Women earn on average 14.1% less per hour than men in the EU. There is a significant gender pay gap across Europe, though the picture varies by Member State; Germany does particularly badly, with a pay gap of 20%, while in Luxembourg the gap is only 3%.

There are several reasons for this persistent wage gap; women are more likely to work in low-paid sectors such as social care and education; they are more likely to work part-time than men, and they are underrepresented in senior management positions due to the glass ceiling. Nevertheless, studies have shown that women often earn less than men even when women and men do exactly the same job and occupy equal positions.

Would greater pay transparency help? How can you even find out whether another employee earns more than you do? Talking about money and salaries is still rather a taboo topic in most European countries. As a result, women and marginalised groups often do not know they are being discriminated against. And, if they do not know there are being treated unfairly, they cannot demand equal pay from their employers or take them to court.

This is why the EU is working to improve wage transparency across Europe. The latest proposal includes measures that, among other things, include the right to know the (anonymised) pay levels for workers doing the same work, as well as gender pay gap reporting obligations for big companies. Would these measures help close the pay gap?

What do our readers think? First up, Peter is concerned about the gender pay gap in Europe and would like to see the EU promote greater transparency in relation to pay rates. Should we have a binding EU pay transparency directive? If so, how would it work?

We forwarded Peter’s comment to Maria Noichl. She is a member of the European Parliament for the S&D Group and a member of the Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality. She is also the European Parliament’s rapporteur for the EU’s gender equality strategy. How would she respond to Peter’s comment?

Thank you, Peter. The new strategy for gender equality will announce an EU law on this later this year. It is an important proposal, and it is a matter of implementing compulsory action against low wages for women. When information on wage levels is available, it is easy to identify gaps and discrimination. But that is not always the case at the moment.

Due to a lack of transparency, many women do not know that they are underpaid, or they cannot prove it. The Commission will therefore propose binding measures on salary transparency by the end of the year. I think that’s great! The European Parliament is waiting, and the proposal is on its way, and I think that is a good thing.

Next up, we had a comment sent in from Effie, who argues that the pay rate for each employee is a private issue and she doesn’t think they should be published. Are there privacy issues surrounding pay transparency?

We forwarded Effie’s question to Mary Collins from the European Women’s Lobby. As Senior Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, she campaigns for equality between women and men. How would she respond to Effie’s question?

Thank you, Effie, you raise a very important issue regarding privacy and personal information. Pay transparency is about the criteria used when putting together a job description, and how the wage level should be presented and assigned. These criteria are not – and should not be – personalised to individual employees. This is a structural question, after all.

So, everyone should be able to compare wage structures according to the position they are applying for. In this sense, transparency is important because everyone will be able to compare themselves to colleagues in similar positions. For example, if your job description or title does not match your actual job performance, you can use objective criteria to compare (what we call ‘job grading’). So, you have information, and thanks to this wage transparency you might decide to challenge the situation within your company and, if this does not succeed, you can go to court. It is also very important for unions, because they will be able to challenge wage differentials through collective bargaining.

How does MEP Maria Noichl see it?

Thanks Effie, for your question, but I’m on the other side. I think data protection and privacy are important, of course. My counter-question is: ‘Why is it that the income of civil servants (for example: teachers, police officers, politicians and pastors) is publicly known’?

Because their income level, their income grouping is known. And I think that’s fine. It is about the balancing act between two needs; on the one hand privacy and data protection, and on the other hand the constant breach of the promise of ‘Equal pay for equal work in the same place’. Europe made this promise to women decades ago, but it is broken every day. There has to be a sanction at last.

Finally, Eibe thinks the gender pay gap should be left to market forces. Are market forces be enough to close the pay gap on their own? What would Mary Collins say?

Thank you, Eibe, for your question. First of all, the market is, unfortunately, not neutral and that is reflected in pay and working conditions. In 2021, we are still living in a very gender-segregated labour market.

What does that mean? It means that women are concentrated in a limited number of sectors – the same is true for men. What we are seeing is that sectors where women work tend to have lower pay and poorer working conditions than sectors where men work. Many factors play a role here, but it is mainly due to the value given to work by women.

Hence, wage transparency will help to show the value that we as a society either give or do not give to the sectors in which women work. Women often work in people-related areas such as health and social care, and in education. I think this was very visible at the start of the pandemic, so it is important to provide a push to uncover this and close the pay gap. And legislation is just the beginning; it is a means to an end and not an end in itself.

So, to get back to your question: if we wait for market forces, which, I should say, are dominated by men and male decision-makers, pay equality will take a very, very long time. Bringing the issue out into the open will certainly help uncover these structural, deep-seated gender stereotypes that lead to the undervaluation of women’s work, and this is reflected in the persistent gender pay gap. So, the question of work of equal value is really at the heart of wage transparency. I fear that market forces have not yet recognised this.

Should all salaries be public to close the gender pay gap? Should we have a binding EU pay transparency directive? Are there privacy issues surrounding pay transparency? Are market forces enough to close the pay gap on their own? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!

Image Credits: Flickr – BPW Germany (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

10 comments Post a commentcomment

What do YOU think?

  1. avatar

    My salary has always been agreed between my company and me… I ask for a salary band according to what I think I deserve, based on my experience, knowledge and skills, and they accept or offer a different salary band depending on what they consider I deserve… Sometimes I asked more and sometimes less, and I have never been offered more than any other female colleague just because I am a man. Actually, most of the times I earned less than my female colleagues because my experience and my skills were worse than theirs. So, no, salaries should be something solely agreed between the company and its employees and only the company and the employee should be involved in the negotiations.

  2. avatar

    No. This would be an ugly invasion into the private lives of people.

