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The aim of the current article is to provide an introduction into some of the key issues pertaining to women at work. A concise summary of some of the key matters related to women at work will be presented, with a concentrated focus on issues related to occupational segregation, and the gendered division of domestic duties at home. A short introduction to gender mainstreaming will also be provided. 

Historical background to women at work and the changing world of work

Globalisation, an ageing workforce, and increasing migration continue to affect world economies, highlighting the need to retain and maintain workforces for a sustainable future. Women as workers are vital to the world’s economies. Around 50% of global working age women are actively employed[1]. Although this figure has hardly changed globally over the period 2000 – 2020, women’s contribution to the workforce continues to grow in Europe. Benefiting their families through increased household incomes and employers though increased productivity. However, this growth is not without challenges for women or organisations. In Europe, it is estimated that a constant employment rate for women will lead to an expected shortfall of 24 million people in the active workforce by 2040. However, if this employment rate could increase to equal that of men, then it is estimated that this projected shortfall could be reduced by 3 million[2]. These figures illustrate that viewing and supporting women, as a resource in the workforce must be reinforced.

Women’s participation in employment and occupational gender segregation

Female participation in the workforce

Pronounced gender differences in employment patterns can be observed, which is associated to a highly segregated labour market based on gender. Data from Eurostat show that, although female labour market participation has increased over the last decades, the employment rate of men (aged 15–64) remains higher. In 2022, the EU average employment rate was 80.0% for men and 69.3% for women[3].

It is important to note that considerable variation in women’s employment rate can be observed across EU Members States, and that female employment rate has been observed to vary by age group. Between 2009 and 2022, the age structure of employment in the EU underwent a significant change, with an increasing share of employed men in the 55-64 age group and a decreasing share of employed men in the 15-24 age group. In 2009, men aged 55-64 made up 13.2% of all employed men in the 15-64 age group. By 2022, this will increase to 19.3% (+6.1%). For women, the increase is even higher: in 2009, 11.6% of all working women aged 15-64 were women, and by 2022, this will be 19.2% (+7.6%)[4]. For a more detailed overview of these variations in employment trends by EU country and age please see article on Employment trends and their impact on women

Employment contract

An additional employment dimension that is found to differ significantly between men and women is in relation to employment contracts: specifically, with more women than men opting for part-time employment[5]. Indeed part-time employment continues to be important for women, as it remains one option of dealing with child and eldercare duties. Part-time employment accounts for 27.8 % of employed women in 2022 versus 7.6 % of employed men[6]

Gender occupational segregation

Gender occupational segregation refers to the pattern in which one gender is under-represented in some jobs and over-represented in others, relative to their percentage share of total employment[7]. These patterns of gender occupational segregation may differ across Member States, but they are nevertheless consistent across EU countries and in advanced economies more generally[8].

Concentration of employed women by occupational sector and profession

Occupational sectors

In general, women and men tend to be concentrated in different areas of the labour market[9]. The evidence indicates that jobs occupied by women are spread less evenly across occupational sectors, as compared to men; and that the sectors in which women predominantly work are categorically different from those in which men are concentrated in. This social phenomenon has been termed horizontal segregation; whereby men and women tend to work and be concentrated in different occupational sectors and perform different types of jobs and related tasks[10]

Evidence shows that some sectors employ more women than men and this has seen few changes over the past 15 years. For example, women seem to be particularly present in health and education, real estate, hotels and restaurants, and other service sectors, such as cleaning. The EU LFS 2018 found that in four sectors, about two-thirds or more of all employees are women: other service activities (65 %), education (72 %), human health and social work activities (78 %), and activities of households as employers (88 %). In many other sectors, about half of all employees are women. By contrast, in five sectors, less than a quarter of all workers are women: electricity, gas, steam and air conditioning supply (23 %), water supply (21 %), transport and storage (21 %), mining and quarrying (14 %); and construction (9 %)[11].

in service sectors, where women are better represented, the trend towards women having a greater employment share has become even more marked in the period 1998 – 2019. In particular, in predominantly state-funded sectors such as health, education and public administration, the female majorities have become more pronounced[5].

According to the European Worker’s Survey Telephone Survey 2021 (EWCTS 2021) women may be proportionally exposed to more psychosocial risks in particular harassment because of their increased direct contact with clients due to the nature of their jobs. The share of women experiencing bullying, harassment, violence at work was higher than that of men (6,8% of women compared to 5,1% of men). The gender gap is particularly striking when it comes to unwanted sexual attention. Women are 3,6 times more likely to suffer from unwanted sexual attention than men12].

