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Women moving on up on the Polish labour market

There is definitely a momentum when it comes to women’s position on the labour market around the globe. Gender equality, diversity, inclusivity are becoming important components of companies’ strategies. This is partly caused by ESG guidelines. Companies are facing external pressures from institutional investors, activist shareholders and employees and customers to increase the representation of women on corporate boards, in C-suite positions and across executive leadership, as well as equal compensation and mobility for women and people of colour. On the other hand, women themselves feel it’s time to speak up, stand up for their rights and use their full potential in professional life. To achieve a healthy balance, we need to see a shift from words to action. 

Poland is following the global trend. Worth emphasising is that the general situation on the Polish labour market in terms of its openness for women professionals seems to be positive compared to many western countries. According to the PwC Women in Work 2021 Index, Poland is ranked 10th out of 33 countries. More and more companies are launching initiatives to support women in their professional development and we observe a number of sectoral projects that are meant to boost women’s engagement in industries dominated so far by men, like IT, energy or real estate. 

In October 2021, Gazeta Finansowa, a Polish financial newspaper, published a report “Pearl of Polish Business” in which it recognised 25 woman CEOs who have broken glass ceilings and gender stereotypes in their industries. Compared to past editions of the publication, we see more woman presidents in “men” sectors. “I have been preparing reports on the professional activity of women for years, both for “Gazeta Finansowa” and “Home & Market”, which is the first magazine promoting women’s entrepreneurship on the Polish market. I closely observe how the lists of entrepreneurial women change from year to year, how many women decide to climb higher and higher the career ladder, and how much their approach to professional careers changes. Women in companies have gone out of men’s shoes and create their own quality in business. They do not imitate men, they follow their own paths. We can also see more women in “masculine” industries. I hope this trend will speed up, because, as research shows, only diverse management is able to build really effective teams. And there is still a long way to the equality between women and men on management boards,” says Katarzyna Mazur, editor in chief at Home&Market”. 

Poland has the second largest share of women in managerial positions in the EU – 44%, just after Latvia – 45%, according to Eurostat (data for Q3 2020) among EU Member States. 

According to Hays Poland report ‘Women on labour market 2021,’ women more often than men perform managerial roles in service centres for business, finance, accounting, HR and training. Men sill dominate energy, construction, IT, production and transport. 

What’s worth emphasising is that most companies are still managed by men and the percentage of women in the positions of president or managing director has stayed at a similar level for years. According to report published by the Association of Financial Companies in Poland “Women in business 2020,” women constitute approx. 35% all CEOs. 

In terms of equal earnings, Poland does well compared to European Union and OECD countries. Eurostat data show that in 2019 the wage gap in the earnings of women and men in Poland was 8.5%, which placed Poles among European countries with the narrowest differences. Still, though it is far from an ideal situation and 8.5% does not fully reflect the full scale of the problem. According to data from the Central Statistical Office, which adopts a different methodology wage gap calculation, the pay gap in Poland is on average as much as 19.9%. Hays Poland study shows that the pay gap is a complex topic – women more often than men work part-time, take longer leave related to child care and are less likely to occupy highly paid positions. The fact that feminised industries  often offer lower salaries is not without significance.

According to the study in the Hays Poland report, every second woman and every fifth man believe the employee’s gender affects prospect of promotion. Large differences in the responses of men and women are also visible when asked about the sense of fair remuneration. While 70% of men believe that the gender of the employee has no influence on the level of salary, this opinion is shared by only 36% of women. This disproportion has remained at a similar level over the years.

There are also positive trends. Firstly, more and more women equate professional success with taking a position at directorial level (28%) or the role of company president (14%). Women specialists confirm that more often they feel satisfaction with their current position. Second, the proportion of women who say they have encountered gender barriers in their careers is slightly declining. Third, there is a growing percentage of men and women who think gender is irrelevant in promotion.

Aiming for more

The main obstacle to achieving a high position in the company by women may not only be the lack of equal opportunities, but also a lack of courage. On the one hand, the observed numerical predominance of men in high positions does not make it easier for women to develop, but on the other hand, women sometimes decide not to reach for more. Beata Drzazga, President of BetaMed S.A., the founder and owner of the largest medical company in Poland providing nursing services at a patient’s home, encourages women to be active. “Don’t let those around you limit you. Don’t let your wings be cut. But be open and listen. You can never just jump into deep water if you can’t swim at all. Listen to both supportive and negative voices, be vigilant, analyze and draw conclusions that are good for you.” – says Drzazga. 

