How gender inequality remains high in French workplaces

How gender inequality remains high in French workplaces
Protesters demand equal work conditions in Toulouse southern France, in June 2020. Photo: Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP
France still has a long way to go to achieve gender parity in the workplace, according to a new government report, which revealed major differences between men and women on everything from salaries to leadership positions.

On the occasion of the International Women’s Day on Monday, March 8th, the French government published the latest edition of the annual workplace equality index, laying out the status of gender parity in French businesses in 2020.

While the report showed some progress from previous years, the findings highlighted that, overall, businesses in France still discriminate against women on salaries and opportunities to get promoted.

“More companies publish their ratings and concern themselves with the issue, but work inequalities remain high,” the government report stated.

Established through a 2018 law, the index was the latest in a series of legal attempts by different French governments to reduce gender inequality in French businesses. 

Every year, French companies with 50 or more employees have to calculate and publish their own score in order to track their overall progress towards achieving equal treatment of men and women.

The 40,000 businesses partaking in the index achieve a score from 0-100, based on five criteria:

  • their gender pay gap (40 points);
  • difference in annual pay rises (20 points); 
  • promotion differences (15 points);
  • pay rise upon return from maternity leave (15 points);
  • the presence of women among the highest earners in the company (10 points).

Any company that obtains a score below 75 gets three years to implement “corrective measures”, or else risk financial sanctions. 

General results

The 2020 findings were slightly better than the year before. The companies’ average score was 85, up by one single point from 2019.

Breaking it down by company size, larger businesses did better than smaller ones. Of the businesses with more than 1,000 employees, the average score increased from 83 in 2019 to 87 in 2020. Businesses with between 250 and 1,000 employees saw their average score rise from 82 to 85, while those with 50 to 250 employees got an average score of 83 in 2020 compared to

Only 2 percent of the businesses got 100 out of 100. However 56 businesses obtained a score below 75 for the third year in a row, exposing themselves to the risk of fines.

Gender pay gap 

Women earn less than men in France. The gender pay gap was 9 percent in 2020 when looking at the same position and equal hours worked, while it rose to 28 percent when looking at the gross average salary, according to the equality index.

Women still absent from leadership roles

Men still dominate the top company positions, according to the government’s index. When looking at the 10 best paid jobs, only 26 percent of the businesses respected a ‘quasi’-gender parity.

The French government has said it will propose another law to change this, by legally binding companies with over 1,000 employees to have at least 10 percent women leaders, a rate that would have reach 30 percent within the next five years, 40 percent within eight years.

Maternity leave

The index also highlighted that an overwhelming majority of companies refrain from giving women a pay rise upon their return from maternity leave, as requested in the index. Only 13 percent respected that rule in 2020, according to the index.

Part time vs full time

France’s gender pay gap is reinforced by the fact that women are more likely to work part time than men. Women are four times as likely to work part time than men, according to the national research institute Insee, which found that 28.8 percent of female employees aged between 15 and 64 worked part time in 2018, compared to 7.8 percent of their male counterparts.

This likelihood increased with the amount of children a woman had: 40.9 percent of employed women in a couple with at least three children worked part time, compared to 7.8 percent of men.

How does France do compared to other countries?

France has a bigger gender pay gap than the EU average, as illustrated in the graphic below. 

Source: Eurostat

Eurostat put France’s gender pay gap at 16.5 percent when looking at gross average salary, well below the 28 percent found when looking at the 40,000 companies partaking in the government’s equality index. 

But even with a 15.5 percent pay gap, the Eurostat data for France in 2018, French women would have to wait more than 1,000 years to achieve equal pay to men if things progress the way they have since 2010, according to research by the Brussels-based European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC), published in October 2020.

In 10 years, France’s gender pay gap narrowed by 0.1 percent, they found.

In comparison, Germany and the Czech Republic would close the gender pay gap in 100 years, the report stated. In Scandinavian countries, the process would take 40 years.

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