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European Commission campaigns to reduce gender pay gap
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04/03/2010 00:00:00

Plans to reduce the pay gap between men and women over the next five years were announced today by the European Commission.

Measures will include raising awareness among employers, encouraging initiatives to promote gender equality and supporting the development of tools to measure the gender pay gap. New legal measures have not been excluded.

Currently, the a woman in the UK earns on average 21.4% less than a man,  compared to the EU average of 18%. According to a study conducted under the Swedish EU Presidency in 2009, eliminating gender gaps in employment in the EU member states could lead to a 15% - 45% increase in GDP.

The effect of the gender pay gap on lifetime earnings means that women will also have lower pensions. As a result, women are more affected than men by persistent and extreme poverty: 22% of women aged 65 and over are at risk of poverty compared to 16% of men.

More than 80% of Europeans support urgent action to address this gap, according to a special Eurobarometer public opinion survey also published today.

European social partners - representatives of trade unions and employers - will be consulted by the Commission and the impact of options such as strengthening sanctions, providing pay transparency and regular reporting on the pay gap will be analysed.

"I am deeply concerned that the gender pay gap has barely fallen over the last 15 years and in some countries it is even increasing," said Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for Justice, Fundamental Rights and Citizenship.

"In these times of crisis, the gender pay gap is a cost Europe cannot afford. We need to use all the tools we have to close the gender pay gap. Together with member states, we will seek to significantly reduce the gender pay gap in the EU by the end of this Commission's mandate."  

The gender pay gap is the average difference in gross hourly earnings between women and men across the economy as a whole, but there are considerable differences between member states and sectors. It reflects ongoing inequalities in the labour market, which in practice mainly affect women. Reducing the gap requires action on several levels to tackle its multiple causes.

In the second half of 2010, the Commission will put forward a new EU strategy for gender equality. Tackling the gender pay gap will be one of the main priorities. The Commission will use all available instruments, both legislative and non-legislative, to reduce the gender pay gap. 

The results of a study on initiatives promoting gender equality in the workplace will be published by the European Commission on 5 May 2010.

In conjunction with the European Social Partners, the Commission will analyse in detail the economic and social impact of certain options, including:

  • reporting the gender pay gap and ensuring transparency on pay at company and individual levels or collectively through information and consultation with workers;
  • reinforcing the obligation to ensure gender-neutral job classifications and pay scales;
  • improving the provisions on sanctions in case of a breach of the right to equal pay, to ensure that they are dissuasive and proportional (for instance, higher sanctions in case of repeated offence).

The Commission will also:

  • raise awareness among employees, employers and the public of the causes of the pay gap and potential solutions;
  • encourage initiatives promoting gender equality at the workplace with equality labels, charters and awards. In France, for example, the "Label égalité professionnelle" was established in 2004. Companies can obtain it for a period of three years if they follow a special procedure and show their commitment to gender equality in a range of areas including scheduling, career development and internal promotion of women in key positions;
  • support the development of tools to help employers analyse gender pay gaps within their companies. For example Germany developed software which calculates the wage gap. This instrument can help employers become aware of the situation and take measures to tackle the gender pay gap;
  • improve the supply and quality of statistics on the pay gap.

Addressing gender inequalities in the labour market also forms a key element of Europe 2020, the EU's economic and employment strategy for the next decade (see IP/10/225).


A Eurobarometer survey on gender equality shows that Europeans consider closing the gender pay gap as a top priority in tackling inequality between women and men, along with confronting violence against women.

Eighty two per cent of Europeans think that urgent action should be taken to tackle the gender pay gap.

Public opinion in the UK and Sweden is divided: 47% of Brits think that

decisions should be made by the Government, while 48% would prefer these decisions to be taken jointly within the EU and in Sweden it is an even split. For all other EU countries there is a preference for joint decision-making.

Meanwhile, 62% of respondents consider gender inequality to be widespread in their country. 66% also said the situation has improved over the past decade.

Respondents in Finland (68%), Denmark (63%), the Netherlands (62%) and the UK (60%) are most in favour of "making working hours more flexible and introducing greater possibilities of working".

Many Europeans agree that childcare facilities can cost almost as much as the mother earns; 71% support this statement and 20% disagree.

