Topic 2 Main Topics in Spotting Discrimination in the Workplace

Despite the considerable progress that has been made in relation to women’s participation in the labour market, significant inequalities and gaps still persist between women and men:

“The gender pay gap in the EU stands at 14.1% and has only changed minimally over the last decade. It means that women earn 14.1% on average less per hour than men.

Women in the EU even earned 39.6% less than men overall in 2014. One of the reasons is the fact that on average women spend fewer hours in paid work than men: Whereas only 8% of men in the EU in 2019 worked in part-time, almost a third of women across the EU (30.7 %) did so” (European Commission, 2019).”

The gender pay gap is a consequence of interrelated factors and various inequalities women face in access to work, such as:

  • Direct discrimination. Some women earn less than men doing the same job, although this is a partial explanation due to the effectiveness of the EU legislation
  • The undervaluation of women’s work. Women’s competencies are sometimes undervalued compared to those of men. Thus, jobs that require the same skills, qualifications or experience tend to be poorly paid when they are performed mostly by women instead of men
  • Traditions and gender stereotypes, for example the choice of educational paths and, consequently, the professional careers that girls and women develop. This is reflected in a lower presence of women in scientific and technical jobs, the jobs with greater social prestige and better pay

 Other factors are sectoral segregation, work-life balance or the glass ceiling effect, some of them explained below.

  • Even if increasing in the last decades, candidate EU countries’ employment and participation rates for women are still systematically lower than for men. Additionally, the employment rate for women in the EU Member States is approximately 67%, versus 79% for men (Eurostat, 2018).

  • Gender-based segregation in employment is still a problem, with women and men over/under-represented in various sectors and occupations: “3 in 10 women work in education, health and social work (8% of men), which are traditionally low-paid sectors. On the other hand, almost a third of men are employed in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (7% of women), which are higher-paid sectors” (European Commission, 2018).

  • Furthermore, women have difficulties in reaching decision-making positions. Women business owners make up only 33.2% of self-employed people, and women are still over-represented in lower-paid sectors across the EU. On the other side, Management boards are dominated by men, in the EU-28, managers are on average twice more likely to be male (European Institute for Gender Equality, EIGE)


  • One-third of employed women were working part time (30%) in the EU in 2018, nearly four times the rate for men (8%). A similar pattern was observed across all Member States. The highest share of employed women working part-time was recorded in the Netherlands (74%), while the lowest share was in Bulgaria (2%). (Eurostat, 2018)

Image by Nattanan Kanchanaprat from Pixabay

Part-time work is not always a free choice. It also has long-term effects on pay and prospects, including lower pensions and increased risk of poverty.

  • There is a clear link between family responsibilities and women’s and men’s employment rates. According to Eurofound (2013), ‘women spend 26 hours per week in unpaid work, against 9 hours for men. Eurostat (2018) statistics show that there is a gender gap when it comes to the work interruption for childcare reasons. On the contrary, the percentage for men is at 1.3 %

Work-life balance is not a women’s problem, it is not a private matter, but it concerns the whole of society, involving:

  • Public Administrations, through the implementation of public support services and supporting private initiative in the aid services sector that facilitate work-life balance

  • Companies and Trade Unions, researching and adopting new forms of work organisation

  • All genders, through a change of mindset that allows progress in the distribution of family, domestic and care tasks, and seeing them as the responsibility of the entire family group

  • In the European Union, 40-50% of women have reported some form of sexual harassment at the workplace 

(International Labour Organization, ILO)

The forms of violence that undermine the principle of equality at work can be psychological, physical or sexual. Workers’ legislation protects against any form of gender violence, but there are types of violence such as psychological violence that, when practiced with low intensity but continuously, can be difficult to fight. It creates a hostile work environment with serious repercussions for the workers’ health.

Beyond workplace harassment, other types of “mild” violence, such as constant jokes with sexual content, or other types of pressure such as the perception of job instability or feeling less valued in the workplace considered as harassment.