and development opportunities at work. Only three countries – that is, Finland, France and Norway – provided systematic data on levels of training according to employment status. Some countries were only able to provide a broad indication of the situation in this context, while other countries had no data whatsoever. The results summarised in Table 6 are based on the data that were available.

Table 6: Training provision for men and women, by employment status and country
Table Layout
Country Extent of training provision

AT

Women in low-skilled, part-time jobs tend to be discriminated against not only in relation to regular training opportunities, but also in terms of being deliberately classified in lower grades than men with equal qualifications.

BE

The main characteristics which determine training differences are age, education and employment status. While no specific figures relating to employment status exist, a difference can be inferred from the fact that job status is considered an important determining characteristic.

FI

According to the Quality of Work Life Survey, participation in training paid for by the employer has increased over the past 25 years. However, participation in training is clearly linked to employees’ status and level of education. Overall, the general trend has been the provision of less training – in other words, fewer days – to more people. In 2003, the average number of training days was 6.3 days among men and 5.2 days among women. While more women (46%) than men (39%) in full-time employment received training, only 22% of women working part time received training.

FR

In 2003, some 24% of female employees had access to continuing professional training, compared with 25% of male employees. However, differences in levels of training emerge according to company sector and size and, just as importantly, according to whether employees work full time or part time. Women who work part time have less access to training than full-time employees.

IE

Several factors are strongly related to participation in all forms of education and training. An employee is more likely to receive training if they: have existing qualifications; work in the public sector; are in full time employment; have a permanent contract; are a member of a union.

NL

No figures are available for access to training according to employment status. However, one study concluded that the dominant image of an employee participating in vocational training is that of a Dutch-born male employee, who is highly educated and who works full time in the higher ranks of a large company.

NO

Figures for 2005 show that 43% of women who work part time (34% men) and 57% of women who work full time (50% men) took part in courses and other training provided by their employer during the previous 12 months. In addition, 10% of women in full-time employment (5% of men) and 8% of women in part-time employment (7% of men) took part in formal further education (see EIRO article NO0405104F).

UK

Various research studies suggest that women in part-time employment are much less likely to receive training than men and women who work full time; however, since employers are not legally obliged to provide training, there is no impetus for a systematic collection of data on training provision according to employment status. The failure of employers to collect such data has been underlined by the numerous calls from trade unions for this type of information from large public sector organisations, such as local government and the National Health Service (NHS); however, employers have not been able to provide such data.

Source: EIRO national centres, 2006


Traditional career models

Data from the EU Labour Force Survey indicate that family or personal responsibilities remain among the main reasons why working age women choose to work part time; this is related to the finding that women still do the majority of the work in the home and for the family. This clearly has an impact on women’s work patterns, making it difficult for women to adapt to the typical male model of the traditional career pattern. However, data from the EIRO national centres suggest that changes have been taking place in terms of the predominant career model in the respective countries. Many centres reported that for men the dominant career model featured the two key elements of continuous service and regular promotion progress, at least until recently. The centres also confirmed that many women faced difficulties in fitting their work patterns into this type of model, and had therefore been disadvantaged.

The results in Table 7 give an insight into some of the views expressed by the EIRO national centres with regard to the relevance of the traditional career model in the respective countries. Despite some sweeping theoretical arguments about the positive transformation of career patterns as labour markets become more flexible, as organisational careers become more difficult to maintain and as individual responsibility for managing careers becomes more widespread, there was little evidence to support such claims. Most of the national centres contended that the changes had served to erode the traditional career model rather than to transform it. One exception in this instance is Denmark where an emphasis on ‘flexicurity’ has made the transition to greater job mobility more secure.

Table 7: Relevance of traditional career model, by country
Table Layout
Country Evidence of traditional career model

AT

The traditional career model dominated until the 1980s; since then, organisational careers have become more precarious. However, there has been little evidence of any marked change.

BE

The traditional model is said to be changing and in theory has been replaced by careers ‘without boundaries’, where individuals put together a portfolio from different work experiences. In practice, however, there is little evidence to support this theory.

CZ

The traditional model has been predominant and is still typical in public administration, state companies, and joint stock organisations. Foreign companies are seeking to apply an approach that places greater emphasis on the employee’s own activity, performance and loyalty. New forms of employment have not had any significant influence.

DE

Traditional concepts of career are increasingly being called into question; this is largely due to the persistently high unemployment rates, which have meant that organisational careers are difficult to sustain. There is no evidence that they are being replaced with another model.

DK

According to the Danish Association of Managers and Executives (Ledernes Hovedorganisation, LH), career patterns have changed ‘radically’ in the last 10 years. Owing to the Danish flexicurity model (DK0506103F), the country is generally known for its relatively high levels of occupational mobility.

EE

The traditional career model is no longer appropriate. In the early 1990s, a shift from a planned economy to a market economy occurred. During this period, new companies were rapidly created and old ones closed down. It is still very common to hire relatively inexperienced and young employees to high positions; however, this will probably change as general economic development stabilises.

EL

The traditional career model is still dominant.

