Modest progress leaves gender stereotyping still strong on the Czech jobs market

Photo: archive of Radio Prague

Breaking down traditional stereotypes of what jobs should be done by males and females is not a mainstream issue or priority in the Czech Republic. So while there seems to have been some progress in getting women in traditional male sectors, and vice versa, the advances have not been dramatic. In this week’s marketplace, we look at the very different ways Norway and the Czech Republic have tackled the problem.

Photo: Tomáš Adamec,  Czech Radio
Meet Otto, a more than middle aged male who in this case gets himself burnt and electrocuted trying to fix his broken down car on the highway after initially shunning the offer of help from a passing driver. The driver is a qualified car mechanic, but also a woman, and that was the main factor in his costly brush off of the good Samaritan offer.

Otto’s character features in a series of videos made by the Norwegian region of Nordland aimed at helping to break down gender stereotyping between boys and girls and men and women. So-called horizontal stereotyping means that males and females largely stick to traditional jobs and professions that society seems to deem they are fit for. Men, for example, are overwhelmingly engineers, electricians, plumbers or involved in the building trade, women are nurses, secretaries, and childcare assistants.

That’s fine if you’re happy in your traditional gender job, but the stereotypes mean that choices are limited, often by a combination of individuals’ own limited perception and the limitations imposed by society as a whole. Some people, such as the Norwegian heavy industry workers who were laid off and found jobs in healthcare, may fatefully find their true vocation decades after they could have or more likely never have the opportunity to do so.

Norway’s central government has put a lot of onus on gender equality for the last 30-40 years. But Nordland is believed to be the only region where a coordinator is employed to help spell out to teenage girls that they can go against convention and try for careers in traditionally male dominated areas.

Coordinator Linda Utheim was in Prague last week to explain her job and especially her efforts in flagging up role models for girls in so-called ‘tough jobs.’ The work is especially important because Norwegian children are given work placements in their mid teens which can shape the rest of their working lives, for better or for worse.

Linda Utheim,  photo: archive of Linda Utheim
Mrs Utheim outlined the ongoing challenge: “We have a lot of work to do to get more girls interested in technical areas because the girls tend to choose healthcare, teaching, design, those types of professions. So the type of work we do is present role models and we see that this works. When we talk about it, the girls become more interested. ”

Even so, while Norway and other Scandinavian states are often looked to as role models in breaking down gender stereotypes at work, Mrs Utheim says that the ingrained perceptions of what is appropriate work for males and females is still very strong. “It’s a really strong sense of the gender that you belong to. And whenever you have the role models that you can talk about their work and you can see that it is possible to be tall and feminine and be a construction worker, then they sort of roll their eyes, and they are like ‘really.’ So this only goes to show that no matter how many years we have been working on this and the government is proud of its work on this issue, the ground floor is not there yet, but we are slowly moving there.”

Norway has a target to get female employment levels in the traditionally male technical areas up to around 20 percent. The current rate is just short of 4 percent.

So what of the Czech Republic? The statistics are thin on the ground on this subject, but most of them don’t come out favourably for the country. A study released in 2009 by the European Union sited the Czech Republic as the ninth worst country out of the 29 European countries surveyed for gender stereotyping at work. In computing professionals, for example, just 9.5 percent of those employed in the Czech sector were women, the worst proportion of the 28 countries surveyed in 2009. Czech women had, however, made major strides into the fast developing financial services sector although they usually occupying most of the lower job positions.

Another set of figures from the Czech Statistical Office in 2012 showed the following ratios for employment sectors. In the health sector there were more than three women employed for every man, in building less than one woman in 10, and in industry about one women for every two men. The stereotypes are so deep that one man seeking a teaching job was told that it would be a problem to employ him because there were no adult male toilets in the school.

Photo: Jana Šustová,  Radio Prague International
Jitka Hausenblasová is a worker at Prague’s Gender Studies who is involved in initiatives such as Girls’ Days, where female pupils are encouraged to find out about traditionally male occupations by visiting companies in the sector. An equivalent initiative for boys to find out about traditionally female occupations has not got off the ground. She summed up her impression of the current situation in the Czech Republic.

“I think the stereotypes remain more or less the same but the situation, if we are talking about the division between female and male jobs, is getting slightly better, but just a little bit, a few percentage points, so I don’t think it is a real improvement. The good thing is that we are talking about it with people and we are going to schools and we are talking with girls and boys and we are trying to bring the topic into the educational sector. This is an easier way than trying to change the patters in the labour market.

“Regarding the girls’ day and boys’ day, it is much more problematic to try and get boys into lower paid jobs such as in nursing and teaching. We can see that they want to go there but it takes time. So hopefully in a few years we will see that the situation is getting better. But so far it remains the same. ”

She does though pick out some areas, such as Information Technology, where more girls now appear to be recruited. “For instance, I have been talking with a few guys from IT companies and they tell me that 10 years ago they did not have any girls and now they have, let’s say 25 percent. So I think there are some changes but at the national level we don’t see that. ”

One of the big handicaps in the Czech Republic compared with Norway is that there is no central let alone local government support for breaking down gender stereotypes and it is clearly not a political or social priority. Jitka Hausenblasová again: “There is one important difference and that is I can see they [the Norwegians] are supported by the government and funded by the government. That is a big difference because once you don’t have political support you are limited in your initiatives and you can’t do what you want to. ”

At the moment the future of the girls’ day initiative is in doubt for next year because of doubts about where the money will be coming from and such a hand to mouth existence is not conducive to long term planning.

Photo: Filip Jandourek
The Czech Republic also has a historical handicap stemming from the fact that the former Communist regime paid some lip service to the concept of breaking down gender barriers, such as by getting women to become tractor drivers, but the resulted was to discredit the concept.

“We can see this as a big problem, especially among the older generation. They say: ‘Why do you want to attract girls into construction?’ This was happening then and it was this Communist idea, well it wasn’t really Communist, but they wanted more women in the workforce. That is why people are a bit suspicious but I think it is a false argument and they are not really open and they are trying to find any excuse not to open their minds. ”

So, slow progress but could do a lot better would seem to sum up the Czech Republic’s progress in the not very mainstream issue of blurring the stark stereotypes on the jobs market.