The Hays study shows that women most often equate professional success with a managerial or directorial role, while men aspire to become a president, board member or owner of their own business.

The measure of success for women is often not the level of the position itself, but the social dimension of professional achievements, an adequate scope of duties and the possibility of pursuing a specific career path in a selected industry. However, it should not be forgotten that there are also professions where women occupy more high positions and thus earn better than men. Employers mainly indicate areas related to finance and economy, as well as marketing and communication. 

Positive outlook

Employers pay more attention to equalisation of opportunities in the workplace, implement initiatives to increase the representation of women in top positions and increase the awareness of harmful stereotypes in business among employees. Every third respondent to the survey described in Hays Poland report expects that this year the issue of diversity in their company will become more important. At the same time, 45% of women and as much as 92% of men are convinced that the Polish labour market is an increasingly accessible and friendly place for women. The percentage of women declaring they have encountered gender-related difficulties in their careers is also consistently declining.

These positive conclusions come from the recent report “Gender gap in Poland 2020” (original title: Gender gap po polsku 2020), published by Women in Technology Poland, a non-profit organisation that brings together and supports women in IT and new technologies. The study shows that we are witnessing a generational evolution. Not only is there a change in the perception of the role of women and men in the modern world, but most of all changes in the behaviour of women themselves – their aspirations, ambitions and consistency in the pursuit of equal treatment. There is a visible change in awareness and beliefs in matters of responsibility for the family, the potential on the labour market and career path are evolving, which in turn has a chance to reduce the gender gap. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic and social consequences will certainly have an impact on the pace and timing of these changes. 

As we read in the report, women born after 1980, unlike previous generations, learnt foreign languages ​​as children, and then went to universities to obtain higher education. They often opted for science and technology. They also received much more support from their parents and guardians in developing their own interests. 

Sector approach

We can observe a growing number of initiatives that support women in their professional development, including those who aim for top positions in the companies. 

There are corporate projects run by the companies themselves for their women employees, like Deloitte SheXO Club or Citi Women’s Network. Woman with leadership potential can also participate in inter-corporate programmes, like Global Mentoring Walk run by Vital Voices Poland or LeadersIn Programme founded by several multinational companies to increase the representation of females in the management boards. These initiatives not only support women by providing knowledge and sharing experiences, but they also create networking opportunities and help to build women’s solidarity.  “Women’s solidarity pays off.” – says Ewa Kudlińska-Pyrz, General Director at Mary Kay Cosmetics Poland & Lithuania. “Mary Kay Ash founded her company to enrich the lives of women, regardless of their background, education or lifestyle. It’s amazing that for so many years the idea of building female unity is still so relevant today. During the past eighteen years as the CEO, I had the pleasure of meeting many extraordinary, ambitious and passionate women who together have created our amazing community.” 

Companies start to pay more attention to women’s representations in industries dominated by men. 

Women in the energy sector

The Advanced System Studies for Energy Transition report, which was commissioned by the European Commission, shows that in 2021 the share of women employed in the Polish energy sector is 16%. It’s one of the lowest in the European Union. 

“This figure is not impressive, but still year to year we can observe a growing number of women in the industry and they are occupying more and more significant positions, they impact decision-making and shape the agenda in the sector,” says Barbara Adamska, founder and president of the board od the Polish Association for Energy Storage. 

ASSET report shows that on management level of ministries dealing with energy in countries of the EU member states, the proportion of women is 44% on average. In the Polish Ministry of Climate and the Environment, it is 46%. 

“The sooner we start to raise awareness among young women, that they have a power in their hands and just like men, they can shape the energy sector, the sooner we will see a positive change. We need more woman with their different perspective and sensitivity to go through the energy transformation in Poland,” says Adamska. 

Woman in IT

According to various reports, women in IT are 15-30%. “According to the report “The Future of Jobs 2020” created by The World Economic Forum, by 2025 as many as 85 million jobs will be robotic and 97 million new jobs will be served by people, algorithms and robots in total. This means that learning digital skills and starting a career in IT can guarantee a safe, secure and satisfying professional future for women,” says Joanna Pruszyńska-Witkowska, vice-president of Future Collars, in the commentary to the results of the report “Women in IT 2021.”

Marta Maliszewska, COO at eService, the largest acquirer in Central Europe, also sees a positive shift. “The IT industry, until recently considered the domain of men, is becoming more and more diverse. Number of women in specialist and managerial positions grows. In addition to professional competences, ladies bring to companies the values ​​that translate into better management, such as empathy, the ability to solve conflict, consultation-based decision making,” says Maliszewska. The company has a nationwide network of service technicians – electronics specialists and payment terminals. Once it was 100% men. Currently a dozen or so women work there. On the other hand there are more men working in the company’s customer service, which was so far considered a typical “female” area. 

