Working from home, trying to find a work-life balance and prioritising well-being has had many women rethinking their professional lives and reassessing their career paths. Although moving abroad for work might be an option, choosing a country to boost your career can be difficult — while some countries have greater career opportunities, others leave women feeling uninspired.
Ahead of International Women’s Day, SEO company, Reboot, was curious to find out the best expat destinations on the continent for women looking to pursue a career abroad. This was achieved by creating a points-based index, looking into factors like economic opportunity, women in leadership roles and maternity leave packages.
There were 100 points up for grabs for each factor considered, with the maximum score being 300 overall. Here are the results from the study.
Sweden has climbed the rankings to become the best country in Europe for women to work, achieving an overall score of 241.4 out of a possible 300.
It’s no surprise that women in Sweden thrive in the workplace, as our findings show this country has a perfect score (100 out of 100) in our economic opportunity index. Not only does Sweden have the highest score of economic opportunity, but it is also the European country that made the most improvements over the last year.
Sweden offers excellent prospects for women, with the highest number of women in leadership positions of all the European countries studied. Taking into account wage equality for similar work and estimated income, that’s 164 active duty leadership positions in 2022. As a result, the Scandinavian nation scored 93.1 points in our index.
With regards to maternity leave packages, women in Sweden are offered a minimum of 12 weeks maternity leave, paid at 78% of their income. An optional leave of 55 weeks is also offered to women in Sweden, paid at 61.9% of income, equating to 33.9 full paid weeks of maternity leave.
In second place, scoring just 13.8 points less than Sweden, is Finland, with a combined total of 227.6 points.
The maternity package in Finland offers women a minimum of 17 weeks of leave paid at 78% of income, as well as an optional 143.5 weeks at 19% pay. Although Finland offers a better maternity leave package than Sweden, a slightly lower score of 86.2 was found for economic opportunities.
Our study shows that Finland is also taking strides towards gender parity. The country scored very highly for the women in leadership category, ranking fifth, with an index score of 86.2 out of 100. Undoubtedly, having a female Prime Minister has contributed significantly to this progress.
Norway took third place in our index with an impressive score of 213.8 out of a possible 300. Bearing in mind it’s one of the most gender-equal countries in the world, it should be expected that it appears among the top ten best countries for women to work — ranking seventh in the economic opportunities index with 79.3 points in our study. This respectable score of 79.3 was also recorded for women in leadership roles too.
Mothers-to-be in Norway are offered a minimum leave of 18 weeks, paid at an impressive 96% of their income. On top of this, an optional leave of 68 weeks, paid at 33.4% of their income, is offered, resulting in maternity leave equivalent to 39.9 full-paid weeks.
Placing in fourth is Lithuania with 207 points. The study found that Lithuania is one of the best countries in Europe in providing economic opportunities to women. In recent years, Lithuania has seen great progress in economic opportunities. This is thought to be driven by an increase in women in ministerial positions, a larger share of women in the cabinet and parliament, and the election of a female Prime Minister in 2020.
Our study shows that Lithuania also has one of Europe’s best maternity leave packages, offering up to 62 weeks of leave at 77.6% pay. This is equivalent to 48.1 weeks of full pay.
Despite these opportunities, there is some room for improvement when it comes to women in leadership positions. With 49 women in active duty leadership positions, Lithuania scored only 55.2 out of a possible 100 on our women in leadership index.
Next up is Slovenia, scoring 203.5 points out of a possible 300. This country is brimming with economic opportunities for women, achieving fourth position in this category (89.7 points)
Women are also offered superb maternity leave options, as they are able to take up to 52 weeks leave (1 year) with 100% of their income paid.
However, Slovenia does still have some catching up to do in the women in leadership department, as it scored just 34.5 in this index.
Our sixth-best European country in Europe for women to work is Romania.
The study has shown that Romania is leading by example with regards to maternity leave. Offering up to 108 weeks leave paid at 85% of income, Romania offers the best support for expectant mothers by a landslide.
