For females in Greece, data on gender equality in the country is still a bitter pill to swallow. A woman may be more educated and better qualified for a job than a man, but she is still less likely to get it, will be paid less if she does, and will still need to handle an unequal burden of care work within the family. And according to recent research, women may also be penalized for demonstrating ambition, that they have access to “networks of influence” and for saying “I” instead of “we”.
Gender Equality in Europe and Greece
More than halfway through the European Commission’s 2020–2025 Gender Equality Strategy, which focuses on specific measures for the advancement of women and on closing gender gaps in the labor market amongst other things, the picture remains less than rosy.
The World Economic Forum’s 2023 Global Gender Gap Data Report ranks Greece in the unenviable position of 93 out of 146 countries for gender parity, sandwiched between Cambodia and Cameroon, 65th for wage equality, and 94th for the percentage of legislators, senior officials and managers who are female.
Further, the European Institute for Gender Equality (EIGE) also reveals there is “room for improvement” in its 2023 report (based on data from 2021 and 2022), which ranks Greece 24th out of the EU 27 for gender equality, with a score of 58 against an EU average of 70.2.
According to the EIGE, Greece’s low score is due to Greek women’s low levels of employment, (the country ranks 25th out of 27), low access to financial resources (stemming from gender disparities in wages, pensions and other income sources), their overall worsening economic situation, and their very low levels of political, economic and social power.
Hammering this home, Eurostat recently reported that the region of Central Greece had the highest gender employment gap in all of Europe in 2022. According to Eurostat, women are often kept out of formal employment by unpaid care responsibilities, discrimination in hiring, the scarcity of women in leadership roles, inadequate childcare facilities, tax disincentives and occupational segregation.
Challenges for Women Working in Greece
Just getting into the job market poses significant challenges for women in Greece, particularly in relation to discrimination, as highlighted by labor lawyer Irini Matsouka. She says that while progress has been made over the past 10 years in Greece, “The hardest key issue for a woman…is identifying direct or indirect discrimination behaviors.” Women need to be educated on how to identify these issues as “employers hide such behaviors behind otherwise “normal” actions (classified advertisements, interviews, job/salary offers, promotions etc).”
Stella Kasdagli, co-founder of the Greek women’s empowerment network ‘Women on Top’, adds: “Women in Greece face multiple challenges in their working lives and professional aspirations, which depend on their age and the stage they’ve reached in their career.”
That is why ‘Women on Top’ recently organized a career-fair for women who were looking to start or restart their careers, change fields, or move up the ladder. Over 150 women, benefitted from free: head shots, advice from CV-builders, mock interviews, advice from labor lawyers and career counseling.
The situation gets even more complicated when babies enter the picture, adds Stella, noting that, “women who have found themselves in a corporate career path tend to face sexism and discrimination, especially when they get close to the traditionally child-bearing age of 30. Those who have not found a job that fulfills them tend to take longer maternity breaks and often remain out of the job market for years, making it more and more difficult to find new employment opportunities when their children are older.”
Childcare is yet another tough issue: “50% of fathers in Greece haven’t taken so much as a day’s paternity leave, due both to deeply rooted gender stereotypes and systemic and economic disincentives that essentially punish men who try to re-distribute the family’s caretaking responsibilities.”
In many cases the above leads to “unemployment among women over 40 years old, which has proved to be one of the most persistent obstacles Greek women face to achieving financial independence.”
When looking at the cross-section of women who have been able to climb the corporate ladder, experts question the degree to which real progress has been made and note several distinct obstacles they face.
A 2023 Grant Thornton International Business report says that “In Greece, the percentage of women in senior management marked a significant increase of 9 percentage points in 2023, to 37% compared to 28% in 2022, reaching the highest level ever recorded.”
However, Empowerment Coach and Psychologist Maria Kokkinos explains, “Even if women take on senior positions, often they are not the actual decision makers…Nor are they the strategists who are expected to forge the company’s future strategy. Usually, they’re only expected to implement it.”
Kokkinos identifies the many barriers that keep women out of the C-suite, such as the expressed need for a work-life balance. Additionally, she says “If women stay in middle management positions for long enough, they may suffer burnout and decide not to strive for a more senior role, let alone a CEO position.”
It’s Lonely at the Top
Recognizing that it will take more than market dynamics to get women into the board room, Europe passed the Directive on gender balance in corporate boards in 2022 to mandate gender balance in corporate decision-making positions in the largest EU-listed companies.
Still, while regulation may help women get into top executive positions, it is not enough to help women achieve success in these roles. The CEO of leading insurance specialist and reinsurance brokerage Howden Hellas, Constantina Kapetanaki, explains that women need training in the board room and the opportunity to network with other female executives and CEOs.
