“I thought I deserve a promotion”: Gender-based discrimination at work persists


    This article was compiled during the 2022 Media Bootcamp organized by sCOOL Media by a team consisting of Nadya Mihalkova, Anna-Mariya Georgieva, Siana Beshkova, Plamena Petrova and Kalina Tsoneva. 


    “My boss told me that I wasn’t capable of fully dedicating my time to this position because I am a mother.” This is the story of 34-year-old Victoria*, a woman with a successful career – and one of the many victims of gender-based discrimination in the workplace. While in recent decades the condition of women in the workforce has dramatically improved, there is still a significant difference in the way women and men are treated. The wage gap between the two sexes is too large everywhere in the world. According to Eurostat, women in Bulgaria earn 14,4% less than their male colleagues do. Additionally, many female employees are often underestimated because of  their gender. 


    Victoria has been a part of a marketing firm for 6 years. She has had many successful projects and ideas, so it was not surprising that, when her boss announced that a new position as a director of advertising was opening, she expected a promotion. Unfortunately, this was not meant to happen. 


    “I thought that I would receive the promotion because of my experience and commitment to my job. When I found out that a male coworker with less experience and successful projects got the promotion instead, I was completely taken aback. After all, I am more qualified than he is.”


    Victoria decided that she had to know the truth, so the next day she went to confront her boss. 


    “Naturally, I had some doubts about whether I should even raise this topic at all. But I had to know,” she says. 


    The answer of her boss left her speechless. He told her that the male colleague in question would have more time to fully commit to the company and the work and she couldn’t possibly do that since she had a 7-year- old daughter to look after.  


    “When I heard that, I got so angry. I wanted to quit right then and there but I knew losing my job and income wasn’t an option. “


    Victoria thought about filing a lawsuit but she knew the process would be extremely expensive and time-consuming and she did not want to lose her stable income. So, she stayed silent. When asked whether she regretted not standing up for herself, she answered that although she still holds feelings of bitterness for her employer, she made the best possible decision with the knowledge she had. A year has passed since this incident. At the time of the publication of this article, Victoria is still working at the same company, although she is currently looking for a new job. 


    Even though such stories are a commonplace, gender-based discrimination is still not considered a real issue in many countries, including Bulgaria. The question is – why? sCOOL media turned to the Bulgarian Helsinki Committee, the country’s oldest human rights watchdog, for an insight into the problem of gender inequality in the workplace. 


    “Bulgarian Trade Unions do not have an adequate way or a particularly well-developed system in the field of protection against gender-based discrimination at the workplace”, shares Radoslav Stoyanov, an expert on human rights’ violations from the Helsinki Committee. 


    He explains that the women who are most affected by the issue work in the fields of economics, finance and sports. Hotlines, which support the fight against discrimination at the workplace, are almost non-existent. He also thinks that while there was considerable progress on a national level when it comes to women’s rights before 1989, it was more focused on including women in the workforce rather than fighting gender stereotypes. 


    “Women were encouraged to work but not to strive for success. The feminism movement was perceived as something posh and as an unnecessary New Age idea”, Stoyanov explains.


    According to current statistics from the European Commission, the overall gender pay gap in Europe is currently at 13%, which places Bulgaria close to the EU average. 


    Iliana Balabanova, chairwoman of the Bulgarian Platform of the European Women’s Lobby, the largest umbrella organization of women’s associations in the EU working to promote women’s rights sheds more light on how serious the issue of gender inequality is. 


    Iliana Balabanova

    “In Bulgaria gender-based discrimination is only and primarily discussed among experts in this area because of the common belief that such an issue does not exist. Of course, this cannot be further away from the truth…”, Balabanova says. 


    She explains that other aspects of sexism are given much more attention and while discussions on topics such as domestic violence are extremely significant, it is also of great importance that society does not overlook the seriousness of the wage gap and the discrimination against the female sex at the workplace. 


    The chairwoman of the European Women’s Lobby in Bulgaria says that in general, the number of female employees is notably lower than the male ones and claims women are generally taking on worse paying jobs and are rarely placed in leadership roles. However, EU data has shown that it is not all doom and gloom in Bulgaria. While the proportion of women in higher managerial roles remains lower than that of men, Bulgaria is among the top six countries in this respect, with 42% female managers, alongside countries such as Sweden, Poland, Latvia, Slovenia and Hungary. 


    Yet, discrepancies still persist when it comes to the type of sectors where women both work and lead. “It is subconsciously accepted in Bulgaria that women should find jobs in the fields of education, healthcare and social work, where the salaries are lower. Men are expected to work in the better-paid finance and technology sectors”, Balabanova claims.


    In her opinion, this development creates two types of gender-based wage gaps in our country. The first one stems from the fact that women work in lower-paid jobs in comparison to men. The other pay gap can be seen within the same profession. Balabanova gives the example of the IT-sector, where female and male specialists are paid differently for the same amount and type of work. 


    Her advice for dealing with discrimination is to ask for help. There are many non-government organizations like the “Bulgarian Fund for Women” (0885444103), “Bulgarian Helsinki Committee” (029440670), “Bulgarian platform European Women’s Lobby” (0898556832) that are available for contact. Another alternatives are the Commission for Protection against Discrimination (028073030) and the Regional Labor Inspectorate. 


    When asked about the possibility of change and elimination of the problem, she concludes :


    “As a society we have to have more conversations on the topic of gender equality. Additional research should also be done by different institutions and legal action is needed. After all, lower salaries lead to lower pensions. The gender pay gap would eventually cause poverty among a whole group of people and put the economy of our country in danger”.


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