There is some room for improvement when it comes to economic opportunities and women in leadership, as Romania scored 44.8 and 51.7 respectively.
Bulgaria places joint-seventh as one of the best countries for women to work, with a combined total of 193.2 points.
Our analysis found that the country has one of Europe’s best maternity packages, with an index score of 89.7 out of a possible 100. Mothers in Bulgaria are offered a minimum leave of 58 weeks paid at 90% of income. In addition, women are offered an optional 51.9 weeks, paid at 28% of their income.
Despite these excellent maternity benefits, Bulgaria dropped down to 11th place for economic opportunity, with 62.1 points. They ranked even lower (18th) for women in leadership, as they were awarded 41.4 points in our index. These findings indicate there is still some way to go before Bulgaria climbs to the top of the rankings.
Bulgaria shares seventh place with Estonia. This country boasts its highest score in the maternity leave index with an index rating of 96.6. This is thanks to expectant mothers being offered a total leave of 82 weeks at 100% pay. After the initial 140 days, both parents are able to share the remaining paid parental leave, which can be taken all at once or in parts (before the child turns three).
Estonian women also fare reasonably well with regards to economic opportunity, placing ninth in this index with a score of 75.9. According to the World Bank, in 2021, women made up 48.4% of the total labour force in Estonia, indicating a shift away from women being expected to stay home and take care of household responsibilities.
It should be no surprise that Iceland places in the top ten best countries in Europe for women to work, given that it is the only economy to have closed more than 90% of its gender gap. Scoring 189.6 overall, the country is the second-best European country in offering excellent prospects to women, reaching 93.1 in our economic opportunities index.
A reasonable score of 65.5 was also attained for women in leadership roles, though there is still some improvement to be made if Iceland is to catch up with its Nordic counterparts of Sweden, Finland, and Norway.
A fallback in Iceland’s overall score was a result of the maternity package offered, which received a score of 31.0, placing the country in the bottom ten for maternity leave scores.
France follows closely behind Iceland with an overall score of 186.3, claiming the final position in the best countries for women to work.
Women in France have a higher chance of being successful in employment than those in other European countries. With a score of 96.6 in our women in leadership index, France places second in this category, falling just behind the UK.
However, unlike the UK, France fares better on the maternity package front, offering mothers a minimum of 16 weeks leave paid at 95.7% of their income.
Falling just shy of the top 10 best European countries for women to work in 2023 is the United Kingdom. The country sits squarely in 12th position (joint with Germany) with a score of 165.5 out of 300.
The UK’s most shocking score comes in the form of full paid weeks of maternity leave where it received just 6.9 out of a possible 100 points — making it the third worst country in this category.
While expectant mothers can expect 39 weeks of Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP), this only accounts for:
- 6 weeks of 90% of their average weekly earnings (before tax).
- 33 weeks of £156.66 or 90% of their average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).
However, the UK did receive the full 100 points for the women in leadership category with our findings showing 317 women in CEO and Exec roles.
For the final category — economic opportunity — the United Kingdom is fairly middle of the road with 58.6 points out of 100.
Now let’s take a look at the other end of the results. Which country offers the least opportunities for women at work?
At the bottom of our index is Turkey, with a disappointing score of 31 out of a possible 300. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly ten times less than our ‘best country for women to work’, Sweden (241.4 points).
When it comes to wage equality and estimated income compared to men, Turkey is among the worst in Europe, with a result of zero. As a result, Turkey ranks 30th for economic opportunities in our study.
Turkish women also face discrimination when it comes to maternity leave and pay. According to our report, women are paid 66.7% of their full wage for only 16 weeks (112 days), ranking 29th out of 30 countries in this field.
On a more positive note, Turkey has seen a growth in women in leadership (scoring 27.6 in our index) though we are yet to see a female president, vice president, or speaker of parliament.