ES

The traditional career model came under pressure in the 1980s. Subsequently, the career model based on internal labour markets began to decline to the point that job insecurity and employee turnover became common. The development of a professional career became limited to groups with high levels of education who were successful at carrying out tasks and projects, rather than obtaining a promotion due to seniority.

FI

Career development for those aged over 24 years is not considered as important as development in your own work.

FR

The traditional career model predominates. Men’s and women’s career paths do not resemble each other: women do not have the same jobs, career development, progress opportunities and salaries as men. Part-time work penalises women in relation to income and pensions, in turn compounding economic dependency.

HU

The traditional career model is the normal male employment pattern. This model is mainly based on full-time employment, uninterrupted and high commitment to job and tasks, with the job taking priority over family. In the socialist era, women were entitled to career breaks but this changed with the economic and political transition. However, sectoral differences remain important. Women in competitive sectors follow this traditional model, whereas women in public administration have some breaks in their career.

IE

The traditional career model is still important, particularly in larger companies and in the public sector. In recent years, this pattern has begun to change gradually, as more fluid and variable career patterns have emerged, alongside the advent of new and so-called atypical forms of employment.

IT

Career paths are still centred on the traditional career model, which excludes women from senior roles. In Italy, this model is associated with ‘face-time’ – a term which denotes working hours to acquire visibility in the eyes of colleagues and bosses, as opposed to fulfilling pressing or unexpected deadlines; this presents particular problems for women.

NL

The traditional career model is still appropriate. Women with careers have largely conformed to this model, thus taking on male conditions. However, this is currently under debate and is beginning to change slowly.

NO

The traditional career model is still dominant; increasingly, however, both younger male and female employees are seeking more challenging and interesting jobs, with opportunities for personal development, as well as changing jobs more frequently, instead of seeking lifelong careers.

PL

Traditional hierarchical careers have been significantly curtailed by the considerable number of corporate bankruptcies. In addition, career paths have been blocked by the entry of young incumbents; to relieve pressures, horizontal rather than vertical progression has been offered.

PT

The traditional concept of a career has persisted in many organisations, although it has been subject to a great deal of sector variation. This model has been less common in sectors with seasonal work, in manufacturing and in the private sector.

RO

Prior to 1990, traditional career patterns predominated. Since then, such patterns have been gradually disappearing. Nonetheless, they are still evident in the state-owned sector, where length of service is a prerequisite for holding a certain job and for obtaining a higher position.

SI

The traditional career model still persists for both men and women; however, women find it much harder to fit into the model, since they are still considered largely responsible for care and other unpaid work in the private sphere.

SK

Women’s careers mostly conform to patterns strongly influenced by traditional career concepts.

UK

Traditional bureaucratic patterns of work organisation have given way to a more flexible organisation of work, which entails less predictable career paths and lower employment security. However, overall job tenure rates have remained almost constant and the most dramatic changes have occurred in relation to low-skilled work. Restructuring and flexibility have served to erode the traditional career model rather than transform it. Nonetheless, the changes that have occurred vary considerably between companies and sectors.

Source: EIRO national centres, 2006


Changing attitudes

Several national centres (Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy) cited attitudes towards women and work as a continuing problem in their country. In Austria, a study conducted by the Institute for Organisation Studies and Organisational Behaviour revealed that the unequal treatment of women in careers was clearly not related to skill or qualification differences (Mayrhofer, W. et al, ‘Graduates’ career aspirations and individual characteristics’, Human Resource Management Journal, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2005). The study analysed, over a 10-year period, the careers of male and female graduates from an Austrian business university with the same formal qualifications and personality profiles. Strikingly, even though only women without children and with starting salaries equal to those of men were surveyed, the overall gap in women’s incomes compared with that of the men’s amounted to a total of €70,000 within this 10-year period.

The Irish EIRO national centre has also provided evidence which shows that a range of overlapping structural, institutional and attitudinal factors act as barriers to women reaching senior management positions. Key factors are unclear selection criteria for promotion, which in turn allow for considerable scope for discretion by senior management; the use of informal networks or ‘old boys’ clubs’, which help support candidates in their promotion and advancement; and the fact that male senior managers act as ‘gate-keepers’ to women’s entry into senior management. Although women are equally well-qualified, educated and trained, and employed in similar numbers, their progress into senior management positions is simply not comparable to that of men’s. Similarly, the response from the Italian national centre shows that surveys and life history studies on women continue to underline the difficulties involved in their career progression; this is particularly the case when professional advancement depends on working hours devoted, not to the fulfilment of pressing or unexpected deadlines, but to acquiring visibility in the eyes of colleagues and bosses – a factor which is considered the main obstacle to women’s career development.