Beyond occupational sectoral segregation: gender differences within professions and jobs

Horizontal gender segregation has been observed to extend beyond occupational sectors. Even when men and women tend to work in the same job, evidence indicates that women and men continue to perform categorically different tasks[13][14][15].  It is important to note that several authors have suggested that, even within the same occupation, work content and tasks vary considerably according to gender. Women and men with the same job title do not perform the same tasks, leading to different physical and psychosocial risk exposures[11]

Women in male-dominated professions and sectors

In general, women’s move into traditional male jobs has been slowly increasing [16] . Women working in male-dominated workplaces or traditionally masculine jobs can often experience tokenism. Tokens often feel isolated and excluded from informal networks[17] , and can often experience stereotyping and discrimination from the majority of the group[18] ; which can create a more stressful work environment. Beyond the experience and implication of experiencing tokenism, research from the USA demonstrates that occupations not previously occupied by women may not necessarily have the required preventions in place to reduce the risks that women may face in this working environment[9]. For example, a study of female long-haul truckers showed that fewer than one-third of companies provided sexual harassment or violence prevention training; or even had a policy for violence prevention in place.

Women in management and leadership positions

In addition to this horizontal occupational and sectoral segregation, vertical segregation can also be observed, with women being typically under-represented in higher status and higher paid jobs[7]. In 2022, approximately 32.2% of board members in the largest publicly traded companies within the European Union were women, marking an increase from the 30% figure recorded in 2021[19]. Moreover, fewer than 8% of CEOs in these prominent companies are women[20]. These statistics cannot be attributed solely to a scarcity of capable and ambitious women willing to assume leadership roles. Instead, they underscore the existence of a well-recognised phenomenon known as the "glass ceiling." 

Digital skills and employment

Gender disparities in digital skills and the utilisation of digital devices are gradually diminishing, especially among young individuals. Nevertheless, the lack of gender diversity persists in the workforce that designs, develops and disseminates digital services and products. Gender-related attitudes toward digital skills and confidence in information and communication technology (ICT) are reflected in career aspirations. In 2018, merely 1% of girls, on average, expressed an expectation to pursue ICT-related occupations, in contrast to 10% of boys. Additionally, the statistics reveal that, on average, more than 8 out of 10 ICT specialists in the European Union are male. Despite the overall expansion of the ICT sector in recent decades, the representation of women in ICT positions within the EU has declined by 4% since 2010, reaching only 18% in 2019[21].

Gender and pay differences

Generally, women earn less than men, despite the fact that there are more women in high-status jobs today. Across the EU, women earn less per hour than men do overall[22]. In 2021, women's gross hourly earnings were on average 12.7 % below those of men. Across EU Member States, the gender pay gap varied by 20.7 pp, ranging from -0.2 % in Luxembourg to 20.5 % in Estonia. The gender pay gap declined by only 2.8 pp since 2010[23].

At European and national levels, legislation on equal pay has facilitated a decrease in the number of cases of direct discrimination (such as, differences in pay when a man and a woman are doing exactly the same job with the same experience and skills and the same performance). 


In the workplace, more women (13%) report being discriminated against than men (10%)[24] . This is despite workers benefiting from the EU legislation addressing gender discrimination. Further information on gender discrimination can be found in a separate article focusing on discrimination at work. In addition, women are prone to be the subject of unwanted sexual attention in the workplace. The issue of sexual harassment at work is addressed in a separate article


The examination of European data further reveals that women migrant workers are at a disadvantage to their male counterparts. Research has found that among female migrant workers language problems, poor communication and on-the-job training, working hours and fatigue are some of the possible factors that may contribute to a higher workplace injury rates. In comparison to female nationals, family demands and obligations have a significantly higher impact on activity and employment amongst female immigrants. It is important to highlight that female migrant workers are not a homogenous group, and, therefore, targeted OSH solutions should actively consider the diversity within this group of workers. Indeed, second-generation migrant women have been observed to have, in general, better educational levels and better integration into labour market than those of the first generation, and even in comparison to some Members States nationals[9]. For a more detailed discussion of migration and women’s occupational health please see Employment trends and the impact on women.