With a difference of 37.9 points, Cyprus (68.9) is next and sitting in second place in the worst countries for women to work rankings.
Unlike Turkey, however, Cyprus fares slightly better on the economic opportunities front, receiving a score of 24.1 and ranking 23rd.
Women also have a higher chance of achieving leadership roles in Cyprus than in Turkey, as our index has given this country a score of 34.5 out of a possible 100.
The Netherlands is, unfortunately, not yet the most gender-equal country. In our index, the Netherlands achieved a score of 69, just 0.1 points behind Cyprus in second.
With scores of 20.7 in both economic opportunity and maternity leave, there is evidence that women are not being treated equally within the workplace.
The Netherlands is also given an unimpressive score of 27.6 for women in leadership.
In joint-fourth place is Austria, scoring 100 points exactly. Unlike neighbouring country Slovenia, Austria performed poorly in both economic opportunity and women in leadership, with scores of 17.2 and 13.8, respectively.
With fewer women in leadership positions than any of the three overall worst-scoring countries, it is clear that there are significant issues with discrimination in the workplace. Government reports in Austria also state that women are underrepresented in leadership positions compared to their share of the population.
Despite these poor figures for women in leadership and economic opportunity, Austria does provide one of the best maternity packages in Europe. Women are offered a total leave of 60 weeks, averaging at 80.3% of income.
Sharing joint-fourth place, also with a score of 100 points, is the Czech Republic. Similarly to Austria, the Czech Republic received inadequate results in both the employment opportunity and women in leadership indexes.
With regards to factors such as wage equality and estimated income, economic opportunities for women are still being overlooked in this country. As a result, the Czech Republic is given an unimpressive score of 6.9, placing it 28th out of 30 countries in our economic opportunity index.
Once again, the score is redeemed with the maternity package, as this country scored 82.8 out of 100. A total of 75 weeks of maternity leave is offered to expectant mothers with an average of 73.8% of their income paid.
Following behind with a score of 106.9 points in our index is Luxembourg, which (for the second year running) falls in last place for women in leadership, after our index determined a score of zero. This was the result of only recording an average of five women in active duty leadership positions in 2022.
Over the past year, Luxembourg has seen some improvement when it comes to economic opportunities. After only scoring 30 points in the same index study we ran last year, Luxembourg has since achieved a more inspiring figure of 55.2.
Luxembourg also redeems itself slightly by scoring 51.7 points in the maternity leave index. Not only does Luxembourg pay mothers their full wage whilst taking leave, but they also offer one of the longest minimum periods for maternity leave (20 weeks/140 days).
In joint-seventh place, with a score of 110.3, Belgium also ranks among the bottom ten countries with the least number of opportunities for women in the workplace.
Despite being in the bottom ten, when considering wage equality and estimated income to their male counterparts, Belgium ranks 15th (51.7 points). Similarly, Belgium also appears mid-table for the women in leadership results, with a score of 44.8, ranking it 17th.
However, with maternity packages, Belgium lets its women down. Our research found that Belgium has one of the worst maternity packages for mothers around the world, as they pay mothers an average of 41.7% of their wage whilst on a 32-week maternity leave. As a result, our index has awarded Belgium only 13.8 points (ranking 26th out of 30).
Sharing joint-seventh place is Europe’s fifth smallest country, Malta, with 110.3 points out of a possible 300 in our study.
When taking into consideration factors like wage equality and estimated income, Malta is among one of the worst in Europe (26th out of the 30 countries studied). A meagre score of 10.3 was recorded in our economic opportunities index.
However, when it comes to women in leadership roles, things are much more positive for Maltese women. Our research revealed that the country has 112 women in active duty leadership roles. As a result, the country has secured tenth place in this category and has been rewarded an impressive score of 82.8.
Malta offers 18 weeks of paid leave, with 86% maternity pay during this time. This is one of the less impressive maternity leave packages in Europe, and as a result, we have given Malta a score of 17.2 in this index.