Views of the social partners on gender and careers

Table 8 below provides a summary of the social partners’ views about equal opportunities in relation to careers in the respective countries, as reported by the national centres. Many of the centres reported that the social partners in their country by and large viewed equal opportunities as a key issue that needed to be addressed. However, greater variation emerged in the extent to which this view was shared across all of the social partners and the degree to which the social partners explicitly recognised a problem with career opportunities. In Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, the social partners are clearly working together to tackle gender discrimination. In other countries, such as Austria, Estonia, Lithuania and Slovakia, employers appear to remain unconvinced about the need to tackle gender discrimination in relation to careers. This contrasts with the UK, where occupational segregation in particular has recently become a priority issue because of its links to skill shortages in traditionally male-dominated economic sectors; this in turn is encouraging employers to adopt more active policies in this area. In a few countries – for example, the Czech Republic, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia – none of the social partners, for a variety of reasons, viewed equal opportunities in relation to career management as being a particular priority in their country.

Table 8: Social partners’ views on equal career opportunities for women, by country
Table Layout
Country Views of social partners

AT

Trade unions have been actively campaigning on issues concerning gender segregation and unequal career opportunities. The key problems for women and career progression are seen to be: gender stereotyping; the impact of low-skilled, low-paid part-time work; and gender specific education paths. However, equality issues are not seen as falling within the scope of the activities of employer organisations. Employers fear that equality policies may restrict their ability to use pay differentiation and working time flexibility as ways to reduce labour costs.

BE

The major themes currently being prioritised by all of the social partners are: tackling the gender pay gap; desegregation of the labour market; the improved entry of women into growth sectors; use of new information and communication technologies (NICT) by women; strengthening of female entrepreneurship; raising the status of traditional female occupations; improving occupational mobility; and developing new forms of work organisation to achieve a better work–life balance.

CY

All of the social partners strongly believe that gender occupational segregation, either horizontal or vertical, constitutes the main barrier to the promotion of equal opportunities between women and men in employment.

CZ

Gender issues, equal opportunities and equal pay are issues dealt with by the trade unions rather than the employer organisations. However, even within the trade union movement, these issues are largely discussed at the level of the Czech-Moravian Confederation of Trade Unions (Ceskomoravská konfederace odborových svazu, CMKOS) rather than at the level of individual unions. Little information and awareness exists about gender issues at the level of the individual trade union or enterprise, and trade unions lack the necessary resources to accommodate specialist issues. In addition, the topic of gender equality is sometimes denigrated and ridiculed and is therefore not considered as a priority.

DE

The Confederation of German Trade Unions (Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund, DGB) argues that works councils should play an active role in establishing a gender policy within their establishments; it also emphasises that it is up to the employers and works councils to decide how to organise their personnel management and how to incorporate a gender approach. DGB stresses that since sectors with a high ratio of female employees in general pay lower wages than other sectors, fair wages for both sexes should be secured through sector-wide collective agreements. In addition, establishments should offer more flexible working time schemes to provide greater opportunities for a better work–life balance.

The Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (Bundesvereinigung der Deutschen Arbeitgeberverbände, BDA) promotes the fostering of women’s careers through a range of policies, which they argue should be embedded in fair human resource policies at establishment level and promoted to employees at all levels. BDA encourages women to consider a wider choice of possible future occupations and argues that women should be supported through a more family-friendly business culture. The confederation also contends that management training initiatives should be used to foster women’s promotion to senior ranks and that consideration should be given to creating part-time senior positions.

DK

In 2004, the Confederation of Salaried Employees and Civil Servants (Funktionærerne og Tjenestemændenes Fællesråd, FTF) adopted a gender mainstreaming strategy. One of the objectives of this strategy is to increase the number of women managers at middle and upper management levels. FTF sees the imbalance between work and family life as a significant barrier to this objective and therefore calls for more flexible management positions. In many of the professions represented by FTF, for example school teachers and nurses, gender segregation is evident, with women representing, by far, the majority of employees in these sectors. FTF views this mainly as a problem of status and pay.

The Danish Confederation of Professional Associations (Akademikernes Centralorganisation, AC) argues that career progression should be based on individual competencies; as a result, gender is not perceived as an important issue. Conversely, the policy of LH is to encourage women to become managers and companies to hire them. LH sees the promotion of female role models in leadership and management as an important means of increasing the number of female managers.

Many members of the Danish Employers’ Association for the Financial Sector (Finanssektorens Arbejdsgiverforening, FA) prioritise the question of gender and careers, with different projects focusing on increasing the proportion of women in management positions. FA actively supports these efforts, mainly by providing statistics on this issue.

EE

A variety of views are held among the social partners in Estonia. The Confederation of Estonian Trade Unions (Eesti Ametiühingute Keskliit, EAKL) argues that measures to reduce or remove gender segregation should be discussed by all parties involved in social dialogue. EAKL is working in cooperation with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) and the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) to promote career opportunities for women. EAKL considers policies relating to pay as representing the most crucial issue. In contrast, the Estonian Employees’ Unions’ Confederation (Teenistujate Ametiliitude Keskorganisatsioon, TALO), which represents public sector employees mostly from education and cultural institutions, 75% of whom are female, argues that pay differences reflect levels of knowledge and qualification and are not the result of discrimination or segregation. The Estonian Employers’ Federation (Eesti Tööandjate Keskliit, ETTK) acknowledges the problem of gender segregation in principle, but does not regard it as an issue which it has to deal with.

