Relevance of gender in employment

While considerable progress has been made in relation to women’s labour market participation over the past decades, deeply entrenched inequalities persist. They are the result of discriminatory norms and attitudes, the unequal distribution of care responsibilities in the household and the way institutional structures consider and integrate gender. While women’s activity rate has increased during the past years, men’s activity rate has remained largely stable. The slow tempo of changes in the sharing of unpaid work represents a serious constraint for women’s equal access to the labour market and their equal control over economic resources.

Gender gap is the term used to describe the unequal outcomes achieved by women and men on the labour market, as well as women’s restricted access to rights and assets worldwide. No country in the world has fully closed the gender gap. The main gender gaps in the labour market concern differences in:

  • employment rate.
  • part-time work.
  • unpaid care and family responsibilities.
  • access to rights and assets (professions and decision-making positions).
  • working conditions.
  • hourly wages (gender pay gap).
  • the possibilities for economic independence.

[1] The activity rate is the percentage of economically active population aged 15 – 64 years on the total population of the same age. The economically active population (also called labour force) is the sum of employed and unemployed persons.

Issues of gender inequalities in the policy area

Gender equality policy objectives at EU and international level

Policy cycle in employment

Click on a phase for details

How and when? Employment and the integration of the gender dimension into the policy cycle

The gender dimension can be integrated in all phases of the policy cycle. For a detailed description of how gender can be mainstreamed in each phase of the policy cycle, visit EIGE's Gender mainstreaming platform.

Below, you can find useful resources and practical examples for mainstreaming gender into research policies. They are organised according to the most relevant phase of the policy cycle they may serve. 

Practical examples of gender mainstreaming in employment


Key milestones on equal treatment in employment in the EU:

Current policy priorities at EU level

The Lisbon Strategy, launched in 2000, was a response to the challenges of globalisation and ageing. The European Council defined the objective of the strategy for the EU as “to become the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world by 2010, capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion and respect for the environment” (European Commission, 2010a). The strategy was relaunched in 2005 – following a midterm review – to provide a greater sense of prioritisation. It focused on growth and jobs. A new governance structure based on a partnership approach between the Member States and the EU institutions was put into place.

The partnership concept has had a positive impact on the cooperation and division of responsibilities between the EU institutions and the Member States:

“The resulting dialogue between the Commission and the Member States developed into a constructive exchange of views whereby the Commission advised Member States on policy options, often drawing on its experience with other parts of the Union, while Member States offered a national perspective, highlighting opportunities for reform as well as identifying constraints”. Lisbon strategy evaluation document, 2010

In 2010 the Europe 2020 strategy built on lessons learnt from the earlier strategy, recognising its strengths (the right goals of growth and job creation, with 18 million new jobs created since 2000) but addressing its weaknesses (poor implementation, with big differences between EU countries in the speed and depth of reform). The new strategy also reflects changes in the EU’s situation since 2000 – in particular the immediate need to recover from the economic crisis (European Commission, 2013a). Europe 2020 sets out a vision for Europe’s social market economy over the next decade, based on 3 interlocking and mutually reinforcing priority areas:

  • smart growth, developing an economy based on knowledge and innovation.
  • sustainable growth, promoting a low-carbon, resource-efficient and competitive economy. inclusive growth, fostering a high-employment economy delivering social and territorial cohesion.

Progress towards these objectives will be measured against the following 5 representative headline EU-level targets, which Member States will be asked to translate into national targets reflecting their starting points:

  • 75% of the population aged 20–64 should be employed.
  • 3% of the EU’s GDP should be invested in research and development.
  • the ‘20/20/20’ climate/energy targets should be met.
  • the share of early school leavers should be under 10%, and at least 40% of the younger generation should have a degree or diploma.
  • 20 million fewer people should be at risk of poverty.

To meet the targets, the European Commission proposes a Europe 2020 agenda consisting of a series of flagship initiatives. Implementing these initiatives is a shared priority, and action will be required at all levels: EU-level organisations, Member States and local and regional authorities. In brief, central to the EU’s 2020 strategy is the implementation of a modern organisation of work, a knowledge economy, competitiveness, and more and better jobs (European Commission, 2010b).

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