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If an organisation has only one woman among its seven managers and it wants to improve the gender balance in its management, can the employer give preference to a female applicant when a vacancy arises?

No. In order to improve the gender balance, the employer may only use practices permitted under the principle of equal treatment.

If the employer refuses to employ or promote an applicant on the grounds that the applicant is male (or female), the person excluded is treated less favourably because of his or her sex and the employer is deemed to have discriminated on the grounds of sex.

All employees must be treated equally in the case of promotion. This means, above all, that promotions must be based solely on a person’s qualifications and suitability for the job.

If an employer selects for employment, a position or performance of a task or promotes a person of one sex and overlooks a person of the opposite sex who has higher qualifications, this is deemed to be discriminatory, unless there are strong reasons for it or the decision arises from circumstances not related to gender (subsection 6 (1) of the Gender Equality Act).

In addressing the situation outlined in the question, it is first important to identify the causes and factors that have led to the predominance of men in senior management positions. For example, the number of men may be higher because the decision-makers are men and they choose people with personality traits more similar to them. This may also occur due to the exclusion of suitable applicants on the basis of gender stereotypes, assuming that the job of a manager is more suited to a man than a woman. It should also be analysed whether the work organisation allows men and women to reconcile work and family life equally. Women may be reluctant to apply for a job as a manager if this job would interfere with family responsibilities. However, the needs of all employees must be taken into account in the organisation of work. Thus, in order to promote equality, the working conditions of managers must be made suitable for both men and women. All employees should benefit from the measures taken to reconcile work and family life.

In order to have more women among senior managers, you are allowed to encourage under-represented applicants to apply for vacancies, explain the principle of equal treatment, organise training and mentoring programmes to develop leadership skills, support disadvantaged people or groups and give them equal opportunities to become a senior manager.

An applicant of the under-represented gender may be preferred only in the case of otherwise equal applicants.
Subsection 6 (1) of the Gender Equality Act

This explanation does not constitute legal aid in a specific case. Therefore, if you feel that you have been treated unequally, but you did not find a solution to your problem in this article, or if you have a question, please contact the Equality Commissioner by e-mail at avaldus@volinik.ee or telephone +372 626 9059. The anonymity of the person is guaranteed when contacting the Commissioner.