EL

The issue of gender segregation in the labour market and discrimination against women has not been a priority for the social partners in Greece. Although a number of statements have been issued by both trade unions and employer organisations in support of greater gender equality at work, these statements have not been backed up by specific actions.

ES

The Trade Union Confederation of Workers’ Commissions (Comisiones Obreras, CC.OO) considers that measures related to gender equality, if fully developed and supported by the social partners, offer greater possibilities for improved work–life balance; along with the General Workers’ Confederation (Unión General de Trabajadores, UGT), CC.OO supports the equality measures set out in the draft Organic Law of Gender Equality. However, the Spanish Confederation of Employers’ Organisations (Confederación Española de Organizaciones Empresariales, CEOE) is opposed to the equality law, arguing that it places exclusive responsibility on the employers, without placing any demands on the workers, public authorities or society at large.

FI

A tripartite framework has been put in place in an attempt to end gender segregation. In 2004, a report was published into the adequacy of recent measures to promote equal pay. The report concluded that occupational gender segregation remained strong, that the pay determination system favoured male dominated sectors, and that an equal pay programme was needed to improve the situation. As a result, in 2005, a tripartite working group aimed at improving women’s participation in the labour market developed more equitable leave provisions for parents, encouraging more fathers to take parental leave. The working group has assessed the costs of family leave and unanimously agreed on proposals as to how these should be allocated.

FR

The opinion shared by the majority of trade unions in France is that real workplace equality has yet to be achieved. The General Confederation of Labour (Confédération générale du travail, CGT) has asked the unions to examine the status of women and equality in their own organisations and activities. The French Democratic Federation of Labour (Confédération française démocratique du travail, CFDT) and CGT both emphasise the coexistence between gender and professional equality at work rather than gender equality itself.

HU

At national level, women’s sections of trade union confederations are quite active: for example, the Women’s Commission (Női Választmány) of the Confederation of Hungarian Trade Unions (Magyar Szakszervezetek Országos Szövetsége, MSZOSZ) regularly publishes statements and engages in lobbying in this area. However, gender mainstreaming in career development is not an issue that is often highlighted.

IE

In recent years, sections of the Irish trade union movement have shown increased interest in gender issues. The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) and a number of its individual union affiliates have appointed dedicated equality officers to promote gender mainstreaming and to address gender segregation – both within unions and externally. The ICTU and its unions would like gender mainstreaming to go further. The Irish and Business Employer’s Confederation (IBEC) generally believes that the biggest single cause of the gender gap is the fact that women have less experience of and participation in the labour market compared with that of men. However, it does not support the implementation of more wide-ranging gender mainstreaming, nor is it in favour of the use of quotas. A key area where the social partners differ is over whether individual employers should be legally obliged to implement positive actions and equality action plans at the workplace. The unions would like to see this legal obligation introduced, but employers want such plans to remain voluntary.

IT

In the early 1990s, Law 125/1991 required employers to develop joint positive action projects for, and in some cases to promote, the presence of women in higher-level posts. More recently, in the private sector, social partner concern for equal opportunities and gender segregation in career development has diminished greatly. While the commitment of the national-level social partners extends to the creation of ‘joint bodies’ and statements of principle on eliminating gender segregation in career development, such measures have only been acted on in a few large companies. Issues such as equal pay, bias in the assessment of women’s work, the revision of job classification systems, and discrimination in career advancement have never been specifically addressed by trade union policies or by employer organisations.

LT

The views and opinions of the social partners differ significantly in this context. All three of the central trade union organisations view gender segregation as a major issue. However, the two central employer confederations contend that they do not face a problem in this regard.

LV

Gender segregation is not perceived as an important issue by Latvian trade unions or employer organisations, as gender discrimination in careers is already legally prohibited.

MT

Segregation has been the focal point of various debates about gender inequality among the social partners. Although gender discrimination legislation exists, various forms of discrimination are still evident. The trade unions believe that through collective bargaining in the public sector, they have been successful in obtaining family-friendly working conditions, more favourable than those provided for by law. In general, however, the social partners do not believe that the concentration of the sexes in different occupations necessarily means that either sex is disadvantaged.

NL

Both the employer organisation the Confederation of Netherlands Industry and Employers (Vereniging van Nederlandse Ondernemingen-Nederlands Christelijk Werkgeversverbond, VNO-NCW) and the Dutch Trade Union Federation (Federatie Nederlandse Vakbeweging, FNV) acknowledge the presence of gender segregation, along with the ‘glass ceiling’ and ‘glass wall’ effects. In 1991, the social partners declared that part-time work and having a career should not be mutually exclusive. VNO-NCW believes that talent is being wasted and that gender segregation is therefore bad for business. Employers are somewhat more positive about progress to date in this area than the unions. The social partners point to the importance of company culture as a key factor influencing career opportunities for women, highlighting that changing the attitude of management towards women is therefore vital. However, changing the attitudes of women themselves is also important.

