Mind the gap

The 1996 law mandating equal wages for women and men working the same job is not sufficiently enforced, and few women act on it to get restitution.

A few days ago, a young pregnant woman called the Israel Women’s Network’s hot line. This was her first pregnancy and she was happy, but also very confused due to what was happening at her workplace since she informed her employers.
She had been marked as a rising star, assigned her own project and even received a raise, but suddenly everything changed.

The happy announcement quickly brought anger and disaffection, and even a fear of being fired.
“I feel trapped in a situation which has no solution,” she said. “At some point everyone wants to be a mother; why does it have to entail such a big price? Why did my workplace stop seeing me as a valued employee and start seeing me as a troublesome, unwanted mother?” This young woman’s story isn’t unusual, and highlights the difficulties and obstacles women still face in the workforce.
To the outside observer, the situation doesn’t seem that bad. More than 70 percent of women who are also mothers – even when they have more than one child – work. It’s an impressive statistic, compared with other Western countries.
To understand that there is actually a problem, it’s necessary to analyze the data in depth.
About half of working women are in one of six traditional ‘women’s field’ with relatively low salaries, such as education, nursing, administration, sales and housekeeping.
About 20% work only part time.
The data on dismissals is alarming. About 40% of working women report sexual harassment at their workplace. Relatively few reach high-ranking positions. But the most disturbing data deals with the gap between men’s and women’s salaries.
Women earn a lot less then men, even when they work the same job. The Central Bureau of Statistics’ data show that women on average earn 66% of men’s wages. When wage per hour is compared, women earn 17% less than men for the same job. Over the past 20 years, the gap diminished by only 7%, which doesn’t bode well for the future.
Yes, we have come a long way since the establishment of the state but the perception of the working woman as a secondary provider – that her main responsibility is for the house and children – hasn’t changed.
The 1996 law mandating equal wages for women and men working the same job is not sufficiently enforced, and few women act on it to get restitution.
TO CHANGE this reality, we must first put an end to stereotypes and examine female and male workers objectively, based on abilities and the quality of their work, and compensate accordingly.
Female employees must stand up for their rights as equals. They should not settle for unsuitable wages.
For more than 26 years, the Israel Women’s Network has been promoting women’s rights. It has set the reduction of the gap between genders as a main goal for the coming year.
As a first step, IWN is seeking an essential change in the equal-wage law, providing significant compensation for a woman who was discriminated against, criminal sanctions for the offending employer, and a mandatory provision of information regarding wages for women and men in the private and public sectors in a way which facilitate lawsuits on this issue. This will provide for a law with teeth.
In addition, IWN will establish a “center for wage gaps” that will be the address for every woman who feels she’s being discriminated against. It will examine her complaint and help her file suit for suitable compensation.
IWN is also planning to contact the Prime Minister’s Office on International Women’s Day with a demand that he take immediate steps to reduce the unreasonable 36% gap between men and women in the public sector, according to the Bank of Israel research.
Maybe by the time the daughter of the young woman who turned to IWN’s hot line a few days ago takes her place in the workforce, the change will have happened.
The writer is manager of the legal department at the Israel Women’s Network.