Large differences can be observed between member states: agreement that childcare can cost almost as much as the mother earns is very high in Greece (92%) and Ireland (89%). Respondents in Portugal, the UK (both 83%) and Italy (82%) also agree.

Thanks to EU and national legislation on equal pay, cases of direct discrimination – differences in pay between men and women doing exactly the same job – have fallen. However, the pay gap goes far beyond this: it reflects ongoing discrimination and inequality in the labour market as a whole which, in practice, mainly affects women.

Awareness-raising activities are essential to inform employers, employees and stakeholders why there is still a gender pay gap and how we can reduce it. The Commission is therefore launching the second phase of an EU-wide information campaign with actions decentralised across the 27 EU member states.



    Brussels, 5 March 2010

    Tackling the gender pay gap – Frequently Asked Questions

    Why do we need to tackle the gender pay gap?

    At 18% across Europe, the gender pay gap remains intolerably high and stubborn. Equal pay for equal work is one of the European Union’s founding principles. Enshrined in the Treaty of Rome in 1957, it was the subject of a 1975 directive which prohibits all discrimination in all aspects of pay between women and men for the same work or for work of equal value. Although there has been considerable progress towards equality and there are now fewer cases of direct discrimination, there are still important differences between men's and women's earnings in the EU. Closing the gender pay gap is a priority for achieving gender equality at the workplace.

    What are the causes of the gender pay gap?

    The gap is linked to a number of causes that are frequently interrelated: the undervaluing of women’s work, segregation in the labour market, traditions and stereotypes and problems in balancing work and private life. The gender pay gap is the consequence of all these factors and inequalities in the labour market.

    How can closing the gap help the economy?

    Closing the gap can benefit companies. Employers who promote gender equality into their workplaces create better places to work for everyone. Paying women and men for their actual skills and valuing their contribution on an equal basis lead to the recruitment and retention of the best and most talented staff.

    There are also benefits for the economy as a whole. The under-utilisation of women's skills is a lost resource for the economy and for society at large. With an ageing population and falling birth rates, this is an even more pressing problem. A better use of women’s skills allows Europe to confront global competition.

    Finally, closing the gender pay gap contributes to creating a more equal society and to financial and economic independence for women.

    Is the gender pay gap issue important for European citizens?

    The results of a new Eurobarometer survey on attitudes to gender equality in the EU[1] show that Europeans consider closing the gender pay gap to be one of the two top priorities for action – together with violence against women. In a list of options in the field of gender equality, Europeans believe that these two areas must be addressed as a priority above all other options (62% of Europeans for the fight against gender-based violence and 50% for the gender pay gap).

    More than 80% of Europeans think that urgent action should be taken to tackle the gender pay gap.

    How big is the pay gap in different Member States?

    Measured as the "relative difference in average gross hourly earnings between women and men," the gender pay gap is estimated to be 18% in the EU as a whole.

    see graph >>> pdf - 10 KB [10 KB]

    Why are the gender pay gap figures so different across the Member States?

    The latest Eurostat data (2008) show that there are still considerable differences between the Member States, with the pay gap ranging from less than 10% in Italy, Slovenia, Belgium, Romania, Malta, Portugal and Poland to more than 20% in Slovakia, United Kingdom, Cyprus, Lithuania, Greece, Germany and the Netherlands and more than 25% in Austria, the Czech Republic and Estonia.

    The pay gap measures the earnings differences between men and women that are in paid employment. It should be looked at in conjunction with other indicators linked to the labour market which reflect the different working patterns of women and the extent to which women and men can reconcile their work, private and family life:

    -       In most of the countries in which the female employment rate is low (e.g. Malta, Italy, Greece, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia), the pay gap is lower than average, which may reflect the small proportion of low-skilled or unskilled women in the workforce.

    -       Highly segregated labour markets, meaning that women are more concentrated in a restricted number of sectors and/or professions, (for example, countries with the highest sector segregation: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ireland, Slovakia, Finland, Sweden; countries with the highest occupational segregation: Estonia, Slovakia, Latvia, Finland, Bulgaria, Lithuania, Cyprus) tend to result in higher pay gap statistics.

