Gender Equality at Work: Where Does France Stand?

April 05, 2024

March is a good month to take stock of gender equality (or inequality) in the corporate world. While this is in part due to International Women's Day, in France, March also means the publishing of corporate gender equality index results. With the 2024 results in, we take this opportunity to evaluate the state of equality between women and men in the workplace, as well as measures pertaining to the health of female employees.

The French government has announced the reinforcement of sanctions in the event of insufficient results on the gender equality index, the creation of birth leave, the establishment of a statistical indicator, as well as new measures to ensure women's health.

Gender Equality Index Results Stagnate in 2024

As they have every year since 2019, all companies with more than 250 employees—and since 2020, all those with more than 50 employees—must publish indicators relating to pay gaps between women and men by 1 March.

In 2024, the average score obtained by companies was 88 points out of 100 on the gender equality index, a stable score compared with 2023.

The government would like to see progress on the percentage of companies achieving the top score, which has stagnated at 2%, as well as on indicators relating to the share of women in the highest salaries and the return of women from maternity leave. Some recent scores in these areas include the following:

  • 28% of companies have parity or near parity, with a score of 10/10;
    • Conversely, 32% of companies have fewer than two women in their top 10 salaries and score 0/10 (compared with 33% the previous year)
  • Regarding the indicator relating to maternity leave return, the score remains 13/15 on average, but increases slightly in companies with more than 1,000 employees, where it is 14/15
    • A total of 1,516 companies, representing 6% of the total—a rate equal to 2023—scored zero on this indicator, thus violating article L. 1225-26 of the Labour Code
    • 93 companies have made no progress since 2021

The number of companies responding has risen sharply since 2023—77% of the companies concerned have published their score, compared with 72% in 2023 and 61% in 2022.

Since the index was created, 857 formal notices have been served for failure to publish the index or to define corrective measures by the companies concerned, and 560 formal notices have been served for the absence or the inadequacy of an in-house agreement or action plan relating to gender equality. A total of 126 financial penalties of up to 1% of the wage bill were imposed on the companies concerned.

By 1 March of this year, companies with more than 1,000 employees were also required to publish any gaps in the representation of women and men among senior executives and members of management bodies. The response rate to this obligation rose sharply in 2024, with 58% of companies responding, compared with only 49% in 2023. However, the results are still disappointing: 57% of companies with more than 1,000 employees have fewer than 30% women among their senior managers, and 38% have fewer than 30% women on their governing bodies. It should be remembered that an intermediate target of 30% of each gender was set for these companies by March 2026, with a final target of 40% to be reached by 1 March 2029, subject to a financial penalty.

New Avenues to Explore

Tougher Penalties for Gender Equality Index Under Performance

By the end of the five-year period—2027—the government plans to ban companies with a score of less than 75/100, or which refuse to calculate or publish their score, from public procurement contracts.

Strengthening Incentives

The government announced the introduction of a nominative reminder to companies that scored zero on one of the index indicators for more than two consecutive years, and the publication of their names on the platform.

The multi-year plan for gender equality also includes measures like the following:

  • Launching a communication campaign prior to the compulsory publication of the index, targeting SMEs in the worst-performing professional branches
  • Mobilising the tools of the Agence nationale pour l'amélioration des conditions de travail (National Agency for the Improvement of Working Conditions) to increase the number of company agreements relating to gender equality and quality of life at work, as well as the rate of compliance with the gender equality index
  • Assessing the impact of the gender equality index in the industrial sector and the compliance with the requirements to increase representation of women among senior executives and members of management bodies

Creation of a Statistical Tool on Beginning of Career Inequalities

Alongside the gender equality index, the government envisages to create a new statistical indicator to measure pay differences between men and women’s first salary within each sector.

At this stage, the possibility of sanctions arising from this indicator is not determined.

Some New ‘Birth Leave’ Details

The government plans to replace the current unpaid parental leave of up to three years with a six-month birth leave for both parents. The new leave would therefore be shorter, but better compensated.

The government has indicated that it wishes to introduce a system of daily allowance corresponding to 50% of the employee’s current salary, with a monthly ceiling of €1,800. This compensation could be topped up by the employer to 100% of salary.

The plan is to allow birth leave to be taken by one or both parents, at the same time or successively, on a full-time or part-time basis.

In its current form, the proposal raises reservations among trade unions, which would prefer the current parental leave to continue beyond the new birth leave until the child is three years old, and for it to be better remunerated.

This leave should be introduced as from 2025.

Miscarriages and Social Security: Elimination of Waiting Period to Receive Allowances

Since 9 July 2023, no employer may terminate an employee's employment contract during the 10 weeks following a medically certified spontaneous termination of pregnancy between the 14th and 21st weeks of amenorrhoea inclusive, except in the case of serious misconduct or where it is impossible to maintain the employment contract.

From 1 January 2024, employees who suffer a miscarriage before the 22nd week of amenorrhoea will receive daily social security benefits without any waiting period if they are off work.

Asbestos and Ovarian Cancer: Occupational Origin Recognised

A decree of 14 October 2023 recognises ovarian cancer caused by the inhalation of asbestos dust as an occupational disease. The qualifying period is 35 years, subject to five years' exposure to asbestos dust.

However, the Senate Women's Rights Delegation deplored the "invisibility of the risks of occupational cancers affecting women." The delegation was referring to breast cancer caused by night work. The parliamentarians would therefore recommend the creation of a specific table of women occupational diseases.

Deadlock on Menstrual Leave

On 15 February, a bill aimed at improving and guaranteeing the health and well-being of women at work was rejected by the Senate. The bill proposed to introduce two days off work per month, fully paid, and a medical certificate valid for one year, as well as easier access to work from home for employees suffering from dysmenorrhoea during their periods, including endometriosis.

Arguing that there was a risk of breaching medical confidentiality and of discrimination in recruitment for the women concerned, the government issued an unfavourable opinion on the proposed law.

However, the government has not completely closed the door on the introduction of menstrual leave.

Furthermore, nothing prevents progress from being made on this point by a company agreement. The first agreements instituting menstrual or similar leave date back to 2021. Since then, the number has grown exponentially—by the end of February 2024, 149 agreements had been signed, including five in 2021, 17 in 2022, and 114 in 2023.

And in this panoply of agreements concluded in companies across all sectors—primarily associations and cooperatives, but also industry, consultancy, distribution, transport, banking, tourism, energy, etc.—it must be said that the arrangements put in place sometimes differ considerably: type of agreement establishing it, eligible employees, issues concerned, length of leave, etc.

Endometriosis as a Long-Term Care Condition

A similar outcome was achieved on 12 October 2023 for a parliamentary draft bill aimed at automatically recognising endometriosis as a long-term condition (ALD), rather than on a case-by-case basis.

The government and the presidential majority, relying on the national strategy to combat endometriosis presented on 14 February 2022, were opposed to this draft as too general.


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