A woman's work is never done

Women now earn on average 63% as much as men - the same as in 1997.

working moms 88 (photo credit: )
working moms 88
(photo credit: )
Aviva, a senior physician at a Jerusalem hospital who has 10 years' seniority and four young children, works 50 to 60 hours a week. She earns NIS 28 per hour, barely more than the babysitter. Similarly, Tali, a full-time gynecologist with two children younger than three, regularly pulls 30-hour shifts and makes NIS 3,200 per month. "Although all doctors are on the same basic salary scale," explains Aviva, "the difference for me, as a woman, is that I cannot do the same number of extra hours men do to supplement this and earn a decent wage." The grim circumstances of working women were validated by last month's Industry, Trade and Labor Ministry release of data illustrating that 80 percent of companies have no mechanisms for addressing gender issues. Based on information collected from more than 300 companies, the data corroborate the findings of an earlier study on women's place in the workforce conducted by the Israel Women's Network, in cooperation with the Super-Sol supermarket chain. The IWN study, which questioned 3,000 men and women, not only shows gender gaps in salaries, benefits, personal advancement and job security, but also demonstrates that women and men live in different working cultures. The female culture, which often includes motherhood, is often seen as the antithesis to notions of "professional." According to the study, although flexibility in the workplace is significantly more important to women, men actually enjoy more flexibility at work. Moreover, despite the common perception that working women lose more workdays, only 4% of the women reported that they had taken maternity leave, while 19% of the men reported missing work for military reserve duty. In short, women feel they are under pressure to do more and are getting less. "If I say I'm leaving in the afternoon to go to a brit," says Hedy, an engineer in a hi-tech company who works only "part-time" - until 4 p.m. - "everyone is fine with that. But if I would dare to say I'm leaving early to take my child to the doctor, that's when I get all the looks." Limor, a marketing coordinator for a hi-tech company, concurs. "If you call in sick, that's fine, everyone understands. But if you call in to say your child is sick, forget it." Working mothers struggle. With the demands on their hours, the low wages, the perception of being not dedicated or ambitious enough and convoluted and often insane schedules, they are pulled in many competing directions at once, with never enough time. This may not sound surprising, given that sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild's seminal study The Second Shift, which chronicled gender inequality in working cultures and home responsibilities, was first published nearly 20 years ago. What perhaps raises eyebrows is how little has changed since then - and in Israel, the situation for women may have even gotten worse. They continue to be undervalued and mistreated, continuously caught between the conflicting demands of family life and an increasingly male work culture. ACCORDING TO statistics compiled by the Adva Center, women's presence in the labor market has increased dramatically: Between 1985 and 2003, the number of women in the business sector increased by 108%, as opposed to a 50% increase for men. However, while women now comprise 46% of the labor force, they earn on average 63% as much as men - the same as in 1997. According to the IWN, the largest earning gap is in banking, finance and insurance, where women earn 49% as much as men, while in education - where women comprise 75% of the workforce - they earn 59% as much. The most striking gap, though, is found in areas controlled by religious institutions, where men earn 3.5 times more than women. In addition, women face an ongoing glass ceiling. According to a 1997 study by the Forum of Women Managers in Industry, 45% of companies did not employ women in managerial positions at all, 34% employed only one, 16% between two and four and only 5% more than four. It is also worth noting that despite common contentions that these statistics reflect lower female productivity, studies like that of noted labor sociologists Yitzhak Haberfeld and Yinon Cohen show that the gender productivity gap is a fiction. "The ongoing gender inequality in the Israeli labor market is inherent in the institutions, processes and practices of the labor market itself," said Bar-Ilan University law professor Ruth Halperin-Kaddari in her 2004 book, Women in Israel: A State of Their Own. "The labor market is not a neutral social institution. It is a gendered phenomenon, like the careers themselves. They were all structured and constructed around male norms; they fit men's life patterns and benefit workers who abide by them." The culture of the labor market has undergone noticeable shifts in recent years. The image of the unmovable, siesta-taking, coffee-breaking Israeli pencil-pusher has been replaced by the hi-tech, Powerpoint savvy, company-car driving, jet-setting workaholic. But women are still being left behind. "As much as the hi-tech industry had seemed to offer an egalitarian, meritocracy-based environment that could enable flexible hours and workplaces," Halperin-Kaddari wrote, "reality has proved this to be a myth." It's not just the earning gap and the glass ceiling that place strains on women trying to create a healthy working life, but an entire working culture that values "face time," long hours and a perception of "sterile individualism" and complete and unhindered dedication to the company. Hedy asserts that while life cycle and Jewish events are respected in the workplace, child care simply is not. "I have a new trick" for navigating her family responsibilities in her engineering job, she says. "If I have to leave work, which I try not to do unless absolutely necessary, I use male excuses instead of family care excuses. I'll say things like I have to take my car in for something, or I have to get the locks checked at home, or its time to change the heating filters." PARTICULARLY CHALLENGING is that nursery and elementary schools let out at 1:20 p.m. and after-school programs generally end at 4 or 5. And while theoretically either parent can be the one to come home for the kids, in the overwhelming majority of cases, the