Implications for women’s OSH

The pervasiveness of gender segregation within the labour market has resulted in significant differences in both job content and working conditions amongst women and men[10] [25][26]. As a result, men and women are differentially exposed to a different set of exposure rates and pattern of workplace hazards (for example, exposure to toxic chemicals, ergonomic demands, risk of accidents, and psychosocial risks[11] ). Broadly speaking women’s jobs involve caring, nurturing and service activities for people, whilst men tend to be concentrated in management and the manual and technical jobs associated with machinery or physical products. Consequently, because men and women are differently concentrated in certain occupations and sectors, with different aspects of job content and its associated tasks, they will be exposed to a different pattern of work-related risks. For a more in-depth discussion of the implications of the gendered nature of employment patterns and trends on women’s occupational health and safety please refer to this article Employment trends and the impact on women

Gendered division of unpaid domestic duties and home responsibilities

There is an established gender gap in the division of labour outside the workplace[10] [27] . Women, on average, report a higher total workload than men when both their vocational and domestic responsibilities are combined[28]. This proportionally increased total workload has been found to equate to longer working hours amongst women when both domestic and vocational activities are collectively combined; this trends is also observed amongst women who part time[9]. The results from the EWCTS 2021 demonstrate that, on average, women spend less time (6 hours less per week) in paid work, but this is offset by the time they spend in unpaid work (taking care of children, caring for relatives and housework) (13 more hours). Overall, considering paid and unpaid work, women on average work 7 hours longer in a week than men (70 hours and 63 hours, respectively)[24]. As a result of women’s, on average, higher total workload can be more threatened in terms of their physical and mental health and are particularly prone to role and work overload[29].

Gender and Occupational Health and Safety: Policy and Practice

Currently, the approach to occupational health and safety in the EU is ‘gender neutral’ [10] [30][31] whereby, equality is actively promoted as the norm, and explicit gender differences (with the exception of sex differences; namely, reproductive health issues) are not acknowledged or directly addressed. There is growing criticism of ‘gender neutrality’ as an effective policy approach. Indeed, it has been argued that by taking a gender-neutral approach in policy and legislation this has contributed to less attention and fewer resources being directed towards work-related risks to women and their prevention.

A report by the EU-OSHA[9] identified a number of gaps in policy with direct implications to women’s occupational health. For example, European safety and health directives do not cover (predominantly female) domestic workers; or women working informally, for example wives or partners of men in family farming businesses, may not always be covered by legislation. These examples in gap in policy highlight the importance and necessity of conducting gender impact assessments on all existing and future OSH directives, standard setting and compensation arrangements. Informed by the current knowledge-base of prevention and mainstreaming gender into OSH, existing directives could be, and arguably should be/ can be, implemented in a more gender-sensitive manner. 

In addition, a growing number of experts have observed that gender issues have typically been neglected in the planning and implementation of health promotion initiatives and disease prevention strategies[25][26][32] . In general, interventions have been described by some authors as ‘gender blind’; whereby, interventions are assumed to be equally as effective for men as women, and vice versa. Despite the growing body of evidence indicating that integrating gender considerations into interventions results in a strong positive effect on health outcomes across various domains [33].

Central to addressing the issue of gender in the workplace is strengthening the link between gender equality and occupational health[9] [34]  This involves taking into account a gender-sensitive approach in order to prevent occupational health problems and, conversely, taking into account how working conditions and work organisation can encourage gender equality. Central to addressing working conditions and broader issues of gender equality is the active participation of women in all decision-making practices concerning occupational health and safety at all levels; and their active involvement in developing and implementing targeted OSH strategies and solutions that are gender-sensitive. 

Going forward research and interventions must take account of the real jobs that men and women do, and differences in exposure and working conditions there within. This can be accomplished through improving research and monitoring by systematically including the gender dimension in data collection, adjusting for hours worked (as women generally work fewer hours than men) and basing exposure assessment on the real work carried out[9]


In conclusion, gender mainstreaming is a central component to the EU policy initiatives and has been recognised as of key importance to health and safety in the EU Strategy. However, despite gender mainstreaming being advocated at a policy level, there continues to be a limited recognition and discourse of the issue of gender in the workplace; and its direct and indirect association to health in the field of occupational health and safety; and, arguably, this has resulted in a limited number of practitioners and organisations directly addressing the issue of gender in their health and safety practices and policies. Improving women’s occupational safety and health cannot be viewed separately from wider discrimination issues at work and in society. Employment equality actions should include OSH.


[1] United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs, ‘The World's Women 2020: Trends and Statistics’, United Nations, New York, 2020. Available at:’s-women-2020

[2] Desvaux, G., Deviilard-Hoelligner, S. & Baumgarten, P., ‘Women matter: Gender diversity, a corporate performance driver’, McKinsey & Company, Paris, 2007. Available at:

[3]   Eurostat. Databrowser. Employment and activity by sex and age - annual data (lfsi_emp_a). Available at:

[4] Eurostat. Employment – annual statistics. Statistics explained, April 2023. Available at:

[5] Eurofound and European Commission Joint Research Centre (2021), European Jobs Monitor 2021: Gender gaps and the employment structure, European Jobs Monitor series, 2021. Available at:

[6] Eurostat. Part-time and full-time employment. Statistics explained, May 2023. Available at:

