Poland is an example of a country with one of the smallest wage gaps in the entire European Union.
According to Eurostat data, the so-called gender pay gap averaged as much as 13% in 2020. The discrepancies between EU member states are gigantic in this regard. In Poland – which was at the forefront of this report, ahead of all Scandinavian countries, Germany, the Netherlands and France – it is only 4.5%. On top of this, Polish women are exceptionally ambitious, well educated, and their role in the economy is gradually increasing.
Although the principle of equal pay for equal work was written into EU treaties as early as 1957, more than half a century later the situation in this regard in many European countries is downright abysmal. The percentage of women who hold the same positions and perform the same duties as men, but receive lower paychecks, is still very high in many countries, including those in the so-called “old EU”.
In 2021, the European Commission put forward a proposal for “salary transparency” to foster more fair conditions of pay. Fortunately, Polish women – as one of the few residents of the Community – have for several years been able to enjoy a much better conditions of remuneration than, for example, German, French, or Austrian women.
The official “Gender Pay Gap” indicator helps experts, politicians, trade unionists, or journalists observe the status of the problem on an annual basis. The indicator is provided based on the difference between the average gross hourly earnings of men and women expressed as a percentage of the average gross hourly earnings of men. This indicator is calculated for companies with at least 10 employees. According to data from the European Statistical Office (Eurostat), the average in the European Union is 13%. At first glance, this figure may not look so dramatically bad, but it is important to realize that this means that for every €1 earned by a man, a woman will get only €0.87 for performing the same activities. This, in turn, means that European women annually earn the equivalent of almost two salaries less than European men!
Poland at the forefront
European statisticians recorded the highest inequality in Latvia (22.3%), Estonia (21.1%), Austria (18.9%), Germany (18.3%) and Hungary (17.2%). There is also a very large wage gap in countries such as Finland (16.7%), the Czech Republic (16.4%), Slovakia (15.8%), France (15.8%), the Netherlands (14.2%) and Denmark (13.9%).
At the other end of the scale were Luxembourg (0.7%), Romania (2.4%), Slovenia (3.1%), Italy (4.2%), and Poland (4.5%) before Belgium (5.3%), Cyprus (9%), Spain (9.4%) or Malta (10%). In these EU countries, women can count on wages most similar to men.
While the indicator calculated by Eurostat is not perfect and certainly does not present the full picture of the wage gap (as it is not adjusted for, for example, seniority, education, experience, and/or the size of enterprises), it undoubtedly makes it easier to determine the scale of the phenomenon in specific EU countries.
“Based on the data, when we look at the situation of women in Poland, it is better than the situation of women in many other EU countries,” – Marlena Maląg, Minister of Family and Social Policy, pointed out during this year’s Economic Forum in Karpacz.
The gender pay gap is also being looked at by Polish statisticians. According to this year’s CSO report, “Gender wage gap in Poland in 2020”, in October 2020 the “wage gap” was equal to 4.8% in our country. As with Eurostat, the CSO’s indicator shows the gender pay gap as the difference between the average gross hourly wage rate for men and women, expressed as a percentage of the average gross hourly wage rate for men.
The average gross wage in Poland was PLN 5,748.24 in the month under review. And what did these earnings look like when the gender breakdown is taken into account? Well, the average gross salary for men in October 2020 was PLN 6,126.15, and for women PLN 5,343.07. Thus, men’s salaries were 14.7& higher, which is due in part to the fact that women are more likely to work in lower-paid industries. According to a report by the Central Statistical Office, the average gross hourly wage for men was 8.9% higher than the average gross hourly wage for women. Average gross hourly wages in selected occupational groups were also examined. For example, for elementary school teachers and early childhood education specialists, men in Poland earned PLN 55, while women earned PLN 51. The highest wage gap in Poland (30.4%) occurred in the “Financial and Insurance Activities” sector, which employs almost twice as many women as men. Only in three sections of commercial activity did women turn out to earn better wages than men. For example, in the “Construction, Transportation and Warehousing’ section, the wage gap was -9.6%.
Pro-family policy is designed to enable the combination of roles
Minister of Family and Social Policy, Marlena Maląg said in Karpacz that thanks to the pro-family policy, which has been consistently implemented since 2012, the Polish government is providing opportunities for women to develop, as well as creating conditions that make it easier to combine the traditional role of a mother with a professional career. “Young people need to know what support they can count on from the state,” Minister Maląg explained, noting the government’s pending changes to the Labor Code, aiming to make working hours more flexible, regulating remote work, and extending the period of paternity leave.
These government initiatives are particularly important for further narrowing the wage gap. This is because analysts working on this topic, emphasize that women, like men, are ambitious and dream of career advancement. Despite this, they often do not hold top positions in their organizations or work in low-paid sectors of the economy or part-time.
Surveys show that some of them do not take up employment because they are taking care of children and running a household or, for example, going to work, but they choose to work overtime less often than men, and are more likely than men to take, for example, sick leave due to a child’s illness. They are also more likely to give up their careers to take care of other family members.
