Gender and career development — Poland

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 17 May 2007



About
Country:
Poland
Author:
Piotr Sula
Institution:

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

The professional situation of Polish women has been steadily improving. To look at the remuneration indicators (with women coming closer to the pay levels achieved by their male colleagues) or at the increasing numbers of women working in managerial roles, there are grounds for concluding that the traditional arrangement whereunder men concentrated on professional careers while women worked in the household is showing signs of strain. If women do continue to devote more time to household responsibilities than men, this is probably due to factors of culture, awareness, and psychology, and any major changes in this respect will have to be of the evolutionary sort. In the context of their workplaces, meanwhile, women oftentimes put the brakes on their professional advancement through their own decisions – the tendency is for women to read for university degrees in the humanities to a degree incommensurate with actual demand for humanities specialisations in the job market.

1. Changing concepts of careers

Over the past dozen years or so, professionally active Poles had the opportunity to experience firsthand some material changes concerning possibilities for advancement in their line of work. What’s more, the phases during which any given form of professional advancement predominated were so brief in duration that it would be difficult indeed to speak of the establishment of any one professional career model. In the heady days at the outset of Poland’s economic and political reforms, many individuals scaled the successive rungs of the advancement ladder in their professions comparatively quickly, with some assuming mid-level managerial positions immediately upon graduating from university. Such overnight careers were possible in the Poland of the early 1990s because, in many areas, the market was a completely undeveloped one, with the companies operating in it stepping into what had hereto been a void. Liberalisation of the Polish economy led to the appearance of niches which soon attracted the attention of foreign investors. In many cases, the representatives of large Western companies were interested only in building up a distribution network for their products; such a strategy could feasibly be implemented by people making up in flexibility and drive what they lacked in specialized knowledge. But as the market transformation launched in the early 1990s progressed, the possibilities for day-to-day success stories diminished, particularly as regards promotion to managerial positions or to the governing bodies of companies. Research by IPK Doradztwo Personalne, the human resource consultancy, indicates that lower level managerial positions remain quite accessible, and over 70% of their holders are promoted to these capacities before they turn 30. The next move up the corporate ladder, however, may be long in coming. Some employers unable to offer promotion to senior management level anytime in the foreseeable future (perhaps because the incumbents are in their early 40s) extend to their employees the possibility of ‘horizontal promotion’, moving them to new posts of essentially the same seniority; in this way, companies seek to prevent pent-up frustration among energetic, committed employees who may feel that they’ve come up against a wall.

In the space of the last 15 years, the possibilities for a traditional, hierarchic career – understood as work with a single employer and vertical advancement within one or more structures – have been significantly curtailed by the considerable number of corporate bankruptcies. These were brought about by restructuring processes (of state-owned enterprises) and by mounting competitive pressures (in the private sector). Things came to where, in some sectors (such as traditional industry), possibilities for advancement actually stood at nil for years on end, and many employees could consider themselves lucky enough if they managed to hold down their jobs at all. That said, it is worth pointing out that, over the past few years, there has been a sustained decrease in the number of bankruptcies in Poland (with 727 companies going bust in 2005, as compared with 1,163 in 2004).

Any deliberations on the professional career model in Poland ought to take into account shifts in the forms of occupational activity. Self employment is becoming increasingly popular (PL0608019I); according to the Central Statistical Office for Poland (Główny Urząd Statystyczny, GUS), some 2.7 million people (27% of the workforce) have elected to set up their own business. In this way, no less than a quarter of all Polish workers have abandoned the ‘traditional’ career model. One should also have due heed for the increase in employee mobility in terms of occupation, skills, and geography; Polish employees are demonstrating increased willingness to improve their skills and to acquire new ones, and also to travel in search for work (within Poland as well as to other countries).

Progressing to the professional life of Polish women, one notices a certain freezing of the social and professional role of women. On the other hand, however, the situation of professionally active women is very much influenced by the factors adumbrated above, to mention only the problem of unemployment – as much of an issue for Polish women as it is for men. According to data set out in Information About the State and Structure of Unemployment Among Women in 2005, a document drawn up by the Labour Market Department at the Polish Ministry of Labour and Social Policy (Ministerstwo Pracy i Polityki Społecznej, MPiPS), women accounted for 53.6% of all unemployed Poles as at late December 2005. Given that (according to the Small Statistical Yearbook for 2006), 52% of the Polish population was female, over-representation of women among the unemployed is marginal at most, yet cause for concern is presented in the fact that many women remain without gainful employment for more than 12 months – women account for 59% of the long-term unemployed in Poland.