    -       Countries in which a significant proportion of women work part-time (for example, the Netherlands, Germany, the UK, Austria, Belgium, Sweden, Luxembourg) tend to have a relative high gender pay gap.

    -       Institutional mechanisms and systems on wage setting can also influence the pay gap.

    Has the pay gap changed over recent years?

    The gender pay gap has practically remained constant during the last 15 years. It has increased only slightly from 17.7% in 2006 to 18 % in 2008. However, the trend is very different among the Member States and in some countries the gap has even increased during the last years.

    Since November 2008 Eurostat has used a new methodology to calculate the gender pay gap which improves the comparability of this indicator among the Member States: instead of a mix of various national sources, it now uses an EU harmonised source (Structure of Earnings Survey), with the support of comparable national sources for the yearly estimates.

    What can we do to close the gap?

    Tackling the gender pay gap requires a multifaceted approach because it involves different participation patterns of men and women in the labour market.

    The Commission will work closely with the 27 EU Member States to address the gender pay gap. It will use all available instruments, both legislative and non-legislative, to reduce significantly the gap by the end of its mandate.

    The Commission identified possible legal issues/options that it will pursue through consultation with social partners:  company reporting and transparency on pay; measures to ensure the gender-neutrality in job classification and pay scales and making sure that sanctions in case of a breach of the right to equal pay are dissuasive and proportionate. The Commission will conduct an in-depth cost and benefit analysis of these potential measures.

    To support employers in their efforts to tackle the gender pay gap, the Commission will encourage initiatives promoting gender equality at the workplace with equality labels, charters and awards. Likewise, the Commission will explore how to support most effectively Member States' activities on the development of tools which help employers to analyse the reasons for the existence of unjustified gender pay gaps within their companies.

    The Commission has decided to continue the information campaign launched in March 2009. It aims to raise public awareness of the gender pay gap and to explain how it can be tackled. The first phase in 2009 was a pilot phase in five Member States. The second phase will introduce new tools and take the campaign to the national and regional levels.

    How is the pay gap being tackled in the Member States?

    The actions implemented by the Commission can contribute to the efforts and actions that Member States are already taking. Some examples of good practices from the Member States:

    -       Transparency of wages:Portugal obliges employers (with some exceptions) to display the individual earnings of their staff while the social partners in Austria are negotiating a legal transparency requirement for firms with 25 or more employees.

    -       Social dialogue: In Finland, gender pay has been specifically placed on the bargaining agenda within the national pay agreements through an "‘equality allowance."

    -       Equality plan:The UK has established a framework for equal pay reviews in public sector organisations. France introduced compulsory reporting by companies on the comparative situation of salaries and an obligation to define and plan the steps needed to eliminate the gender pay gap.

    -       Awareness raising initiatives: The Dutch “Day of Equal Pay” is an example of government and social partners working together to promote awareness of the gender pay gap. Similar awareness raising initiatives have also been developed in Belgium, Germany, France and Austria.

    What is new about the Commission's gender pay gap awareness campaign?

    The campaign will be more decentralised with actions tailored to the national context in the 27 Member States to increase national media awareness. National authorities, non-government organisations, social partners and citizen services in the Member States will act as multipliers for the campaign's messages.

    A new tool (the gender pay gap calculator) has been designed to visualise the problem.. Employers are invited to calculate the pay gap in their organisation. Employees can find out the pay gap in their working environment: for instance, a young Spanish mid-wife working in an organisation of between 50 and 249 employees and who has been to secondary school would find that the average pay gap in her comparable group of employees in Spain is 60.3%.

    What tools are used in the campaign?

    The campaign features a website with information, figures and promotional material, which. includes posters, a campaign toolbox to be distributed across the EU, a video news release and a video clip showcasing how the pay gap affects women throughout the lifecycle. Other activities include advertising in public transport and in the European press. The campaign will run until October 2010.

    Further information:

    [1] Special EUROBAROMETER 326 "GENDER EQUALITY IN THE EU IN 2009" conducted in autumn 2009 in all 27 Member States:


    For more information, please contact the London press office on 020 7973 1971.

    Last update: 30/10/2010  |Top