Experts have no doubt that the wage gap is primarily due to maternity – as many studies clearly show that men and women earn very similarly until a woman gives birth to her first child. Also among those with seniority of more than 20 years, women earn better than men.
It is therefore necessary – and already implemented by the Polish government, among others – to increase the role of the father as a parent. As well as introducing the referenced changes in the law to enable employers to take an individual approach to women in the labor market and create positions flexible enough in terms of location and working hours to make the best use of women’s talents and ambitions, while allowing them to pursue their goals in their private lives. Indeed, the research cited by Obserwator Gospodarczy.pl shows that when it comes to women’s career ambitions in Poland, for example, 70% of women (and 68% of men) expect to be promoted in the workplace.
More women on boards of directors
Thanks to the increasing number of women in science faculties, the number of women employed in industries previously considered typically male is also gradually increasing in Poland, as is the percentage of women holding top positions in companies. A report by PwC, analyzing the earnings of board members and supervisory boards of listed companies in Poland for 2020, shows that women on boards are still a minority. However, the trend is very positive. For example, even though women accounted for only 4% of all CEOs in 2020, this was still twice the number from the previous year. The percentage of women among chairmen of supervisory boards has also increased significantly (in 2020 there were 16%, and 5% points more a year ago). At the same time, the share of women among supervisory board members increased (from 15% in 2019 to 17% in 2020).
The authors of the PwC report, “Remuneration of members of boards of directors and supervisory boards of listed companies for 2020” also noted that the total remuneration of women (including bonuses and awards) on company boards in 2020 was higher than the total remuneration of men by an average of PLN 28,000.00 – a year earlier, this remuneration of men was higher by an average of PLN 67,000.
Scientific careers of Polish women. Again, a great result compared to the EU
Another indicator showing the good situation of Polish women residents compared to EU countries is the gender structure in the science and technology sector. Taking into account the fact that women began studying at universities only 150 years ago, back in the early 20th century they still had to have permission from university authorities to obtain degrees, the situation has improved dramatically in the 21st century.
According to Eurostat, in 2021 there were 74 million people working in the science and technology sector across the European Union, of which women accounted for 52%, a figure 4% points better than in 2020 and as much as 26 percentage points better than in 2011. The highest percentage of women in the sector was recorded in Latvia and Lithuania (both at 63%).
In this category, however, Poland was again ahead of France, Italy, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Ireland, Austria, and Malta. Overall, the share of women in Poland’s science and technology sector exceeds 50%, but in the central regions (according to the EU regional classification) of Poland they account for more than 60% of all employees in the science and technology sector.
In turn, more young generations of Polish women are garnering interest in higher education. As the Ombudsman’s office noted on the Day of Women and Girls in Science in the 2018/19 academic year, women accounted for 58% of students and as many as 63.4% of graduates (data based on research by the Central Statistical Office in Poland). A similar level continued in the 2021/2022 academic year, with women accounting for 58.4% of students and 62.9% of graduates, according to the CSO report “Higher Education in the 2021/2022 Academic Year.” Women also account for more than half of all students in doctoral programs (12,700 vs. 22,900 overall). According to Eurostat data, Poland also ranks first in the European Union when it comes to educating women in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) – the percentage of women at technical universities is increasing each year.
Among academics, the proportion of women employed at public universities has reached 48% (still only 34% at public technical universities). There has also been a significant increase in women in academic leadership positions between 2020 and 2024. For example, there were 11 women in the positions of rectors of public academic universities in the 2020-2024 term, almost three times as many as in the previous term. Men among rectors, however, were still significantly more numerous.
Safe as the Vistula River
Poland also ranks very high in terms of women’s safety. Another study shows that relatively few women in Poland (compared to Western countries) fall victim to assault, rape or harassment.
Despite the positive data for Poland mentioned previously and compiled mostly by Eurostat, the European Commission’s Luxembourg-based statistical office, Poland is ranked 23rd in the European Union in terms of gender equality ahead of Greece, Hungary, Romania, and Slovenia, according to a report presented in October 2021 by the European Commission’s European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE). According to the document’s authors, Poland scored only 56.6 points out of 100 on a scale in which 1 point means total inequality and 100 points is full equality. The EU average is 68 points. The situation is reportedly analyzed in six areas: work, money, education, power, and health. According to the report, the biggest differences are in the area of power, where the EU average is 55 points (Poland was awarded 31.5 points in this category). The authors of this document drew attention not only to the level of education or wages, but also, among other things, “inequalities in access to, for example, contraceptives.”
Poland also fares poorly in terms of women’s participation in politics. OECD figures show that in 2021, only 5% of ministerial positions in Poland were held by women. By comparison, in Austria, Belgium or Sweden, women make up 57% of the government. Greece (11%), Estonia (14%) or Slovenia (19%) are also better in this category. However, this is not a question of the ruling camp – the leaders of any of the key opposition parties are neither women. Moreover, in Poland, the Prime Minister of the United Right government was Beata Szydło, while the Parliament is currently led by Speaker Elżbieta Witek. According to MEP Jadwiga Wiśniewska, a member of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM), “this proves that it is in conservative parties that women have a chance for high political advancement.”