More Women in the Turkish Workplace

February 8, 2012

The gender gap in Turkey's education system has virtually disappeared. But women struggle in the workplace. Only 24 percent of Turkish women are employed. And that low percentage has an impact on everything in Turkish society, from the economy to family life.

A quarter of Turkish women work outside the home

Women working in offices; it is a relatively rare sight in Turkey. Though Turkey boasts the world's 16th largest economy, only a quarter of its women work outside the house. And many of those work in the lowest-paying jobs, like farming and textiles.

That low figure is influenced by, and has an impact on, Turkish life—from culture to poverty rates.

"We need more women in leadership roles in jobs in companies. If Turkey got 29 percent of its women in the workforce that could reduce poverty by up to 15 percent," says Gulden Turktan, who runs the Women's Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey. Her group, KAGIDER by its Turkish acronym, is funded by business groups and private citizens.

Concentrating on private companies

With support from the World Bank, equal opportunity advocates like KAGIDER are targeting private companies, especially Turkish-owned private companies, encouraging them to hire and promote women.

12 percent of Turkish CEOs are women. One of them is Vuslat Dogan, who runs a leading newspaper, Hurriyet ("Freedom" in Turkish), which she took over from her father. Hurriyet employs about one thousand people.

"We started years ago with tracking our own numbers in terms of women versus men in the workforce. Initially it was 20 percent, then we targeted 25, then 30 and above, so it was really continuously checking of our own numbers of women, what we're doing in terms of employees."

Dogan is also involved in a campaign against domestic violence, which, she says, is such a problem in Turkey that it seeps into the workplace. She argues that if more women get jobs, that will offer them more freedom and autonomy as well as more opportunities to escape from home if they need to.

" If Turkey got 29 percent of its women in the workforce that could reduce poverty by up to 15 percent  "

Gulden Turktan

Head of the Women's Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey (KAGIDER)

Equality in school, but not on the job

The gender gap in Turkey's primary schools has nearly closed. And the higher the education, the more likely women are to work.

The numbers bear that out. With a primary school education, 70 percent of men and merely 22 percent of women are in the labor force. Those numbers jump dramatically for university educated women, up 71 percent. Men are at 83 percent.

But family and cultural pressures are hard to resist. And without affordable child care, and support from their families, many women drop out of the work force. Those high numbers for women working just after university drop way off after marriage and children.

Some equal opportunity advocates argue that Turkey's political culture also blocks women from working, and are pushing for quotas for female members of Parliament. Until women have powerful role models, they are reluctant to try to find work, says Yesim Muftuler, also of the Women Entrepreneurs Association of Turkey.

"We try to give them the message that they're not just producing children. They should be more active in the economy. And also to the corporations we give the message that women are not just consumers, they are productive."

A workforce made up only of men loses half of its potential. And double incomes would provide more stability and opportunity for families.

But, many working women say, all the numbers miss the point that a career outside the house is an enormous boost for self confidence and independence.

Turkish Chief Operating Officers (CEOs) That are Women