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. And 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, Reboot SEO agency were curious to find out the best expat destinations on the continent for women looking to pursue a career abroad, and achieved this 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.
Lithuania is the best European country for women to work, with a combined total of 220.1 points out of a possible 300 in our index.
It’s unsurprising that Lithuanian women thrive in the workplace, as our analysis found out that the country has one of Europe’s best maternity packages. Our research found that employees are entitled to 18 weeks (126 days) of paid maternity leave, paid at a rate of 77.58% of the employees salary. As a result, the country had a very high score (76.7 out of 100) in our index.
For economic opportunities, Lithuaniain women fare extremely well, ranking joint third, in this category, with a score of 86.7. According to the Global Gender Gap Index Report 2021, drivers of this progress include the number of women in ministerial positions, an increase in the share of women in the cabinet and parliament, and a female Prime Minister being elected in 2020.
Despite these advances, Lithuania finished mid-table (14th place) for women in leadership roles, scoring 56.7, which tells us that there’s still work to be done here.
In second place, and scoring 13.4 points less than Lithuania is Finland, with a combined total of 206.7 points.
Although Finland (33.3) doesn’t offer as good a maternity leave package as Lithuania (76.7), our study shows that the country is also taking strides towards narrowing the gender pay gap. It ranked joint third for economic opportunity (86.7) alongside Lithuania and Sweden (wage equality and estimated income into account). Once again, undoubtedly, having a female Prime Minister has contributed significantly to this progress.
The country also scored very highly for the women in leadership category, ranking fifth, with a result of 86.7.
Bulgaria is the third best European country for women to work, with a combined total of 196.7 points.
Our analysis found that the country has one of Europe’s best maternity packages, and so it got a perfect score of 100 out of 100 for our maternity leave index. The country allows mothers to take a minimum of 58.6 weeks off (410 days) - the longest minimum maternity leave in the world, and pays 90% of their full salary during leave.
Despite these improvements, Bulgaria dropped to 10th place for economic opportunity, with 66.7 points, and ranked even lower (21st) for women in leadership, as they were awarded 30 points in our index.
In fourth place, and scoring 193.4 overall is Sweden. With a result of 86.7, along with Lithuania and Finland, Sweden scored highly in the economic opportunities category.
The country is also making great progress when it comes to women in leadership - ranking fourth in this category. Here, the country received a high score of 90.
However, concerning maternity leave packages, Sweden received a much lower score of 16.7, placing it in the bottom ten in this category.
Norway took fifth place in our index, scoring an impressive 190 points. 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 offering leadership roles to women - ranking 6th with 83.3 points in our study.
When it comes to economic opportunities, Norwegian women also fare well, and as a result, we have awarded the Scandinavian country 80 points in our own index, taking the Scandinavian country to seventh place.
However, despite being one of the most egalitarian countries in Europe, Norway has one of the worst maternity packages for mothers. They offer mothers 94% of their full salary during their maternity leave, but offer just 13 weeks of paid leave (19 days). As a result, we have given a low score of 26.7 points out of a possible 100.
Following behind in sixth place is Spain with 186.7 points. For leadership roles, the country offers great prospects, as it received a score of 93.3, and was among the top five out of all the 31 countries included in the study.
When it comes to maternity packages, Spain ranks twelfth - although the country offers mothers 100% maternity pay whilst on leave, the paid leave lasts for just 16 weeks (112 days) resulting in a score of 56.7.
Economic opportunities are seemingly unequal for Spanish women, according to our research. As a result, we have awarded Spain a lower score of 36.7 points for this category.
Estonia had a result of 183.3 points, suggesting they are the seventh best country in Europe for women to work. When it comes to maternity packages, the country ranked very highly - in fifth place with 80 points.
Concerning economic opportunities, women also fare well in Estonia - the country was in eighth place, scoring 73.3.
Despite these achievements, there seem to be fewer prospects for women in leadership roles, as the nation scored lower points (30), placing it 21st.
Following Estonia, the UK is in eighth place with 180 points. We found that the UK has 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 135 active duty leadership positions in 2021. As a result, it scored 100 points in our index.
However the UK misses out on being in the top 10 for economic opportunity, resulting in a score of 56.7 points in our index. Our study shows that the UK also needs to do more when it comes to maternity leave - a very low score of 23.3, ranked it 24th, out of the 31 European countries included in the study.
With the same number of points (180) as the UK, France also took the 8th spot, and so is among the top 10 European countries for where women are more likely to be successful.
Although France falls right behind the UK when it comes to leadership, it still achieved a very high score of 96.7, placing it second and ahead of neighbouring Spain. The country also falls behind the UK for economic opportunities, with a score of 40.
Unlike the UK however, France fares better on the maternity package front, offering mothers 90% maternity leave pay - although paid leave doesn’t last long (16 weeks/112 days) resulting in a score of 43.3 and 18th position in our index.
Rounding off the top 10 best places to be a woman and work in Europe is Greece - scoring 176.6 points in our index.
Way ahead of France for maternity leave, the country fares best in this category, ranking fourth and scoring an incredible 90 points. Greece is also among the top ten for women in leadership positions resulting in a score of 73.3. Our study revealed a total of 44 active duty leadership positions in 2021, roughly three times less than the UK.
However, when it comes to economic opportunities, women might struggle in Greece - the nation had a very low result of 13.3 in this category, and so ranked 24th.
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 score of 66.7. To put that into perspective, that’s roughly three times less than Lithuania in first place (220.1).
When it comes to wage equality and estimated income compared to men, Turkey is among the worst in Europe, with a result of zero, resulting in 31st place for economic opportunities in our study.
Turkish women also face discrimination when it comes to leadership and maternity too, as there are fewer women leadership roles (24 active duty leadership positions in 2021) according to our report, and women are paid 66% of their full wage whilst on maternity leave for only 16 weeks (112 days).