The thesis about a freeze of the social and professional role of women presented above does not find corroboration in the latest trends. It is increasingly often that women in Poland assume managerial positions. The unfavourable proportions persisting in this area are, to some extent, the result of discriminatory practices. The fact that a woman is less likely to be promoted than a male colleague indubitably has something to do with the fact that women tend to devote more time to household responsibilities (according to Eurostat, men spend 2 hours and 22 minutes per day on household chores, and women – twice as much) and, as a result, have less time in which they can commit themselves to their jobs.

2. Data on Segregation and Mobility

According to prevailing opinions and stereotypes, certain jobs pass for typical man’s stuff, and others – as the purview of women. These stereotypes continue to be reflected in the realities of the Polish job market. The question isn’t so much one of specific jobs as of entire industries which are either masculinised or feminised. As the table set out below illustrates, women clearly dominate in education, healthcare, and in social work; the table also presents details of the gender, working time (full- or part-time), and employer (public or private sector) breakdown of employment in individual industries.

Table 1. Employment Levels in 2004 Broken Down by Gender, Industry, and Form of Employment
Industry Employment Full- and part-time Ownership structure
Full-time Part-time Public sector Private sector

Total

Incl. women

Total

Incl. women

Total

Incl. women

Total

Incl. women

Total

Incl. women

Agriculture, hunting, forestry

2,139,518

934,235

79,510

20,589

16,703

4,451

38,996

9,985

2,100,522

924,250

Fishing

5,608

554

2,281

302

163

44

867

121

4,741

433

Mining

189,803

21,099

186,534

20,387

656

221

153,126

17,041

36,677

4,058

Industrial processing

2,515,395

875,653

1,968,308

683,434

92,656

46,797

187,879

49,525

2,327,516

826,128

Generation and supply of power, gas, and water

225,671

48,625

220,365

46,807

3,349

1,434

194,469

42,107

31,202

6,518

Construction

588,806

66,690

326,628

37,543

14,867

4,347

28,178

5,074

560,628

61,616

Commerce and repairs

1,983,134

1,011,487

778,749

374,665

109,665

75,371

19,007

9,029

1,964,127

1,002,458

Hotels and restaurants

216,337

138,320

80,973

54,462

21,041

12,644

17,601

12,474

198,736

125,846

Transport, warehouses, communications

704,774

194,363

484,524

150,983

27,761

15,312

328,101

111,999

376,673

82,364

Financial intermediation

274,668

190,861

201,838

143,159

19,355

14,531

72,370

52,576

202,298

138,285

Services for real property and companies

940,410

416,671

491,050

217,348

116,167

53,133

160,081

86,118

780,329

330,553

Public administration and national defence, mandatory social and health insurance

851,607

389,438

517,696

323,244

26,544

12,860

850,658

389,244

949

194

Education

999,496

760,970

848,925

659,074

127,680

89,010

947,485

728,909

52,011

32,061

Healthcare and social aid

704,517

567,824

571,072

470,369

40,447

29,181

556,354

453,116

148,163

114,708

Utility, social, and individual services, other

380,510

202,246

162,701

78,135

32,113

20,133

140,460

74,179

240,050

128,067

Source: Employees in the National Economy in 2004, GUS

As already mentioned above, women are slightly over-represented in the population of unemployed Poles. This may come as some surprise if once considers that, these days, more women than men complete higher education courses in Poland. The difficulties faced by female entrants to the job market result to some extent from employer fears concerning the efficiency of women workers in the context of the fact that many of them must go home to what is essentially another full-time job: taking care of children and running a household. Also, women hold managerial positions considerably less frequently than men; according to GUS data, women accounted for some 32% of all Polish managers in 2005. Research by the State Labour Inspection (Państwowa Inspekcja Pracy, PIP), meanwhile, indicates that women held 35% of all senior management positions in 2002 and 38% in 2003 (Equal Treatment of Women and Men in Labour Relations. Mobbing in Work Settings, State Labour Inspection, Warsaw 2005). The unfavourable position of women in this respect persisted in the public sector as well as – to a slightly greater extent - in the private one. Also, the term ‘managerial position’ is a fairly broad one; if one were to narrow it down to company directors and presidents, the under-representation of women would become considerably greater. Dr Ewa Lisowska, a researcher who has done considerable work on the situation of women in the job market, estimates that women may account for some 2% of all incumbents in this category of positions. All this information is offered with the caveat that these are but estimates; to date, no dependable studies on this subject have been carried out in Poland.

3. Data on Training and Qualifications

Comparing the education levels of women and men in Poland, one finds that women are consistently increasing their advantage in terms of the number of university diplomas. Table 2 sets out detailed information concerning education of professionally active women and men in Poland.