  3. avatar

    Why not, transparency is often the key to justice (in the same way that secrecy is an open door to abuse of power)

  4. avatar
    EU Reform Proactive

    Is that the response from the EU- because it’s “International Women’s day” today?

    Not so fast, please!

    • All salaries earned by public representatives & politicians in all tiers should be made public and broadly approved by voters- not by themselves.

    • Above min. wages & Salaries in private entities are subject to free & fair negotiation, ILO, and remain a matter of national competence to guarantee competitiveness, SME’s survival, etc. regardless of gender.


    • The total cost to an employer (incl. all benefits) by employing a man or a woman (for the same work) is a consideration & should be reasoned better.

    • Married men should earn enough to enable their women (if so desired) to tend to their children without stress. Except- EU politicians plan to reduce having offsprings in future to replace them with robots & immigrants. Terrible thought!

    • Surely, no women should willfully be disadvantaged or advantaged in the EU labor market- if willing or in need to seek work- same applies to men.

    • Address forced labor & modern slavery in the EU as a priority.

    Please EU, put your over-eager law writing pencil away and first consult all 27 Members & their voters if that is what all want- not what some left/green/red & MEP & NGO’s dream off.

  5. avatar
    catherine benning

    Should all salaries be public to close the gender pay gap?

    Is this a serious suggestion?


    The abuse already massively in use will be exacerbated to the point of ridiculous should this be introduced. And it will do nothing for the ‘gender’ pay gap. As another poster declared people negotiate salaries on the basis of what they feel they are worth upstairs. Not on what they observe downstairs.

    Are you now suggesting we shall not any longer have the expectation of being able to use our experience, intelligence, education to negotiate with others in order to get the best we can out of our genius? We will have to rely on the ill judgement of those incapable of understanding economic realities?

    This is maniacal control by inferior thinkers.

    What will you do when pay awards are arranged by agents for those who work in film making at exorbitant salaries, for example?

  6. avatar
    catherine benning

    Should all salaries be public to close the gender pay gap?

    This diversity issue, on the judgement of ‘gender’ and pay, is far bigger than pretended by ignorant law makers. The big picture ends up with total discrimination toward the ‘weaker’ sex.

    It is taking us, as women, back hundreds of year prior to the sacrifice made by those wonderful people called suffragettes. The days when women were not allowed to play the female lead in an opera or a play as it was considered beneath their femininity to do so. So, men used to be enlisted to play the female role for them, removing their ability to earn a wage. Of course, he had to be a castrati, cherubino, or, something similar, to enable him to meet the needs of voice requirements or physical demureness whilst he feigns female attributes. At the same time, the law threatens the population with ‘incarceration’ should they voice doubt around his fantasy. And we are forced to go along with it. Have mercy on us all. What have we voted in to be our leaders?

    Soon it is going to mean transgender men are going to take over all roles women have taken for their own. And the reason, in part, for this is, women have taken top money positions with equal pay to men and therefore allowing the emasculated, sensitive man, now seeing himself in her role as valid competition. Just as he did way back in Elizabeth 1 time. I tell you, the clowns who repeat the political downfall of females cannot see the big picture if it hits them on the head with an axe. And these dummies claim ‘leadership’ in our society as they feel they are fit to run our country. They never stop reducing women to suit this pretend masculine instinct used via the name of ‘feminism.’ Yet, still they can’t see men manage, in this proffered idea of productive modernism, to lose the drudgery of the male principle for dedication, protection, provision and defence of the female and the children both produced together. It is astonishing you get away with this nonsense.


  7. avatar
    catherine benning

    There is a way for women in sport, for whatever is felt as unfair against their biological ability to win, against men who see themselves as women. And that is, don’t compete, let these trans people compete against each other. This is equality. That is a level playing field.

    Yes, I realise this appears to give in to the treachery in our species and female human beings, but you are going to end up losers against them anyway. So, don’t allow this satisfaction of being unfair winners against you. Leave the party, it isn’t worth the effort to put your body in this kind of danger. Let them show their ability against other ‘transgender’ individuals and take the pay packet from those who set this up. Without you they are equal against their competitor, but, they will lose the money bag they have stolen from you.


  8. avatar

    What is today, double agitprop day? Where does this so called gender pay gap come from? Younger women in Urban areas already make considerably more than their małe colleagues. This pay gap is calculated among all women in all age groups, when it’s clear that for a lot of people, when the novelty of working 60 hours a week wears off, they start looking at their options. According to Forbes, women control 70-80% of spending power in the world. Doesn’t it seem pretty obvious then, that women simply have less incentive to be gainfully employed, if they already control the majority of spending power? The next question is, how does it happen that they control so much of the money, if it’s not coming from salaries? If this applied to men, would it not be considered relevant? I bet a lot of men would be happy to cut back at work if it didn’t mean they would end up starving and alone. It seems you are not trying to improve women’s lives, you are trying to deprive them of choices. https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.forbes.com/sites/forbescontentmarketing/2019/05/13/20-facts-and-figures-to-know-when-marketing-to-women/amp/
    [PHOTO] https://external.fnak3-1.fna.fbcdn.net/safe_image.php?d=AQF2khZDeLyb_v7b&w=396&h=271&url=https%3A%2F%2Fthumbor.forbes.com%2Fthumbor%2Ffit-in%2F1200x0%2Ffilters%253Aformat%2528jpg%2529%2Fhttps%253A%252F%252Fspecials-images.forbesimg.com%252Fimageserve%252F5cd9fc8a5ea6490008c856f8%252F0x0.jpg&ccb=3-5&_nc_hash=AQF32YoWq1jeCCrC

  9. avatar

    In private sector this would create a lot of discussion and lack of professionalism , but in public sector it should be !

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