onus is on the woman. "Of course the entire house is my responsibility," says Merav, a music teacher and school administrator who works two and a half jobs and leaves her house at 6:45 every morning. "It's that way for all women, isn't it?" It's that way for many women, including mother of six Shoshi, who works full-time. "Although we agree that the kids' education is our top priority, my husband leaves the child-school-parent triangle almost entirely to me. That includes dropping the kids off on the way to work, leaving them lunch for when they come home and chauffeuring them around to after-school enrichment courses. Often I'm torn between this role and the simple fact that I have to be in the office." But too often this is a dilemma reserved solely for the mother. As Shira, an organizational manager who was illegally fired from her job while she was on maternity leave and is now struggling to find a job that will allow her to be back in time to pick up her baby at 4 p.m., says, "My husband doesn't give the 4 o'clock issue a second thought. He works when he feels like working and comes home when he wants. Pick-up time is not part of his equation." So despite sociologist Hochschild's plea for men to share the household burden, it seems that two decades later, the second shift is alive and well in Israel. The most recent statistics indicate that 46% of all working women continue to shoulder the entire home/child-care burden on their own. According to the IWN study, the responsibility for household work, including cooking, cleaning, shopping and paying bills, was viewed by both men and women as the woman's responsibility. However, the men took greater responsibility for taking out the garbage. Sociologist Vered Kraus, author of Secondary Breadwinners: Israeli Women in the Workforce (2002), believes that Israeli women are far behind their counterparts in other liberal democracies and that traditional gender divisions continue to dominate at home and at work. As a result, she argued, many women opt out and seek alternatives, such as working from home. Kraus, who noted that in all occupational groups, the number of children increases the probability of women becoming self-employed, argued that self-employment is often an effective way for women to escape corporate demands that are incompatible with their lives. "Self-employed women often escape working in sex-typical occupations," she wrote. "They face greater independence and autonomy, and of course they have work flexibility, working fewer hours and having much greater possibility to work from home." THAT WAS the best choice for entrepreneur Lisa, a mother of four. "After working outside of the home," she says, "I realized that I was spending nearly 40 hours a month commuting. I decided opening a business at home would enable me to spend those hours with my children and would also give me the flexibility needed when raising small children - especially without the support network of extended family." Lisa opened up a Web-design business from her basement, and has since started three other businesses that she has been running out of her house since 1997. "Being independent has its pluses and minuses. I have flexibility, can't be fired and own whatever I create over the years. However, running a small business is extremely challenging. It has been and is very hard, but it has enabled me to earn a living while being an involved mother." Still, Kraus noted that the numbers of women becoming self-employed were not what she would have expected given the realities of Israeli working life. "Why is it that so few women choose to enter self-employment?" she asked. Without a definitive answer, she suggested that perhaps the answer could be found in deeper patterns of Israeli culture. Some women create combinations of part-time jobs and self-employment to enable their lives to revolve around child care. Gloria, a published children's book writer and mother of five who teaches high school English for NIS 2,000 a month, says, "You can't work full time if you're a mother unless your husband takes care of the kids. It just doesn't work." Indeed, while self-employment is an option for some - a risky, insecure and often anxiety-filled one - the mutual sharing of home responsibilities is a broader and more socially-conscious long-term solution. Ariella, who has a PhD in American studies and whose husband, Chaim, a former NASA engineer, works part time from home, says, "I couldn't raise our children myself. I need a partner. And I like to work. I like the feeling of working and of being part of society and productive and busy. I like that, and I can't imagine not working." Vered, an urban planner and mother of three, says, "My husband is my partner. We are in this together. If I have deadlines at work and someone is sick, he takes off and vice versa. He shops, cooks, cleans. I am not in this alone at all." Elinor, a speech therapist, runs her own after-school English program. To make the hours work, her husband goes to work at 6:30 a.m. and comes home at 4, hours that enable him to support his wife's thriving home-based business. BUT CLEARLY these couples are in the minority. Didi, a student in the gender studies program at Bar-Ilan University, was a "house husband" for many years and is now writing his master's thesis on the subject. "I think that Israeli culture has certainly changed over the past 20 years," he says. "Men like me are no longer considered aberrations, but people are intrigued by their life stories - although to suggest that people are supportive is a bit extreme." Still, outside of Israel, the notion that both men and women need to think differently about life balance has started to have an impact on business expectations. An August 6 New York Times article about gender in the workplace described the increasing flexibility that many Wall Street firms are adopting to accommodate working parents. Author Jenny Andersen reported that "executives say long-term success means fundamentally changing the way Wall Street works. Gordon Gekko, Hollywood's idea of a swashbuckling, suspenders-clad banker, did not telecommute. Women remain the minority sex on the Street and many young recruits say they have grown more circumspect about a career there." Work cultures in New York are changing, argued Andersen, "not simply because it is socially expedient but because the financial world needs a diverse workforce to