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What is the position of Czech women on the labour market? How big a slice of the female population is employed and what is their share in the technology industry? Those are some of the factors taken into account in compiling the Women in Work Index which compares conditions for women on the labour market across the OECD. The Czech Republic has done well in the latest report, jumping from 23 to 19th place on the ladder, largely due to the country’s record low unemployment. However one indicator is keeping the country back – the gender pay gap, which presents a persisting problem.

Let’s have a look at what people in the street think about the fact that Czech women make on average 20 percent less than men.

Man: It has been that way forever. I don’t think it will ever change.

Young woman: I think it is getting better. As a university graduate I can’t complain about the job offers in my field or that women are not paid the same as men. It is probably different in different areas.

Woman: Men are more aggressive and more ambitious than women. And they lead different lives. Women take care of the family and are a bit sidelined as a result.

Man: If they have the same workload and get less it’s not fair. Question is do they have the same workload?

Man: Some jobs are for men and some for women. I cannot imagine a woman mason or a man who would work as a cleaner and do as good a job as a woman.

Man: There is no rational argument which would justify paying women less for the same work. In the 19th century it may have been the norm, but it does not belong in the present day.

Man: Of course it’s unfair. But as a manager I see the other side of the argument. You invest loads of money into a female employee and then she goes on maternity leave and you have to find someone else and invest in training them again. From this point of view men are more stable employees. Its also a question of supply and demand. If a woman takes a job for less, that’s her decision, that’s business. A man will often walk away.

One of the public sector officials who is working hard to change this is Lenka Simerska from the Labour and Social Affairs Ministry who is working on a campaign for equal pay. I spoke to her about some of the problems surrounding the gender gap issue and begun by asking just how big a difference in earnings there currently is.

“At the moment it is 20 percent –women earn 20 percent less than men in the Czech Republic. As to the European comparison, within the EU we belong to the group of countries who are high above the European average of 14.8 percent. The countries with the largest pay gap are Estonia, Germany, the Czech Republic, the UK, Austria, Slovakia, Switzerland, Finland, Portugal and France.”


Who is the most disadvantaged? In what professions or age groups do women make less? Is it mothers with children or older women?

“It is a combination of more factors. There are certain professions where the pay gap is very large –such as the banking and finances sector, where we can find a gender pay gap of up to 40 percent. Then there is the gender segregation of professions because women tend to choose different career paths and different professions than men and these professions where you find predominantly women – these are the lowest paid jobs. You will find them in health care, social services and also in education.”

So girls are hit by stereotyping when choosing a career?

“Exactly, women are brought up to think that certain professions are more suitable for women – their parents tend to think that way and educators as well. So girls often don’t feel free to choose according to their inclination – but then neither do boys because they are also being manipulated in terms of who they are and what they should be doing with their lives.”

Are there cases where women make less in the same position with the same responsibilities as men?

“Yes, that happens and that is downright discrimination because in such cases women perform the same tasks within the same salary-bracket category and they still earn less. We have a study where we calculated these differences within the same employer/organization, the same position and we found differences in salary. The factors are multiple – for one thing, women are less sure of themselves, less assertive when it comes to asking for a promotion or a raise. This is linked to our upbringing and the fact that we as women tend to think more about the team and relations at the workplace while men don’t have a problem thinking about themselves and their own gains when it comes to getting paid.”

Is it also linked to the fact that women in this country generally shoulder the burden of taking care of the family, doing the household chores and so on?

“Exactly, one of the studies of the Czech Sociological Institute found that women devote twice as much time as men taking care of children, elderly parents and running the household. So women obviously have much less time to devote to their careers.”

This survey that you just mentioned –can you tell me what some of the results were and whether anything surprised you about them, because I heard that 49 percent of Czechs take it for granted that women make less.

“Yes, because people know about the problem. This poll showed that both men and women are aware of this problem and everyone has come up against it in their lives in one way or another –either directly or through relatives or friends. People think the problem should be solved and they expect the state to solve it, more so than individuals, companies and employers. They think the state should be doing something and what was surprising was that people were very much for transparency, they think people should know more about other people’s and colleague’s earnings .”

Are you saying that women who go out in search of a job are actually expecting to be making less? That they have come to terms with this?

“In a way, yes. That kind of resignation does exist. Thinking like: Well, I’m a woman, I shouldn’t expect to get as much as they would pay a man and so on. So yes, most women just accept it for a fact.”

Are they also being paid less because their employer thinks –she’s a woman and likely to spend more time at home with her kids when they are ill? Does that factor come into play?

“Yes, especially in companies where the pay system is not very elaborate and developed, for example where there are no tariff tables and people do not know how they can grow in terms of pay, on what basis they can get a raise and when –and all these things are done according to individual negotiations. So the issue comes up when the individual thinks OK, it is time I got promoted or got a raise for this or that reason. On the other hand there are companies that are much better in this and that have systems in place. So where they have systems it is a much better situation for women –and for everybody, basically – because they know what they can expect.”

You are running a campaign to address the gender pay gap problem. Can you explain what it entails?

“First of all we have a website where everyone can find a lot of relevant information and it will be available in English soon. It is not there yet, but we are working on it because we realize that there is a need for greater information exchange within the European Union and globally, for international employers. The website is highly interactive and it provides a tool that we call a “calculator of equal pay”. The inspiration came from Austria where is has been running for several years now with great success and it basically provides an interactive form where everyone can enter their individual characteristics, such as age, education, profession, number of years of experience in the field and where they live – and they will get an estimate of the earning they should make on the basis of the information provided.”

So women know more or less how much they should be making. What if they are making less? Is anyone helping them to be more assertive in asking for a raise?

“That’s another part of the campaign. It is a set of tools that is targeted to women as individuals for them to be more aware of what they should do and how to go about it. Knowing how much I should ask for is step number one, definitely. Some other countries that are more serious about achieving equal pay already have a law stating that an employer must provide the lowest salary rate for a given job when they advertise the position. So people applying for the job will know what their “starting point” is. So there is no question whether or not I am asking for the right sum.”

Are you communicating with employers for this to actually happen here as well?

“Definitely, we are communicating with employers and employers unions and there are some great employers already, also in this country who care about equal pay and what we offer them is a partnership in testing one of the tools. It is called Logip and it comes from Switzerland which developed it for public procurement purposes. Everyone who applies for state money in a public procurement process has to run their data through Logip and must have a less than 5 percent difference in the gender pay gap in the company. We have not come this far yet. We do not have this public procurement provision, but we offer the tool. It is a voluntary tool and every employer can run their data through it and see how big their gender pay-gap is.”

We have mentioned that it is quite significant – just over 20 percent on average. How much or how little has the situation improved in recent years?

“The situation in the Czech Republic has been quite constant over the years. I’m taking about the average pay gap. There has been some development within the finer statistics, within the average, but the pay gap has stayed more or less the same – one or two percent here and there, but no significant change.”

How long do you think it may take to close the gap?

“That’s a million dollar question. Of course, if we do nothing it may take many years and there are certain predictions made by social scientists and economists, so on the internet you can see numbers such as 150 years or 250 years worldwide or that the gap will never close because of this or that factor. But if we start doing things, if the state makes provisions then definitely things must change and will change and we see it in countries that have laws and different provisions in place. So I think the Czech Republic is on the right path and the project “22 percent to equality” that we are running at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs is the first step. It has been running for five years now and I truly believe that it is going to make a difference.”


Radio Prague International, authoress Daniela Lazarová