Better work-life balance: closing the gender employment gap?

A positive work-life balance contributes to a more inclusive labour market, reducing the gender employment gap and raising individuals’ quality of life.

Despite some progress, female participation in the workforce is lower than for men and the gap becomes much larger for women with children or caring duties. This is one of the causes of the gender pay gap and gender pensions gap. Quality of life also suffers with the most recent ‘Quality of Life Survey’ by Eurofound showing a general decline since 2011. This is particularly the case for young and middle-aged women, as well as for blue-collar workers and workers with fixed-term contracts.

A new EU Directive contains proposals for paternity, parental and carers’ leave. The initiative is strongly linked to the implementation of the principles of the European Pillar of Social Rights, particularly those focusing on gender equality, equal opportunities, work-life balance, childcare and support to children, and long-term care. One objective is to balance responsibilities between men and women, and promote flexible working arrangements that facilitate ongoing participation in the workforce.

Stakeholders have been divided over the level of ambition of the proposed measures. The Commission aims to enhance the existing parental leave scheme by facilitating its uptake by women and men through the introduction of new measures on payment, flexibility and non-transferability. The European Parliament has underlined the slow progress of equal opportunities and equal treatment of men and women in matters of employment, highlighting the cumulative impact of gender imbalances in pay, overall earnings, family and caring responsibilities and career patterns on women’s pension entitlements.

Euractiv organised a Stakeholder Workshop to discuss the roles and responsibilities of policymakers, employers, civil society and individuals in finding the right work-life balance.

Questions included:

  • Is work life balance a transnational problem or a national concern that should be dealt with by Member States?
  • To what extent will the Commission’s proposal tackle the problem of lower female participation in the workforce and improve work-life balance?
  • Does the proposal reflect the nature of the European workforce? Does it cater for the needs of SMEs? Should it include non-formal working arrangements?
  • How important will this proposal be in changing the structure of the European workforce? Who holds most responsibility for affecting this change? The EU, national governments or businesses?
  • Is the concept of an ideal work life balance outdated? Should we rather think of ‘healthy integration’ between work and lifestyle?

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