make money and court clients - especially when clients themselves are not homogeneous." But these ideas are slow in coming to Israeli work culture. And the lingering impact of persistent patterns at home and at work are ultimately most detrimental to women, who, unlike most of their male counterparts, are regularly forced to make difficult choices and shoulder multiples roles and responsibilities. As Shoshi says, "I spend my whole day doing things that I have do. To do something that I choose to do, what they call 'time for myself,' is logistically, a huge effort." But some people, like Vered, think that women themselves are not fighting hard enough to challenge this reality. "I think there are still plenty of 'liberated' women who for some reason married 'unliberated' men who can't boil water, and therefore they are burning the candle at both ends," she says. "You know what, that is not the problem of the workplace, it's the problem with them." Rather than fighting the battle at home, some women opt out by taking jobs below their capabilities and training to enable them to fulfill their multiple tasks. Jen, an environmental scientist by training, has taken a low-paying, part-time job making appointments for an investment broker, so that she can work her own hours and from home. She says that it's what she needs right now, given that she has two little children who need to be picked up at 1:20 p.m. every day. The idea of her husband working less is not an option. This problem is exacerbated in the religious community. In a June article entitled "Eh'yeh professorit!" (I will be a female professor), Rabbi Shlomo Aviner tried to discourage girls' academic development by arguing that child care is more valuable than studying. Taking on a simple-minded female voice, he wrote, "I will be a professorit of child-raising, with many degrees, a degree in femininity, a degree in marriage, a degree in motherhood." Similarly, Rabbi Eliezer Melamed wrote a series of articles this summer in which he discouraged religious girls from doing national service, and urged them to get married earlier than they already do. Ofira Krakauer, a feminist activist who chairs the women's council of Modi'in and heads her local chapter of Kolech, the Orthodox women's forum, wrote a reply to these articles: "The religious establishment is filled with dread because it's afraid of losing control of the girls. This is an attempt to stop their independent development before it starts." FOR IMMIGRANT women, the gender divide is often even worse. Hedy describes the discrimination she has felt on a job interview. "I was asked if I had any family here," she recalls. "Then, when I revealed that we were new immigrants, and available relatives lived outside of Jerusalem, the question turned into, 'Well, what will you do if your children get sick?' I thought, 'Excuse me, what do you do when your children get sick? You take them to the doctor. You take vacation or sick leave. You hire a babysitter. You split taking care of them with your spouse. (And even if my mother did live here, she'd be working, too.) That's what you do.'" A recent study reported that 35% of all Anglo immigrants "commute" back to their countries of origin for work. While the study did not mention how many of these commuters are women, anecdotal evidence suggests very few, or perhaps none. A visual scan of the terminal at Ben-Gurion on a typical Saturday night showed throngs of men commuting to places like New York and London - and no women. By contrast, I spoke to many women whose husbands are the commuters. "You get used to it," says Hannah, whose husband is in the US every second week. She works part time from home, although ironically, she works less when her husband is home because her evening hours are reserved for him. "I feel a bit guilty," she says, "because when he's away I'm happy that I get the car" - implying that when the husband is home, his car use takes priority. This bleak portrait of working women is the subject of reflections by Israeli-American feminist and activist Marcia Freedman, one of the founders of the Israeli women's movement in the 1970s, who wrote in a recent essay, "Thirty Years of Feminism in Israel: A Prognosis for the Future," that despite an active feminist movement over the past three decades, "little has changed in the material conditions of Israeli women's lives... There is a general consensus today, which was entirely absent in 1970, that women in Israel are second-class citizens. "The feminist movement has won the battle for consciousness, at least concerning core feminist issues. Most Israelis agree that women are discriminated against economically; are objects of violence on the street, at work, in the military and in the home; are vastly under-represented in the public sphere; are victims of... abuses that result from coercive halachic control of women's personal lives; and are systematically subordinated and sexually harassed in the army... Even so... women's work (factory workers, janitors and domestic workers, nurses, teachers, cashiers and so on) remains ghettoized and underpaid, often with particularly stressful or unhealthy working conditions. "Despite laws and court decisions that would encourage women's career advancement, not enough is happening. In the civil service, for example, women's status has actually declined in the last several years, despite specific legislation intended to advance women's civil service careers." Freedman asked why women are failing to advance economically and professionally. "Contemporary liberal feminism," she argued, "has dropped or underemphasized some of the most basic feminist demands - namely, the need to achieve an equal division of labor, including child care, within the family, and the abolition of gender-based stereotypes that invisibly perpetuate a system of male dominance." It is hardly surprising, then, that given the reality of impossible working demands of Israeli life, many women opt out. Whether working from home, part time, becoming self-employed or quitting entirely, many women have faced the knowledge that in current Israeli culture, women simply cannot work the same way men do. Tali is considering quitting her job, or possibly moving to New York and going into private practice. Aviva, now on maternity leave, is in no rush to go back to work. "The feminist movement told me I could do it all," she laments, "but I can't."