Italy falls in ninth place with 117.2 points. Unfortunately for women living in Italy, this country was the second-worst for employment opportunities (after Turkey), with a poor score of 3.4 out of 100. This indicates that women are still being discriminated against in Italy with regards to wage equality and job opportunities.
Conversely, our findings did however indicate that there has been an increase in women in active duty leadership positions. With a score of 75.9, our findings indicate that Italy is the eighth-best country for women in leadership.
Unfortunately for these women, should they choose to have a child, they will only be offered the equivalent of 24.6 weeks of fully-paid maternity leave.
Sharing tenth place is Portugal, scoring 120.7 points. This country scored lowest on the women in leadership index, with just 24.1 points out of a possible 100.
Women in Portugal also fall short of reasonable maternity benefits. In this country, a total leave of just 30 weeks is offered, paying an average of 67.7% of income.
Interestingly, Portugal has secured a place in the top ten when it comes to employment opportunities. With promising results in this category, we have awarded Portugal 62.1 points (and a rank in 12th place).
In joint-tenth place in the worst European countries for women to work is Greece, also scoring 120.7 points in our index.
When it comes to economic opportunities, women might struggle in Greece, as the nation had a very low result of 13.8 in this category. That being said, there is a glimmer of hope as Greece achieved a much more enticing score of 62.1 for women in leadership, placing it 12th out of 30 in this category.
As far as maternity leave is concerned, there is some more work to be done as Greece achieved a mediocre score of 44.8.
“The overall results have suggested that there is some progress in terms of gender equality in the workplace in Europe. Sweden, Finland and Norway ranked highly, indicating that there are some improvements being made. Although, the disappointing positions of affluent countries such as the Netherlands and Turkey reaffirm that the progress towards gender parity remains slow in Europe.
Although it is good to see some advancement, women still face numerous challenges when it comes to gender equality in the workplace that involves not only the wage gap, lack of leadership representation, government incentives and work-life balance. The prevailing circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic have undoubtedly intensified these challenges, with working mothers taking the brunt of the repercussions.”
“Women today are still fighting a dichotomy of expectations. Namely the assumption that she must be the primary caregiver of her children and shoulder the majority of domestic tasks, but also not let her feminist forebearers down by failing to progress in her career path.
This impossible balance has left many women on the backfoot when it comes to success in the workplace. This study has highlighted the fact that we still have far to go before we reach equality of opportunity.”
For many women who do decide to make the move abroad for their career, it can be a hugely rewarding experience, offering everything from the opportunity to explore a foreign marketplace to earning a higher income.
With their economic opportunities and favourable conditions, Lithuania, Finland and Bulgaria top the list of countries that make it easier for deserving women to be successful in their desired careers.
As countries continue to commit to improving gender equality in the workforce, women will have greater prospects to excel in more European nations.
1. We made reference to the European Institute for Gender Equality to find the countries in Europe with the most women in leadership positions. We averaged the number of women in leadership positions during B1 and B2 periods to get the average number of active duty leadership positions in 2022. Leadership positions include CEOs and Executive roles.
2. The ‘economic opportunity’ for women in the workforce was found in the Global Gender Report 2022, and it takes the labour force participation rate (%) into consideration.
3. The maternity leave benefits of each country were found on World Population Review. To determine the scores we calculated the full paid weeks of leave in every country. This was done by totalling the minimum number of weeks maternity leave offered times by the percentage of income paid. We then added this score with the optional weeks offered times by percentage of income paid.
4. Data was normalised using the percentrank.inc function in Excel. This ranks each factor between 0 and 100 based on the relative position within the sample.
5. The final score is calculated as a sum of the four factors for each country, with the maximum possible score being 400.
6. All other European countries, such as Serbia and Croatia, have been omitted from the results due to the lack of data available.
7. Data was collected on the 22nd and 27th February 2023 and is accurate as of then.
6. The full dataset can be downloaded here.