As a result, we have scored Turkey zero points for leadership and 20 points for their maternity package, and ranked it 31st and 25th place respectively.
Scoring 6.6 more points than Turkey, Austria is also among the bottom 10 countries in our index, receiving an overall score of 73.3.
When compared to the 30 other European countries in our study, it’s clear that Austrian women are discriminated against when it comes to leadership roles. Our research revealed that the country was among those with the lowest scores (three times less than Turkey) of women in leadership positions. We have given Austria a mediocre 3.3 points and ranked it 30th.
For economic opportunities for women, the country also had a lower score comparatively (13.3), and ranked joint 24th place in this category.
However, faring better for maternity packages, Austria was in the 12th spot, after our research found that they offer mothers their full-rate salary for the weeks that they take maternity leave. The country scored 56.7 points in this category.
Next is the Czech Republic, which scored 90 points in total. Despite being in the bottom 10 overall, the country was awarded a spot among the top 10 for their maternity package (10th place) and 70 points in our Index as a result - due to offering 28 weeks (196 days) paid leave. Although, it would have been better if they offered a higher payment rate, as Czech women can expect just 61% of their salary whilst on leave.
However, when it comes to women in leadership roles and economic opportunities, the Czech Republic lets its women down, and the country is among the bottom five for economic opportunities when compared to Czech men. As a result, we have awarded 13.3 points for leadership prospects (27th) and 6.7 points for economic opportunities (28th).
The country with the fourth least opportunities for women is Portugal, scoring 93.3 points. Portugal is the worst when it comes to maternity leave, coming in 31st place in our study. Despite Portuguese women getting full paid leave, they have the shortest minimum maternity leave period in the world - just six weeks (42 days!).
Portugal also had a low score concerning leadership opportunities, with 20 points and so a ranking of 25th in this category.
Interestingly, Portugal has secured a place in the top 10 when it comes to wage equality and estimated income. With promising results in this category, we have awarded Portugal 73.3 points (8th place).
Next up is Hungary, scoring 96.7 points and offering the fifth least opportunities for women according to our research. The country fares better when it comes to maternity leave, receiving a score of 66.7 and just missing out on a place in the top 10.
But our results show that Hungarian women may struggle when it comes to economic opportunities (scoring a low 13.3), and leadership, after our research found a total of 13 active duty leadership positions in 2021 - making Hungary the sixth lowest in this category of all 31 countries studied, with a result of 16.7.
Following closely behind Hungary with a score of 100, Belgium also ranks among the bottom 10 countries with the least number of opportunities for women in the workplace.
Despite being in the bottom 10, when considering wage equality and estimated income to their male counterparts, Belgium ranks joint 15th (40 points). Similarly Belgium also appears mid-table for the women in leadership results, with a score of 50, ranking it 16th.
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 63% of their wage whilst on maternity leave, which is only 15 weeks long (105 days). As a result, our index has awarded Belgium only 10 points (27th).
With a difference of 3.4 points, Cyprus (103.4) is next and also sitting among the bottom 10 European countries.
Unlike Belgium however, Cyprus fares better on the maternity package front, receiving a score of 36.7 and ranking 20th.
With similar rankings across all categories studied, Cyprus scored 30 points (21st place) and 36.7 points (19th place) for economic opportunities and women in leadership roles, respectively.
Following behind with a score of 110 points in our index is Luxembourg, which falls in last place for women in leadership, after our index gave this country a score of zero. In fact, Luxembourg has one of the worst results for women in leadership roles - only 2 recorded in our study as the average number of active duty leadership positions in 2021.
Women may also struggle when it comes to economic opportunities, as the country only scored 30 points, ranking 21st.
However, the country redeems itself slightly by scoring 80 points and ranking joint fifth of all the countries included, for its maternity package. 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).
Also in the bottom 10 is Europe’s fifth smallest country, Malta, with 130 points in our study.
When taking into consideration factors like wage equality and estimated income, Malta is among one of the worst in Europe (28th out of 31). Our research found that the country is among the bottom five for economic opportunities, resulting in a meagre score of 6.7 points in our Index.
However, when it comes to women in leadership roles, things are much more positive for Maltese women. Our research revealed 39 as the average number of active duty leadership positions in 2021. As a result the country has secured 10th place in this category, and we have awarded Malta a score of 70.
The country also offers 18 weeks of paid leave, with 86% maternity pay during this time, which is fairly reasonable when compared to other countries in Europe. Accordingly, we have given Malta a score of 53.3 in our index, resulting in a ranking of 15th out of 31.
With a joint 9th ranking, Slovakia also had 130 points in our study. Despite being in the bottom 10 overall, the central European country ranks third for their maternity packages (93.3), offering three-quarters of a mother’s wage whilst on maternity leave.
Unfortunately, the country doesn’t do so well when it comes to women in leadership, and so it landed the 28th spot, with 10 points.
Prospects also aren’t great for women when it comes to economic opportunities, and as a result, our index has awarded Slovakia just 26.7 points and ranked it 23rd in this category.
“The overall results have suggested that there is some progress in terms of gender equality in the workplace in Europe. Lithuania, Finland and Bulgaria ranked highly, indicating that there are some improvements being made. Although, the disappointing positions of affluent countries such as Germany and Denmark 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 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 2021. Leadership positions include CEOs and Executive roles.
2. The ‘economic opportunity’ for women in the workforce was found in the Global Gender Report 2021, and it takes labour force participation rate (%) into consideration.
3. The maternity leave benefits of each country were found on World Population Review and took into consideration numbers of weeks of maternity leave multiplied by maternity leave rate (%).
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 three factors for each country, with the maximum possible score being 300.
6. The full dataset can be downloaded here.