NO

The social partners recognise that gender segregation is a problem, in that it is generally considered an advantage to have a mix of men and women in the workplace. Moreover, as a result of traditional choices, men and women are often unable to fulfil their potential and talents. At the same time, pay differences often follow the patterns of male and female dominated jobs; a more favourable gender balance would help to reduce this gender pay gap. Some limited support is provided by the social partners for initiatives aimed at recruiting more women to male-dominated sectors. The trade unions have been at the forefront of developing new measures to achieve a more equal distribution of family responsibility between men and women. One of the key issues has been parental leave and the rights of fathers, independent of the mother’s work history.

PL

The Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan (Polska Konfederacja Pracodawców Prywatnych Lewiatan, PKPP Lewiatan) contends that women face a disadvantage in the labour market. PKPP Lewiatan attributes this to the level of regulation in place, which despite being intended to protect women, actually discourages employers from hiring female employees.

PT

While a number of publications issued by Portuguese trade unions affirm the principle of gender equality, only limited statements have been made in this regard by employer confederations. However, there is broad consensus among the government and social partners that vocational education and training (VET) are among the key factors for overcoming the critical problems that face both society and the economy, including gender inequality.

RO

Issues relating to equality of career opportunities are covered during national collective work agreement bargaining.

SI

In the social agreement for 2003–2005, the social partners devoted considerable attention to issues relating to gender segregation and discrimination. The government committed itself to detecting and eliminating discrimination in the labour market and to adopting special measures to support women. At the same time, the trade unions committed themselves to monitoring the situation in the workplace and to warning employers against discriminatory situations, as well as raising awareness about discrimination (see Slovenian contribution to EIRO comparative study on Gender mainstreaming in industrial relations (77Kb Word doc)). The draft of the new social agreement for 2006–2008 devotes considerable attention to gender equality and equal opportunities, while the resolution of the National Programme for equal opportunities of women and men (2005–2013) has among its key aims the reduction of gender discrimination, segregation and the gender pay gap.

SK

The social partners have paid little attention to equality of opportunity in relation to careers.

UK

Occupational segregation has been high on the government’s agenda in recent years because of its perceived importance to the UK economy and its links to skill shortages. Several government reports have been commissioned which have all recommended policies aimed at improving women’s access to careers. These reports have been greatly welcomed by the trade union movement, while employers have also been showing a growing awareness of the damage that occupational segregation can do to their business. However, despite some innovative attempts to tackle the problems that deter women from taking certain jobs, these initiatives as yet seem to occur in isolation. A more systematic approach to tackling the problems needs to be taken, along with greater efforts to share best practice.

Source: EIRO national centres, 2006


Career opportunities for women in social partner organisations

Some of the national centres provided data about steps taken by trade unions in the respective countries to promote career opportunities within their own organisations; nonetheless, most centres also acknowledged that the trade unions still had a long way to go to make their organisations truly representative, particularly at senior level. Some examples of these trade union policies are summarised in Table 9 below. The majority of national centres reported that the respective employer organisations had not established any systematic internal policies aimed at promoting career opportunities for women. The most notable exception in this instance was Norway, where there is a legal obligation under the Gender Equality Act on all social partner organisations, as well as other employers and organisations, to actively promote gender equality within their organisations (NO0503101N; see also Norway’s contribution to EIRO comparative study on Gender mainstreaming in industrial relations (78Kb Word doc)).

Table 9: Internal trade union policies aimed at promoting career opportunities for women
Table Layout
Country Trade union policies

AT

The Union of Salaried Private Sector Employees (Gewerkschaft der Privatangestellten, GPA) has the most advanced policies in relation to gender mainstreaming in general and to the promotion of career opportunities for women in particular. GPA has established quality guidelines and introduced a strict quota policy for female representatives on all GPA bodies.

BE

In 2004, the three national trade union confederations signed a charter for equality of women and men in trade unions, promising to pay more attention to gender issues, starting with the representation of women in their own organisations. Measures have since been taken by the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions (Confédération des Syndicats Chrétiens/Algemeen Christelijk Vakverbond, CSC/ACV) and the Belgian General Confederation of Labour (Fédération Générale du Travail de Belgique/Algemeen Belgisch Vakverbond, FGTB/ABVV) to introduce quotas for female representation on governing bodies. Although these measures have only had limited success and women are still underrepresented, it has brought benefits in terms of changing attitudes and culture.

EE

EAKL offers regular training to both male and female members on the themes of gender and career planning and equal opportunities. A gender equality commission has been in operation in EAKL since 2000. In addition, EAKL provides annual training for its female members and employer representatives. A number of themes have been covered, including access to careers and how to bring issues of gender equality to the negotiation process.

ES

Equality plans have been adopted by many different federations and regional branches of CC.OO; all of these measures involve the introduction of internal measures aimed at including the gender perspective in the activities of trade unions, along with quotas in the management of each trade union section. In addition, UGT is developing a project on the elimination of gender stereotypes in the working environment and in trade unions.

