Regulations will help bridge the wage

The problem of discrimination in earnings is far greater than official statistics show. The fight for equal pay will be made easier for women by a new Union directive.

Only five out of one hundred companies in Poland analyse gender pay inequality issues and take action to eliminate them, according to a recent survey carried out for the Women’s Congress Association (SKK). This may be one of the reasons for little knowledge of the wage gap, including little familiarity with the term itself.

As many as 78 percent of working men and women who participated in the SKK survey admitted that they had not encountered the term “wage gap.” At the same time, a large proportion are aware of the gender pay gap. Admittedly, more than three quarters of those surveyed (including 83 per cent of women) believe that the gender pay gap is unfair, but many people see it every day.

Pay increases by gender

Nearly two-thirds of the Polish women surveyed and nearly 40 percent of Poles believe that women are paid less than men for the same work. According to the June report by the recruitment company Hays Poland and the Centre for the Study of Women and Diversity in Organisations, based at Koźmiński University, only 35 per cent of female professionals (and 67 per cent of male professionals) believe that in their company, employees with similar qualifications and similar responsibilities are fairly paid regardless of gender. Although these opinions are 2 points higher than a year ago, the change is not significant.

The increasingly long working lives of Europeans

Today 15-year-olds in Poland face almost 35 years of working life. This is two years more than a decade ago, although still below the EU average.

– “The lack of significant progress on this issue may be due to both the growing awareness of the problem and the still insufficient solutions on the part of employers and legislators,” assesses Anna Czyż, HR Director at Hays Poland. Gender pay inequalities can also be seen in the research on pay rises, which men are more likely to get.

According to a survey by the employment agency Randstad, 51 per cent of women and 56 per cent of men received a pay rise last year. Mateusz Żydek, Randstad spokesperson, points out that even greater differences can be seen in the level of raises, which are often lower for women than for men. – “We have encountered this phenomenon since we have been conducting our research. These differences, although only a few per cent, are visible every year and exacerbate the wage gap,” assesses Mateusz Żydek.

Punishment for motherhood

The wage gap is also confirmed by CSO data and Eurostat reports, although the average unadjusted wage gap shown in these (which does not take into account other characteristics of employees) suggests that the problem of gender wage inequality is small in Poland.

According to the latest Eurostat data, in 2021, the average salary for women in Poland was 4.5 per cent lower than for men. This was the fourth highest result in the entire EU, where the average wage gap unfavourable for women was almost three times higher (12.7 per cent).

The word “increase” is beginning to mean something. Wages are regaining purchasing power.

Average employment in the business sector decreased by 5,000 full-time jobs in June. This is the first such month since the crisis year of 2009. However, wage growth remained strong and outpaced inflation for the first time in a year.

However, as Dr Anna Górska, director of the Centre for Research on Women and Diversity in Organisations at ALK, points out, analyses of the adjusted wage gap (based on a comparison of employees with similar education, occupying similar positions and having similar length of service) show that in Poland it is 12.2 per cent, which is above the EU average of 11.2 per cent. One of the reasons for this high figure is the significant disparity in earnings between men and women employed in the private sector, as also shown by recent data from the CSO, which takes a closer look at the wage structure in Poland every two years. According to this data, in autumn 2020, while the wage gap against women in the public sector was 2.3 per cent, it reached 12.9 per cent in private companies. Why the difference? HR representatives surveyed by SKK cited discretionary management, lack of procedures and a pay monitoring system, as well as prejudice against women’s work, perceived as less secure in employment (due to maternity), among the reasons for these differences.

According to Alicja Ryłek from Randstad Polska, there is no direct gender discrimination in salary levels when recruiting employees. She claims that the wage disparity is also not due to lower expectations of women. It is more important that female candidates often face more serious challenges in the market – they take longer to look for employment, they assess their chances of a new job less favourably, and as the period without work increases, their salary expectations decrease.

Law and awareness

A major change should be brought about here by EU regulations, in particular the Equal Pay and Pay Transparency Directive, which came into force in June this year and is expected to be implemented in EU countries within three years. It requires employers (starting with those with more than 150 employees) to publish data on the differences in pay between women and men and to provide employees with information on differences in pay for people performing the same work. It also obliges them to publish a salary range or starting salary in recruitment offers, which is rare in Poland.

According to PwC experts, the new regulations will affect both pay transparency and enforcement of the law, which prohibits gender discrimination. The research shows that it is the lack of transparency in companies’ pay policies that contributes to wage inequality. In a survey by Hays Poland and ALK, as many as 72 percent of female professionals (and 59 percent of male professionals) said that widespread pay transparency would help solve the wage gap.

In addition to new regulations (including the CSRD directive on non-financial reporting), growing awareness among companies should also help in the fight against wage discrimination. This is fostered by initiatives that draw the attention of employers to the need for equal opportunities for women in the labour market – including our editorial project “Employer of Rzeczpospolita”, as well as the Equilibrium competition for the pro-women company of the year, which is organised under the media patronage of “Rzeczpospolita” by the Kulczyk Foundation, the Women’s Congress and the Lewiatan Confederation. Applications are being accepted until the end of July and the organisers are encouraging both large and small companies to participate.

– “It doesn’t matter whether you head a large company, an office or a small foundation. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve cared about equality at work for a long time or are just at the beginning of this journey. If you want your employees to have equal opportunities, regardless of gender, this competition is for you,” encourages Dominika Kulczyk, President of the Kulczyk Foundation, one of the competition’s organisers and content partners.



Iga Magda, professor at the Warsaw School of Economics, vice president of the Institute for Structural Research.

Women in Poland earn less than men, both on a monthly and hourly basis. Official basic Eurostat data suggests that the gap is not high in Poland: women earn on average 5 percent less per hour than men. However, these figures refer to the so-called raw wage differences and do not take into account the different characteristics of male and female workers. The picture changes dramatically when we count the pay gap between men and women with similar characteristics (age, education, length of service), working in similar jobs (private or public sector, company size). The so-called unexplained part of the wage gap – i.e. wage differences that cannot be explained by the characteristics of workers or jobs – exceeds 12 per cent and is clearly higher than the EU average (11.2 per cent). Other estimates of the unexplained wage gap in Poland, taking into account a different set of characteristics, including whether workers have children (this information is not included by Eurostat), indicate that the unexplained gender wage gap is as high as 25 per cent. Interestingly, it applies mainly to the private sector – in the public sector it is noticeably lower.

Why do women earn less than men, despite the fact that they are better educated and most often also work full time? First of all, women are more likely to work in lower-paying occupations and sectors (education, health) and less likely to work in high-paying ones, such as the financial sector. Secondly, motherhood plays an important role: women are more likely to take maternity and parental leaves, which translates into career breaks and often less experience at work. For example, in 2018, one-third of women employees in the EU had a break from work due to childcare, compared to 1.3 percent of men. In addition, women spend an average of three to four hours a day more on unpaid housework and care work, which also affects their professional opportunities and limits their earnings.

The gender pay gap increases with age, on the one hand due to career progression and on the other due to increasing family demands. Nevertheless, there is ample evidence that the wage gap is already visible among the youngest workers, just entering the labour market and looking for their first job. Women’s lower wage expectations may reflect an awareness of the wage gap.

How can the pay gap between men and women doing the same work be reduced or eliminated? There are a number of measures that are necessary and that can only work if implemented together. EU directives on wage transparency (which will help to equalise wages, especially among those starting their first jobs) and work-life balance should have a positive effect. Increasing men’s involvement in childcare will allow women to become more involved in the labour market. Business initiatives to support parents in childcare – and its more equal distribution – are essential.


Anita Błaszczak |