[7] Fagan, C., & Burchell, B., ‘Gender, Jobs, and Working Conditions in the European Union’, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Dublin, 2002. Available at:

[8] Eurofound and European Commission Joint Research Centre, European Jobs Monitor 2021: Gender gaps and the employment structure, European Jobs Monitor series, 2021. Available at:

[9]   EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. New risks and trends in the safety and health of women at work. European Risk Observatory. Literature review. Report, 2013. Available at:

[10] EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Gender issues in safety and health at work. Report, 2003. Available at:

[11] EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Workforce diversity and musculoskeletal disorders: review of facts and figures and examples. Report, 2020. Available at:

[12] Eurofound, Violence in the workplace: Women and frontline workers face higher risks. 27 February 2023. Available at:

[13] Kauppinen, K. & Kandolin, I., Gender and working conditions in the European Union’, European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, Dublin, 1998.

[14] Messing, K., One-Eyed Science: Occupational Health and Women Workers, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1998. 

[15] Messing, K., Punnett, L., Bond, M. A., Alexandersion, K., Pyle, J.L., Zahm, S., et al., Be the fairest of them all: Challenges and recommendations for the treatment of gender in occupational health research, American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 43, 2003, pp. 618-629.

[16] EU-OSHA - European Agency for Safety and Health at Work, OSH in figures: Occupational safety and health in the transport sector – an overview, 2011. Available at:

[17] Davidson, M.J. & Cooper, C.L., Shattering the glass ceiling: The woman manager, Paul Chapman Publishing, 1992.

[18] Kanter, R.M., Token women in the corporation. In J. Heeren & M. Mason (Eds.), Sociology: Windows on society, Roxbury, Los Angeles, 1990, pp. 186-294.

[21] European Institute for Gender Equality, Barbieri, D., Caisl, J., Karu, M. et al., Gender equality index 2020 – Digitalisation and the future of work, Publications Office of the European Union, 2020. Available at:

[22] Eurostat. Gender pay gap statistics. Statistics explained, March 2023. Available at: 

[24] Eurofound. Working conditions in the time of COVID-19: Implications for the future, European Working Conditions Telephone Survey 2021 series, 2022. Available at:

[25] Messing, K., ‘One-Eyed Science: Occupational Health and Women Workers’, Temple University Press, Philadelphia, 1998.

[26] Östlin, P., Eckermann, E., Mishra, U.S., Nkowane, M., & Wallstam, E., ‘Gender and health promotion: A multisectoral policy approach’, Health Promotion International, 21, 1, 2006, pp. 22-35.

[27] Bird, C.E., Gender, household labor, and psychological distress: the impact of the amount and division of housework, Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 40, No 1, 1999, pp. 32–45.

[28] Coltrane, S., Research on household labor: Modeling and measuring the social embeddedness of routine family work, Journal of Marriage and Family, 62, 4, 2000, pp. 1208-1233.

[29] Nelson, D. L. & Burke, R. J., Gender, work stress, and health, American Psychological Association, 2002.

[30] Vogel, L., ‘La santé des femmes au travail en Europe’, BTS (Bureau Technique Syndical Européen pour la Santé et la Sécurité), Brussels, 2003. 

[31] EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Mainstreaming gender into occupational safety and health practice. Report, 2014. Available at:

[32] Messing, K., & Stellman, J.M., Sex, gender, and women's occupational health: The importance of considering mechanism, Environmental Research, 101, 2006, pp. 149-162.

[33] Boerder C., Santana D., Santillàn D., Hardee K., Greene M. E., & Schuler S, The “So What” Report: A Look at Whether Integrating a Gender Focus into Programs Makes a Difference to Outcomes, Interagency Gender Working Group Task Force Report (IGWG), Washington, 2004.

[34] ETUI. Gender, working conditions and health. What has changed? Report, 2020. Available at: 

Further reading

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Workforce diversity and musculoskeletal disorders: review of facts and figures and examples. Report, 2020. Available at:

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. Workforce diversity and digital labour platforms: implications for occupational safety and health. Discussion paper, 2023. Available at:

EU-OSHA – European Agency for Safety and Health at Work. New risks and trends in the safety and health of women at work. European Risk Observatory. Literature review. 2013. Available at: 

Eurofound and European Commission Joint Research Centre, European Jobs Monitor 2021: Gender gaps and the employment structure, European Jobs Monitor series, 2021. Available at:

European Commission. Gender equality strategy. Webpage. Available at:

ILO – International Labour Organisation. 10 Keys for gender sensitive OSH practice – Guidelines for gender mainstreaming in occupational safety and health, 2013. Available at:

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Juliet Hassard

Birkbeck, University of London, United Kingdom.

Karla Van den Broek

Prevent, Belgium