FI

The Central Organisation of Finnish Trade Unions (Suomen Ammattiliittojen Keskusjärjestö, SAK) implements a gender equality plan, which covers the promotion of gender equality in the activities of both SAK-affiliated trade unions and among its own personnel. The primary goal of this initiative is to reduce the underrepresentation of women in decision-making bodies by 50%. Accordingly, SAK has set quotas for female representation at congress, general council and executive board levels. The Confederation of Unions for Academic Professionals (Akateemisten Toimihenkilöiden Keskusjärjestö, AKAVA) also has a gender equality plan in place, as do some of its affiliated unions; this plan encompasses set targets and will evaluate gender impacts according to its 2004–2007 guidelines. AKAVA has also established an equality working group, which deals with gender issues; in addition, it organises equality training for negotiators in its affiliated unions (FI0604019I).

IE

There is evidence that some Irish trade unions have established an infrastructure to support internal gender mainstreaming. The ICTU has compiled a training programme on promoting equality and diversity, to assist its affiliated unions to build the skills of officials and activists in relation to equality in employment. Furthermore, each of its affiliated unions is required to adopt the Model Equality Clause, which guarantees commitment to the promotion of equality as part of the union’s employment practices and to the promotion of equality in relation to access to and membership of all its internal structures. This clause commits the unions to taking the following measures: ensuring that recruitment and selection is open and transparent; monitoring its workforce; providing a range of work–life balance policies; monitoring the composition of its lay representatives; promoting equality through all of its activities. In addition, the ICTU is in the process of developing a Leadership Initiative for Females in Trade Unions (LIFT) programme, aimed at achieving organisational change and at developing skills to address the underrepresentation and participation of women at leadership levels in trade unions.

NL

The trade union federation FNV has been implementing a positive action policy for several years. As a result, a greater number of female staff members have been appointed. At present, there is a larger percentage of female employed staff than there are female members; however, elected unpaid officials have a much lower female participation rate.

PL

The All-Poland Alliance of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, OPZZ) has a women’s committee whose remit includes monitoring the situation of women in the labour market and analysing proposed legislation. The other major Polish union, the Independent and Self-governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy ‘Solidarność’, NSZZ Solidarność) has established an ombudsman for women’s affairs.

RO

The National Trade Union Confederation Cartel Alfa (Confederatia Nationala Sindicala Cartel Alfa, Cartel Alfa) is involved in the Equal Opportunities for Men and Women – A European Value project. Funded by the EU, this project aims to raise awareness of equal opportunities among Cartel Alfa’s own trade union members.

SI

The most active social partner organisation in this context is the Association of Free Trade Unions of Slovenia (Zveza svobodnih sindikatov Slovenije, ZSSS), which has passed an action plan for the support and establishment of equal opportunities for women and men. This initiative includes a number of measures aimed at redressing the underrepresentation of women in senior trade union posts and at least halving the gender gap between membership and leadership.

UK

Many of the trade unions are aware that there are some aspects of participation and representation that are less than ideal. In particular, women have been underrepresented in the executive and senior committees of trade unions and among full-time officers. Reasons for this under-representation relate to trade union rules on office holding, inconvenient times and locations for meetings, unequal sharing of domestic responsibilities, and the lack of childcare provision. Although two fifths of the affiliated members of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) are women, only nine of the TUC’s 69 affiliated unions have women in top positions. Most of these unions are very small with fewer than 9,000 members. In 2003, the membership breakdown of the TUC’s five largest affiliated unions – the Public Service Workers’ Union (UNISON), the Transport and General Workers’ Union (TGWU), the General Union (GMB), Amicus and the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) – was as follows:

Proportion of female members: UNISON 72%; TGWU 21%; GMB 38% Amicus 32%; USDAW 69%

Proportion of female national executive committee members: UNISON 64%; TGWU 33%; GMB 38% Amicus 33%; USDAW 59%

Proportion of female full-time officers: UNISON 48%; TGWU 6%; GMB 17% Amicus 20%; USDAW 63%

Source: EIRO national centres, 2006


Social partners’ attempts to influence other organisations

Clearly, some of the social partners – in particular the trade unions – have been actively calling for legislation and policy changes related to gender and careers. In a number of countries, trade unions also appear to have had an impact on highlighting these issues among their members through various initiatives. However, it is less obvious in what way employer organisations have sought to encourage their members to take a more proactive approach to the problem. Employers are generally reluctant to encourage regulation on this issue, including regulation through collective agreements, preferring instead tailor-made company-level agreements.

Table 10: Examples of social partners influencing other organisations, by country
Table Layout
Country Social partner initiatives

DE

The BDA employer confederation promotes the fostering of women’s careers through a bundle of policies centred on the principles of equal opportunities for both sexes, and a family-friendly business culture. It argues that these principles should be embedded in the enterprise’s human resource policy and then promoted to employees at all levels.

DK

The Confederation of Danish Industries (Dansk Industri, DI) and the Danish Centre for Information on Women and Gender (KVINFO) have initiated a project called ‘Women on board’, aimed at promoting the appointment of more women to the boards of private companies. The main feature of the project is a database of information on women who are qualified for board positions. All members of DI can use the database to search for prospective members for their boards. DI has made a number of recommendations to its members, namely to private companies in the industry sector, in an effort to increase women’s representation in management positions; such recommendations include making visible opportunities available for flexible working time, offering career development programmes and management training. This resulted from a survey showing that career development was among the top priorities for female managers, while only 30% of companies offer such programmes.

