A long way to gender equality at work

Although Polish women are well-educated and ambitious, their potential, including as managers, is often underestimated.

Reducing gender inequalities in the labour market, including the wage gap and the employment gap, even by half, would help increase GDP in developed and developing countries by 5-6 per cent – Goldman Sachs estimates in its June report. It also points out that, despite progress in recent years, a gender gap remains in the labour market and in politics.

It can also be seen in Poland, where as many as 69 participants in a study by the Women’s Congress Association estimate that it is easier for men to be promoted than women. This is also the opinion of the majority of female professionals and managers surveyed by Hays Poland and ALK (Koźmiński University). 57 per cent have also experienced gender-based difficulties in their careers, including unfavourable stereotypes of women. Almost every female employee of the corporations participating in the 30% Club Poland survey experienced them at work. And almost one in two of them believes that in their industry women are less likely not only to be promoted but also to progress in their careers compared to men.

The philosophy of equal opportunities

Although some companies are trying to equalise professional opportunities for women (also through diversity policies, abbreviated as DEI), many employers do not recognise the problem of inequality or do not know how to deal with it. The Kulczyk Foundation, the Women’s Congress and the Lewiatan Confederation, organisers of a new competition for employers, whose media patron is “Rzeczpospolita”, want to change this.

– “Unfortunately, many women are still struggling in their professional lives as a result of not being treated equally to men. Their daily reality includes lower wages despite the same qualifications, with a greater burden of domestic responsibilities. Often the established patterns in the workplace and the lack of awareness of their rights among women contribute to perpetuating this state of affairs. We want to change this, and this is what our RównoWaga [Equilibrium] competition, addressed to employers, aims to do,” stresses Dominika Kulczyk, President of the Kulczyk Foundation, one of the competition’s organisers and content partners. – “We believe that reality can only be changed in this way – not by telling how things should be, but by showing how to take care of equal opportunities for women and men, how to achieve goals in practice. This is extremely important, because balance is a state we all strive for, where we can all fully realise and enjoy ourselves – our achievements, our relationships with other people. Hence the simple and unambiguous name of our competition: Equilibrium,” explains Dominika Kulczyk.

By showcasing good practices in five areas of company operations (equality policies and mechanisms, development and training education, work-home balance, pay and health), the organisers want to promote management patterns based on the equal opportunities philosophy. And shape new and better standards in the Polish labour market.

Good examples:

– “There are many examples around the world, including in Poland, of tried-and-tested solutions to help ensure diversity and gender equality in companies. We want our competition to popularise this knowledge while encouraging as many employers as possible to embark on an equality path,” says Dr Ewa Rumińska-Zimny, economist and vice-president of the board of the Women’s Congress Association. She also draws attention to a worrying paradox in the disparity in education and labour force participation levels between men and women.

Although Polish women are among the best-educated in the European Union, with as many as 187 female graduates for every 100 university graduates (only Latvia has a greater difference), in terms of labour market equality we have one of the worst results in the EU. The “work” indicator in the index compiled by the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) shows that Poland ranks 23rd among the 27 EU Member States (with 67.3 points out of 100). Last year, when 83.5 per cent of working-age men were economically active, this rate was 76% among women, lowered by young women under 24 and mature women (55+).

– “This means a huge amount of unused capital, which companies and the economy as a whole lose out on,” stresses Ewa Rumińska-Zimny, who also points out one of the main reasons for low activity. It is the burden of caring responsibilities, including childcare. This reason is cited by almost one in three economically inactive women and only 3 per cent of men. According to the economist, solutions such as 500+ encourage women to stay at home, especially in small towns where there is a lack of crèches and kindergartens, making it difficult to combine work and childcare.

In recent years, the European Union has been heavily involved in improving the situation of women in the labour market. The recently implemented provisions of the work-life balance directive are intended not only to increase parental equality, but also to make it easier to combine work and caring responsibilities. The Equal Pay and Pay Transparency Directive, approved by the European Parliament in March this year, is intended to help close the EU’s 13% gender pay gap.

Pressure of the directive

The change that will force greater participation of women in company boards, on the other hand, is the 2022 directive, which obliges large listed companies to provide the underrepresented gender with at least 40 per cent representation on supervisory boards or a total of 33 per cent representation on boards (including management boards) from July 2026. Meanwhile, at the end of 2022, women accounted for only 17.2 per cent of the members of the governing bodies of the 140 largest companies on the WSE, calculates 30% Club Poland, the Polish edition of a global campaign that promotes at least 30 per cent female representation on company boards.

– “We receive a lot of questions about the directive from both companies and institutional investors asking for suggestions on suitable female candidates for supervisory boards,” says Milena Olszewska-Miszuris, co-chair of 30% Club Poland. According to her, large companies are realising that they need to develop an action strategy as soon as possible to help increase the diversity of their authorities.

A certain change in the approach can already be seen in the statistics of the WSE, where specific provisions on diversity have been introduced in the Good Practices of Companies in 2021. According to them, every listed company should have a formal diversity policy for the management and the supervisory board, with a condition of at least 30% gender diversity. This objective should also guide the selection of authorities.

Currently, one in ten of the 416 companies on the WSE meets these conditions, which is twice the percentage of two years ago. – “However, this is still not much,” Olszewska-Miszuris points out. She adds that it will not be possible to meet the directive’s requirements without nurturing a more gender-diverse pool of managerial talent within companies, especially in positions below the board, where there are still few women.


Partner Opinion

Henryka Bochniarz, founder and chairwoman of the General Council of the Lewiatan Confederation:

Our competition is not just about rewarding the best employers. The educational objective is also very important – we want to help companies understand what gender equality is all about. Especially as some of the five areas of the competition, including the one on health where we talk about policies related to menstruation or menopause, may come as a shock to many companies.


Anita Błaszczak | www.rp.pl