“I work in a male-dominated field, and there are only a few female CEOs in my company across the whole of Europe. And while men tend to be in the majority, extroverted and network with confidence, women tend to be fewer in numbers and more introverted. While I wish it wasn’t necessary, it is important to have communities of female senior executives, because that can help us network in our own way and discuss issues that are unique to our experience.”
The Rocky Path to Gender Equality
Fortunately, women’s professional networks and empowerment groups are increasingly prevalent in Greece, offering valuable resources for young professionals, career restarters, and aspiring executives. Organizations like ‘Women on Top’, ‘LeanIn’ circles inspired by Sheryl Sandberg, ‘Women Act’, and the International Chamber of Commerce Women Hellas (ICC) are examples of such initiatives.
LeanIn Expat Circle Leader Mariella Brunetti comments on the purpose of the community she leads saying, “in our quest for gender equality, we need to embrace diverse voices and ensure everyone feels safe to share their truth. Empowering women means fostering respect and compassion for all…this is the main purpose of our group, to have a safe space to speak our truth and be compassionate to one another.”
And while these women’s organizations certainly improve the support ecosystem for female professionals, research consistently underscores the persistent battles to be faced against stereotypes, which influence everything from networking to salary negotiations.
A recent study published by the WSJ entitled The Price Women Pay for Networking With High-Status People reveals that both men and women expect female professionals to have a “community orientation.” As a result, “when women form instrumental networks with higher-status colleagues, co-workers react negatively……because of stereotypes and biases about how women should behave.”
The study also shows that female leaders lose influence as they exhibit dominance and ambition, in contrast with their male counterparts who gain influence. To navigate stereotypes, experts recommend women emphasize that their networking and leadership actions are for the betterment of the team.
LeanIn’s training programs also advocate for the “we” vs “I” approach both metaphorically and literally to improve women’s prospects in job acquisition, salary negotiations, and even leadership acceptance. The trainings even give examples of how a woman should consider phrasing her requests for a raise, using the pronoun “we” instead of “I”, and highlighting the successes of her team as opposed to her professional accomplishments.
New Battlegrounds: Social Media
The discourse on women’s empowerment and gender equality is often rooted in a mix of feminist and liberal ideologies that emphasize the importance of women’s financial independence. Such arguments are buttressed by a global economic system that sees the economic potential of “the other half” as the key to promoting continual economic growth.
But since the height of the 2017 Pussyhat marches, the women’s rights movement has faced a growing backlash on social media as a new generation of males and females call into question feminist ideals and flood platforms like TikTok with views ranging from conservative and “traditional”, to far right and misogynistic.
To the chagrin of some feminists who have fought hard for gender equality in the workplace, females express their aspirations to be a stay-at-home girlfriend (SAHG) or a stay-at-home wife and mother (Tradwife), noting the value of having someone at home and embracing traditional gender roles.
TikTok figure @esteecwilliams explains her choice to be a Tradwife and her understanding of the concept and her role. Meanwhile, other TikTokers can be seen making spoof videos of not only this and other Tradwives. Another Tiktoker who has 2.1 million views encourages Tradwives to imagine themselves applying for food stamps to feed their four kids after 10 years as a Tradwife and a relationship that “didn’t work out.”
There is a highly toxic side to the online antifeminist movement, however, which is exemplified by alleged rapist and human trafficker Andrew Tate, who is also accused of unleashing waves of misogyny and inspiring the formulation of online communities that blame women for societal problems.
Alarmingly, research conducted by University College London and published this week in the Guardian confirmed media watchers’ fears that social media algorithms ‘amplify misogynistic content’.
“Researchers said they detected a four-fold increase in the level of misogynistic content suggested by TikTok over a five-day period of monitoring, as the algorithm served more extreme videos, often focused on anger and blame directed at women.”
The content is primarily shared amongst communities of men who are not only against the empowerment of women, but blame women for the world’s problems, said the report. Online groups have even been linked to violence against women, the severe online bullying of women, and even murders.
“The study, by teams at University College London and the University of Kent, comes at a time of renewed concern about the impact of social media on young people. Research last week found young men from generation Z – many of whom revere social media influencer Andrew Tate – are more likely than baby boomers to believe that feminism has done more harm than good.”
The Heart of the Matter
Over the years, feminists and their adversaries have argued over reasons why women cannot get ahead in the workplace. The heart of the matter is that poor women are both trapped in low-paying work and more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, while the “better off” and highly skilled women are prevented from accessing the top jobs.
In a society like Greece, whose economy is still fighting to recover from the bail-out years and the COVID-19 pandemic, where the gender gap is significant, the impact of climate change is increasingly felt, and the far-right is expected to move from strength to strength ahead of this year’s European elections, it will take a doubling down of efforts to not only maintain the existing progress on gender equality but to minimize the risk of losing further ground.