Women in real estate 

The real estate market is a specific, traditional industry, largely based on relationships and trust, and these are built in the long term, often after working hours.

“The situation of women in the industry seems to be very good compared to other “male” sectors. For years, women have been occupying high positions in consulting and development companies. They constitute a significant part of boards and managerial staff. They are not in the lead, of course, but you can definitely say they are visible.” – says Joanna Mroczek Senior Director, Head of Research & Marketing at CBRE. She also suggests that it is much easier for women to find their place in the male world of real estate management, if they take over so called typical male features. “Discussions in management boards seem to be easier then, decisions are made faster. Unfortunately, it is a trap that limits development, creativity and the search for new solutions. The sooner everyone understands the benefits of diversity and truly implements this strategy, the better chances of achieving success in our rapidly changing world.” – adds Mroczek. 

Magdalena Kowalewska, Country Manager Operations at Immofinanz, admits that there are a lot of men in the real estate industry, especially in the highest positions in organisations, but that it’s important that women enter into these structures with an appropriate attitude. “Let’s not wait to be invited to the table, let’s sit down by ourselves at this table and let’s speak when we want,” says Kowalewska. 

Woman in finance

According to the recent edition of the “Women in Finance” survey conducted by Antal and CFA Society Poland in October 2021, the number of people assessing the influence of women on the development of the financial sector as high has increased – from 12% in 2018 through 17% in 2019 to 26% in 2021. This is mainly due to the decreasing inequalities of wages offered in the sector – which, however, are still among the highest – both in comparison to other sectors and European Union countries.

Almost every third respondent (31%) in the Antal and CFA Society Poland survey indicates that their organisation undertakes activities aimed at activating women and equal rights. 

“The contemporary financial industry – traditionally regarded as the domain of men, is becoming a perfect place for women’s professional development. It is knowledge and competences that determine success, not gender. It is also clear that diversity has a positive effect on the effectiveness and long-term competitive advantage of the organisation,” says Paweł Bandurski, President of the Management Board of Bank BPH S.A.

According to the respondents, in order to develop a positive trend, various types of development programmes for women, as well as training and courses are needed. Still, the biggest factor hampering women’s careers is entanglement in traditional roles – as many as 39% of the respondents said. 

“Women are much more likely to take breaks in their careers and make certain work decisions based on caring responsibilities for other family members. Hourly averages show that women do more unpaid work, such as childcare or household chores. This is confirmed by ZUS data, according to which 209,447 people were on parental leave in the first quarter of 2021, including only 1,481 fathers. Their percentage was 0.7%, says Izabela Sajdak, CFA Managing Funds at PFR TFI, Member of CFA Society Poland.

Equal at home, equal at work

Professional activation of women is also one of the EU’s priorities. In 2019, Brussels implemented the work-life balance directive that all EU member states have to implement by August 2022. The aim of the directive is to make it easier for women to return to work after having a child by engaging fathers into child care. The directive guarantees men an individual right to parental leaves and 2-month of parental leaves only for fathers.

The Share the Care Fuondation is engaged in the process of adopting the directive to Polish law but the organisation also works closely with employers who are in a position to create policies that support parental equality. “Apart from the EU regulations, there are more employers who understand that if they want to create equal opportunities for women on the labour market, they need to create solutions that support parental equality,” says Karolina Andrian, President of the Foundation.

If we look at the PwC’s Women at Work Index, the countries at the top of the ranking are those that have implemented equal shared parental leave for both parents. “The question of whether equality starts at home or at work is still open. But what we know for sure, is that if we want to make woman equal at the labour market, we can’t leave them alone with parental and household duties,” says Andrian.  

This is an important factor to consider. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report 2021, it will take more than 130 years to close the global gender gap. Hopefully, thanks to the corporate and social policies it will happen sooner. As we need to speed up the process to stop climate change, we also need to take care of the “S” in ESG – social responsibility, including gender equality. And who knows – maybe closing the gap in this area will help to solve environmental problems faster. For sure combining women’s potential with their different perspective and sensitivity and men’s approach seems like a good solution. For everyone. 

Sylwia Ziemacka
Sylwia Ziemacka
Managing Director
She has over 15 years of experience in media, communication and public relations. She used to work for several publishers, managing both Polish and international media projects. She specializes in B2B communication and publishing.
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