ES

Both CC.OO and UGT have cooperated with the government in drawing up the draft law on gender equality. Under this draft law, there will be a duty to negotiate measures aimed at promoting equal treatment and equal opportunities for men and women, or to introduce an equality plan in the collective bargaining agreement. The draft legislation also includes measures aimed at devising collective agreements for working time arrangements and at securing greater rights to information about issues such as gender segregation at work.

FI

Under the revised Gender Equality Act (2005) and the revised Act on equality between men and women at the workplace, which came into force on 1 June 2005, an employer must draw up a gender equality plan in cooperation with staff, when at least 30 workers are employed on a regular basis. An equality plan must include an analysis of the existing situation regarding gender equality in the workplace, including a breakdown of the placement of women and men in different tasks, and an analysis of men’s and women’s tasks; it should also include measures, planned or implemented, to promote equality, along with an evaluation of existing measures and the results they have produced. To date, approximately every second workplace in the public sector has implemented such planning, covering about two thirds of employees. One example of how such a plan can affect women’s pay concerns the food processing plant Cloetta Fazer Suklaa. In this particular company, women used to earn less than men, and the company differentiated between women’s and men’s machines, thus considering women’s work to be easier than men’s. Subsequently, however, the company trained every worker to use all kinds of machines; once the women had been trained and their skills developed, their wages were then increased.

UK

Since 2002–2003, an explicit public service agreement target has been in place across government, in relation to delivering an achievable improvement of equality for women. The government’s Women and Equality Unit (WEU) has been given the task of advising other departments on their specific targets for achieving this aim and of reporting on progress across the government. However, in the government report Jobs for the girls (205Kb PDF), it was noted that the WEU still has considerable work to do and may have neither the necessary authority in relation to other departments nor the resources to complete its task.

In 2006, the government issued an action plan, which includes the following measures: support for initiatives aimed at increasing the availability of quality part-time work; a programme for exemplar employers (more than 80 companies have signed up so far); and support to trade union equality representatives through the Union Modernisation Fund.

In April 2007, a new Equality Bill is set to come into force, which places a new gender equality duty on public sector employers.

Source: EIRO national centres, 2006


Projects carried out under the EQUAL initiative

EQUAL is a European Social Fund (ESF) Community initiative, which provides funds for projects aimed at piloting and promoting new means of combating discrimination and inequalities in the labour market. Initiatives under this programme were widely cited by many national centres. However, while many of these projects involved improving equality of opportunity in general, relatively few were related to the specific issue of improving career opportunities for women. There were, nevertheless, some notable exceptions, as outlined in Table 11.

Table 11: Examples of EQUAL projects promoting equal opportunities, by country
Table Layout
Country Project

DE

The Total E-Quality project seeks to establish equal opportunities in business, science, politics and administration, and to bring about changes in employers’ personnel policies. The Audit Family and Professional Career initiative promotes the use of a human resources auditing method, designed to analyse employers’ human resource needs and to help promote a more family-friendly business culture.

EE

The EQUAL project ‘Choices and balances’ offers 40 hours of training on career planning, flexible work, family and work reconciliation, and individual consultation, aimed at reducing the barriers to re-entry into the labour market for parents of young children. Another project, which comes under the EU fifth framework strategy programme on gender equality, is targeted at mid-career women; the initiative offers training and mentoring support for developing managerial skills, along with opportunities for networking, nationally and internationally, to those who are already advanced in their careers and who are looking to take on executive roles at the top of their organisation.

IE

The ‘Women at work’ study was conducted in 2005 by the three large public sector organisations Dublin Bus, An Post and Iarnród Éireann. The study aimed to improve the gender balance in those grades and jobs where women are underrepresented and to examine barriers to the recruitment, retention and progression of women in the three workplaces. The three companies under investigation have workplaces that have been traditionally male dominated, with jobs that have been viewed as ‘heavy work’; they also share similar union structures and have experienced difficulties in retaining female workers, particularly during women’s childrearing years. The project sought: to analyse data, policies and procedures; consult with representative groups to identify perceived barriers; compare data and practices across the three organisations; share experiences and learning in the three organisations; and identify and highlight models of good practice. The analysis resulted in recommendations in five key areas, namely: the need for senior management who can act as ‘equality champions’ and who can shift traditional perceptions about gender balance, while supporting changes in the work organisation; the implementation of equality policies and improved opportunities for flexible working for all staff; supporting women to take on leadership roles and positions where they are underrepresented; workplace actions to combat vertical and horizontal segregation; and integrating gender into collective bargaining and partnership negotiations.

NL

The ‘MIXED’ project focused on the promotion of women in higher positions in the labour force. The initiative had two main objectives: to develop, disseminate and monitor instruments which promoted the advancement of women into higher-level positions in the workforce; and to place and maintain the issue of the advancement of women into higher-level positions on the corporate agenda. In 2000, a ‘network of ambassadors’ was also established by the government. In the network, board members and managers of leading companies come together to discuss the ‘glass ceiling’ effect and how to dismantle it; they discuss their personal goals and what they want to achieve in the upcoming year; a year later, they meet again to discuss the progress made.

