Commission steps up efforts to reduce pay gap.
Women in the EU earn on average 18% less than men - a gap that has scarcely narrowed over the last 15 years and in some countries has even grown.
The continued wage disparity is not only unfair to women, it is hobbling economic growth, says Viviane Reding, the new commissioner for justice and fundamental rights. With its greying population, the EU needs women to expand the labour pool.
"In these times of crisis, the gender pay gap is a cost Europe cannot afford," she said, joining President Barroso at a news conference ahead of international women's day on 8 March.
She pledged to raise awareness among employers, promote gender equality in the workplace and support the development of tools to measure the gap. Employers could face harsher punitive measures, she said.
Mr Barroso said women will be a high priority during his second term, with all policies over the next five years taking account of gender issues. He set out five key areas for action, including labour markets, decision-making roles, gender-based violence and external relations. This ‘women's charter' will serve as a basis for a new EU strategy to be introduced later this year.
A new EU survey [2 MB] shows that 80% of Europeans support urgent action to address the gap, which refers to the average difference in hourly earnings between women and men across the economy as a whole. Translated into cash, women make only 82 cents for every euro that men earn.
Varying widely from country to country, the measure is affected by the different work patterns of men and women, such as the proportions in different occupations, their length of time in jobs and whether they work full-time or part-time.
It does not necessarily indicate differences in rates of pay for comparable jobs. And in fact, EU studies show that direct discrimination has declined in recent years. Rather, they attribute the lopsided earnings to a combination of traditions, stereotypes and problems balancing work and private lives.
The number of European women in the workforce is rising and nearly 60% of all new university graduates are female. But they hold fewer positions of responsibility than men and are concentrated in less lucrative professions.