However, we continue to face a major challenge in reaching equality between women and men. In 2020 the pay gap between men and women was recorded as 4% in the government sector and a 7% gap in the business sector, even once corrected for part-time work, sector and seniority of positions held.
Dutch policy of part-time work is often heralded as a driver for equality, providing a framework for both work, family caregiving and free time to enjoy other pursuits. This arguably fuels the Netherlands consistently topping the Global ranking for the happiest children and happiest population in the world. However, part-time working has become engendered and synonymous, largely, with women. In 2019, the OECD reported that 73% of Dutch women worked part-time compared to 28% of men. These rates polarised during the pandemic, with women working on average 9% less than 2019 rate and men slightly more.
The impact of this disparity has a serious economic effect on salary and pension accumulation, as evidenced by The Netherlands having the second largest gender pension gap in the EU, after Cyprus. Further unintended consequences include slower progression into management roles, as highlighted by the recent ‘mynaamisPeter’ campaign. Female CEO’s are few, fewer even than the number of male CEO’s called Peter. Women hold only 26.6% of management positions in Dutch corporates, one of the lowest rates in the OECD and well below the OECD average of 32.5%. Although recent statutory changes requiring Dutch listed business to have 30% representation of women on the supervisory board starts to address this inequality in business, it doesn’t mean anything if the number of women currently holding or working towards senior roles, are not there en masse.
Balancing choice and seniority
However, it is not to say that every Dutch woman wants to work full-time; in a 2021 survey by the Dutch government, only seven percent of women in part-time jobs would rather be working full time. Whilst the figure is much higher for younger women and set to increase as millennials and Gen-Z start and grow in their careers, it appears that traditionally, some Dutch women tend to elect for roles that are compatible with part-time working and thus, not achieve the same seniority as male counterparts. In addition, women universally tend to elect for more caregiving activities, which accounts for a large, but not complete, proportion of women working part-time. Whether women choose to work part-time for childrearing, other caregiving or pursue a better work-life balance and hobbies, the majority of women in the Netherlands work part-time. So how to balance this dynamic with an increasing expectation for gender equality within all level of Dutch businesses? And why is gender equality in senior leadership roles the right measure? Should we be proud of our culture of providing opportunities to not make work the focal point of our lives? Generating the happiest children in the world? Or have we inadvertently created unintended bias and reinforced gender roles by a lack of female role models in senior positions throughout our society?
It could be suggested that we need to support two distinct groups of women; those who follow traditional models of career success through appointment to senior positions and those who choose to balance their professional life with other factors, regardless what those factors might be. Of course, it goes without saying, that part-time work doesn’t have to mean part-time for the whole of women’s careers; this could be for a season, a reason or a lifetime. Ensuring that there are career paths for women who have chosen to work part-time for a period of time and aspire to senior level roles is also a key factor in reaching equality of women in all level of business; careers, like life, are not linear. For more women to appear in more senior positions, part-time work for a period of time must be compatible, for some women, with progression to leadership. Organisations that struggle with promoting those women who aspire to traditional models of career success, could use a quota to increase active awareness and target the bias that exists when there are so few women at senior management positions. But that doesn’t suggest that this is the only measure of success for all women, or even men. Economic inequality aside, the ability to engage with work in a way that suits lifestyle and wider life goals is often considered the cure to our modern existence; and it is an area where the Netherlands leads.