Social equality minister: I hope that in five years, we won’t have a wage gap to talk about

Gamliel speaks about helping females in today’s workforce, with focus on Arab women.

Gila Gamliel (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM & FACEBOOK)
Gila Gamliel
This year is the first year in which Israel is celebrating International Women’s Day with a designated minister to work on women’s issues: Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel.
Gamliel is not only responsible for helping women; her ministry includes gender and minority equality and the advancement of youth and pensioners. Often her efforts benefit a cross-section of those groups.
The Likud politician plans to give a speech about projects her ministry has undertaken at the United Nations’ International Women’s Day event next week – her second speech at the UN in her current job, after speaking at the Security Council about women involved in peace and security issues in late 2015.
“We have a lot to be proud of. I will present our successes,” Gamliel told The Jerusalem Post in her office in the Knesset last month. Much of Gamliel’s efforts in helping women are focused on the gender-based wage gap, saying that she has set a strategic goal to reduce, or even close that gap in the public sector.
The civil service’s annual wage report, released in December, showed that women working in the public sector (excluding ministries) earned, on average, 79 percent of what men made. One reason the report cited for this gap was a lack of women in higher-paid senior positions.
In response, Gamliel formed a committee to try to prevent what she called “paving of separate paths” for men and women, thus creating certain a situation in which some jobs that are considered men’s and others, which are often lower-paying, are for women.
“We want to create courses for women in the public sector with a direct management path, so that women have more opportunities to go places where they earn more,” she said. That solves one aspect of the disparity, but Gamliel pointed out that there is often a wage gap between men and women who hold the same job. The civil service report pointed out that men work more overtime hours than women, who often take on greater responsibilities at home.
Gamliel seeks to resolve that and other issues that women who take a primary parenting role may have, leading them to earn less. “We’re starting with recognition of some work hours from home. We launched a broad pilot among a very wide swath of female public sector workers, giving them that extra benefit to close the gap created by men using more overtime hours,” she said.
Gamliel and the wage supervisor in the Civil Service Administration plan to go through all the elements involved in a public sector salary to find more reasons for discrepancies. For example, the minister explained, more men are given “on call” hours, in which they are paid to be ready for emergency work. There are a limited number of people in those slots, but she is trying to broaden it so more women are given the chance to join the “on call” circle.
Another aspect Gamliel mentioned is negotiating contracts; men are more likely to get a car and other benefits. “I hope we’ll succeed so that in five years we won’t even have a wage gap to talk about,” she said.
In the workforce as a whole, the Central Bureau of Statistics found in 2015 that the average Israeli woman’s salary was 31.9% below that of the average man, but the gap was smaller at the median, at 26.7%, indicating that gender differences were larger at the higher end of the pay spectrum. Supporting this is a study by the Israel Securities Authority found that only 2% of companies listed in the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange had female directors and just 6% had female CEOs. The hourly wage gap was also smaller, at 14.4%, but women tended to work 8.7 fewer hours per week than men, according to the CBS report.
Gamliel wasn’t supportive of moves to force changes on the private sector in terms of wages, but she backed legislation by MK Michal Biran (Zionist Union) to empower women in negotiations. “A private company is legally allowed to ask you to commit in writing that you won’t show your contract to anyone else,” Gamliel explained. “We want to pass a law that says you cannot force employees to sign that, so people will share and compare information.
Gamliel recounted that a hack of Sony Pictures Entertainment in 2014 revealed that Oscar-winning actress Jennifer Lawrence made significantly less than her male co-stars in American Hustle, and that Lawrence wrote an article admitting that she had not been an aggressive negotiator and now knows to ask for more.
“We saw what happened in Hollywood and what a dramatic change it can make when women are aware of what men are making. Today, that is blocked,” in Israel’s private sector, Gamliel said. “I’ve heard from female lecturers in private colleges, for example, who don’t know what salary to ask for.”
“Women tend to demand less in salary negotiations, and I think this will open their eyes in a more dramatic way so they will demand what they deserve in the private sector, as well,” she added.
Combining her responsibility for both gender and minority equality, Gamliel is working on raising the employment rate of Arab women. The gender pay gap is less of an issue with Arab women, who tend to earn 6.1% more per hour, on average, than Arab men, according to the CBS, which attributed this to a tendency for Arab women to have a higher education level than Arab men.
However, the employment rate of Arab women, while on the rise, is still only about one-third. Gamliel hopes to make the rate equal to that of the Jewish population by holding job fairs and opening day care centers in Arab towns, among other measures.
The minister also explained that teaching is a popular profession among Arab women, but that there are not enough jobs for the nearly 10,000 Arab women with teaching certificates. “Arab schools are full in the north, and some commute to the south, but those schools are full, too.
We’re trying to find jobs for Arab teachers in Jewish schools,” she said. Gamliel is also working on creating “a professional retraining program, so Arab women can move to areas where there is more demand. It may be online lessons in cooperation with the Council for Higher Education.”
“We want to help Arab women integrate in hi-tech and expand civilian service, which [for Israeli Arabs] we will call community service, so it can open doors for employment,” Gamliel said. “These plans are very important to us.”
Gamliel pointed out that Israeli Arabs get a high percentage of National Insurance allowances, and said her plan is to “give them a fishing rod and not a fish.”
“We are working on making them less dependent on welfare so they will go to work, make money and reduce poverty. When daughters see their moms work, they’ll go to work when they’re older, and that will make the economy healthier and we’ll have a more just society for all,” Gamliel said.
The minister said changes in Israeli Arab society, leading to increased employment among Arab women, are happening on their own, and her job is to create the infrastructure to meet the ever-increasing demand. “Once they go to work, they won’t accept discriminatory standards in the home,” Gamliel posited.
Niv Elis contributed to this report.