Table 2. Education Levels of Professionally Active Women and Men, 2000 - 2003
Gender Education Professionally active by gender and by education in 2000 – 2003 (%)
2000 2001 2002 2003
Women Higher

15

16

18

20

Post-secondary vocational, secondary vocational

34

33

32

31

Secondary general

11

11

11

12

Vocational

25

26

25

25

Elementary, incomplete elementary

15

14

14

13

Men Higher

11

12

12

14

Post-secondary vocational, secondary vocational

26

26

27

26

Secondary general

4

4

4

5

Vocational

43

43

42

42

Elementary, incomplete elementary

16

15

15

13

Source: GUS and http://www.monitoring.rownystatus.gov.pl/export/sites/netms/index/chapter_0004/chapter_4.1/chapter_4.1.4/4.1.4.7.xls

No data is available concerning the number of training events organised by employers for their employees.

4. The Social Partners and Gender and Careers

The social partners – employer organisations and trade unions alike – are in agreement that the situation of women in the Polish labour market ought to be improved, although they take different views as to how his might be achieved.

Representatives of the Polish Confederation of Private Employers Lewiatan (Polska Konfederacja Pracodawców Prywatnych Lewiatan, PKPP Lewiatan) maintain that women face a disadvantage in the labour market on account of the myriad rules intended to safeguard the interests of pregnant women and of mothers caring for young children. PKPP Lewiatan argues that these regulations, even though their ostensible purpose is to protect women, have the actual effect of discouraging employers from hiring female workers. These fears on the part of employers might be assuaged if Polish men were more eager to step forward and take advantage of the child-raising leave to which they are theoretically entitled under pertinent employment laws but which, to date, they have been loath to use.

Employer organisations have been speaking out in favour of employing women. The Confederation of Polish Employers (Konfederacja Pracodawców Polskich, KPP) has gone on record as stating that female employees are ‘more valuable’ because they tend to be healthier and, accordingly, go on sick leave less often than men, making them more economical for their employers.

All the employer organisations seem to concur that two positive trends have been emerging as regards women in the job market. First, women have been displaying an ever-increasing interest in establishing their own businesses. Second, remunerations of female workers have been steadily, if slowly, increasing, to where they now stand at some 80% of the average remuneration for men.

As regards union involvement in betterment of the position of women in the job market, there are two initiatives which are worth mentioning. The All-Poland Organisation of Trade Unions (Ogólnopolskie Porozumienie Związków Zawodowych, OPZZ) maintains among its dedicated problem teams a Women’s Committee; its portfolio includes monitoring the situation of women in the labour market and analysis of proposed legislation. The other major Polish union, the Independent and Self Governing Trade Union Solidarity (Niezależny Samorządny Związek Zawodowy Solidarność, NSZZ Solidarność), has an analogous institution in the person of its Ombudsman for Women’s Affairs. Also worth mentioning in his context is the Gender Equality Project pursued by of NSZZ Solidarność of Małopolska chapter in cooperation with partners from Spain, Germany, and Ireland. Its goals include research and education as well as propagating solutions conducive to gender equality in the workplace.

5. National Centre View

As the information cited above indicates, the problem of equal treatment for women in the workplace is a significant one in Poland and will continue to be so, also due to the fact that women consistently take home less pay than their male counterparts. That said, it should also be borne in mind that, in at least some instances, Polish women condemn themselves to lesser pay by not abiding by the rules of the free market. The job market has demand for science and mathematics graduates; women, meanwhile, account for only 43% of Polish students pursuing such disciplines and for not less than 69% of humanities students.

As regards the question of the number of women in managerial positions, there appears to be one sector where the suggestion that women are discriminated against in the staffing of such positions is refuted – that of education. According to a report by the Centre for Further Education of Teachers (Centralny Ośrodek Doskonalenia Nauczycieli, CODN), 80% of all educational sector employees in 2005 were women, as were 72% of all school directors in Poland.

Yet the gender representation situation in the education sector is something of an anomaly in the Polish job market as a whole. If we accept for a given that some changes are called for with respect to employment of women in Poland, these changes ought not to be of a legislative nature – certainly not in the first order of sequence. After all, the Polish Constitution as well as the Polish Labour Code explicitly provide for equality of the sexes. Any changes must be first and foremost ones of attitude and of outlook. From the pragmatic point of view, however, the unwillingness of some employers to hire women for fear of the costs entailed in child-raising leave seems understandable given high unemployment and the difficult conditions faced by many companies.

(Piotr Sula, Institute of Public Affairs (Instytut Spraw Publicznych, ISP)) and Wrocław University (Uniwersytet Wrocławski, UWr)

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