Source: EIRO national centres, 2006


Conclusions

Despite the increasing importance of, and focus on, gender equality in European debate – along with a substantial amount of policy initiatives and legal regulation, the evidence shows that gender equality in careers is still some way off. Although recent changes in work organisation, labour market flexibility and organisational restructuring have had some impact on careers, the effect has not influenced the traditional career model per se. At the same time, while the traditional model remains dominant for many countries, others have seen an erosion of this model, leaving both men and women exposed to a more precarious and uncertain working future. One exception to this general trend is the implementation of ‘flexicurity’ policies seen in Denmark.

Many trade unions have been proactive in campaigning on the topic of equality in careers and in increasing their member’s awareness of and ability to raise such issues with employers. Employers, on the other hand, seem slow to take on the issue of gender discrimination in careers. Nevertheless, this looks set to change. In the UK, for example, decreasing occupational segregation is seen as an important step in reducing the problem of skill shortages; as a result, there is a clear business case for combating occupational segregation. In Germany, the employer confederation BDA has called on companies to implement a range of policies to promote women’s careers, and argues that the first step should be to ensure that the principle of equality of opportunity is embedded in the human resource policy of each establishment. However, while some innovative attempts have undoubtedly been made to tackle the problems that lead to gender discrimination in careers, too often these measures occur in isolation.

Other evidence from the EIRO national centres suggests that no significant change has occurred at company level, for example, as observed in Austria, France, Ireland and Italy. The comparative study reveals continuing problems with attitudes towards women in the workplace. Only 30% of managers are women, even in economic sectors with high levels of female employment; in general, the more senior the management position, the fewer the number of women in such roles. At the same time, countries with legislation on this matter have experienced difficulties in complying with gender quotas. Indeed, two countries, Austria and the UK, noted the problem of downward occupational mobility among women when returning to work after maternity leave, notwithstanding legislation aimed at protecting women against this form of discrimination.

Such findings are supported by other cross-national research into gender and career development, which find that women experience problems with credibility, blocked occupational mobility, discrimination and fixed stereotypes. Such stereotypes embrace the beliefs that successful managers have male attributes; that women do not have the commitment or motivation to manage others; that married women or mothers are unsuitable for jobs requiring foreign travel and long hours; that men are more emotionally stable than women and are intellectually superior; and that other employees, particularly men, will not want to work for a woman. Perhaps these findings are not necessarily surprising. Research into career management, regardless of gender, suggests that levels of expertise at company level may be particularly poor: few senior managers are firmly committed to career management activities; few companies train their line managers to support the career development of their staff; and in practice, most energy in terms of career management is devoted to a relatively small group of very senior employees. Arising from such findings, the principal problem here appears to be ensuring that legislation actually gets translated into practice at company level.

Another closely related point raised by these findings concerns the availability of systematic data on the impact of employment status on workplace practices. Whether or not data are collected is often a useful indication of the relative importance of the issue under consideration. Unless existing practices are monitored and evaluated, there will often be insufficient evidence to provide the impetus for change. However, employers have shown great reluctance to go down the route of compiling systematic data on this issue. Some employer organisations have argued strongly against compulsory equal pay audits, because of the costs involved in collecting and analysing the data. In contrast, a key finding of the EIRO study on Gender equality plans at the workplace underlined how one of the distinctive features of the more successful Swedish model was the obligation on both public and private sector employers to not only implement, but also to monitor and evaluate the impact of such plans.

Although the national centres were unable to provide systematic data on the impact of employment status on training provision, there was evidence to suggest that this constitutes a potentially major barrier to women’s progress in careers. What makes these findings particularly significant is the sheer number of women in part-time employment in the EU, and thus the proportion of women whose career opportunities are likely to be adversely affected. The persistence of female-dominated, low-skilled, low-paid, part-time work is a major factor in the continuing problems of gender equality in careers. At the same time, there is an underlying view that some jobs, particularly senior managerial posts, skilled manufacturing jobs, and key service industry posts, are unsuited to flexible and part-time working – a view which is accepted far too readily. Instead of introducing policies that might extend part-time work or job sharing arrangements to senior jobs and male employment, part-time work remains almost exclusively confined to jobs at the bottom of the occupational and organisational hierarchy and to women’s employment. This ultimately represents a major barrier to women’s progression to more senior, responsible and well-paid roles.

Helen Newell, Industrial Relations Research Unit, University of Warwick, UK


Annex

Country codes
Country codes
Country code Country name

AT

Austria

BE

Belgium

CY

Cyprus

CZ

Czech Republic

DE

Germany

DK

Denmark

EE

Estonia

EL

Greece

ES

Spain

FI

Finland

FR

France

HU

Hungary

IE

Ireland

IT

Italy

LT

Lithuania

LU

Luxembourg

LV

Latvia

MT

Malta

NL

Netherlands

NO

Norway

PL

Poland

PT

Portugal

RO

Romania

SI

Slovenia

SK

Slovakia

UK

United Kingdom

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