American feminist journalist and social political activist once proudly declared that “A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves”.
How close are we to achieving that ideal society?
According to the UN Women's 2017 report, across the world women get paid around 77 cents for every dollar paid to men. This means that for the same job, in identical circumstances, a woman gets paid much less than her male counterpart just based on the gender she identifies with. This is a big bone of contention amongst today’s workforce, even as women are constantly putting in a considerably larger amount of time into their jobs and delivering the same, if not better, results. At the end of the day, they still receive comparatively less pay.
The Motherhood Penalty box
Traditionally, men are looked at as the breadwinners of the household while women are to be the caretakers. This manifestation of gender roles in an already patriarchal society results in women being considered economically “less productive” than men and hence, less deserving of equal remuneration.
Working women are often bracketed into the ‘Motherhood Penalty’ box. Due to this, women are stereotyped to be less capable of giving sufficient time and energy for economically productive activities. Our society is driven more by biases than by actual competence when it comes to wages. The homemaker theme is so engraved in the roles women play, that in many societies, they introject this value and believe that women are not deserving of equal pay. Typecasting results in women being largely looked at capable only for low-paying, seemingly ‘soft’ jobs like health care, child care, beauty, and fashion, while men are offered greater remuneration for ‘tough’ jobs like trade, building and construction. This only adds to an already complex problem.
Time for a cultural change
The Gender Wage Gap is not just a technical problem but a deep cultural issue. Wage corrections need a complete paradigm shift – our society needs to actively rethink what it perceives to be the stereotypical roles men and women perform for the well-being of the family. These gender stereotypes were challenged in the 2016 Bollywood movie ‘Ki and Ka’. This romantic comedy charted the journey of a slightly unusual couple, one in which the wife was a professional working woman and the “breadwinner” while the husband was a happy, stay-at-home caretaker. The movie questioned our ingrained orthodox mindsets by showing how despite flipping gender roles, there was no effect on the family’s ‘Happiness Quotient.
Better education should mean a better life, right?
When we pay women less, we are also paying less to a family. Gender wage parity impacts the economic welfare of society in a world where both sexes are now breadwinners. According to a World Bank report, in many countries enrollment in tertiary education in recent years slightly favours young women. However, these better learning outcomes are not translating into better work and better life outcomes for women. This disparity between expenditure and income for the entire society affects the growth of the entire economy. Money is a critical factor in providing social security and this impacts the moral and social well-being of society.
This is why we need to bridge this gap. Many sportswomen, actors, and professionals are now speaking up and are asking for what is rightfully theirs – the same wages as their male counterparts. Hollywood celebrities like Wonder Woman star Gal Gadot, Patricia Arquette and many more have been fighting the pay parity battle in a very public manner. Activist Flo Kennedy, tennis star Venus Williams, anchor Mika Brzezinski, and even the US women’s soccer team have demanded better pay and better working conditions, equal to their male counterparts. There are many big businesses out there like Airbnb, Accenture, Cisco, Johnson and Johnson, Spotify, PepsiCo, and Pinterest, that have taken a pledge to close this wage gap and move towards equitable pay and equal opportunities for men and women.
Pay your maid her fair share, today
Now, what the government, and our society, must work on is starting the pay parity at the grassroots level. Housemaids, factory workers, daily wage earners and other women who may not be managers and CEOs and feminist activists are also fighting this battle unknowingly, and they, too, need to be empowered. Trade unions and other organizations should recognize the economic necessity of having “equal wages for equal work” at the ground level to overcome monetary sexism.
The tiny Nordic island nation of Iceland has been passing increasingly stringent laws since 1961 but the problem persists.
Back home in India, The Equal Remuneration Act of 1976 mandates equal pay for men and women for similar work. It also prohibits any type of hiring discrimination on the basis of gender. Enforcement of this progressive act has, however, not been very effective. The new Code on Wages, 2019, by the Indian Government looks promising if it is implemented in its letter and spirit. This new code has taken away the terms men and women, and has replaced them with just ‘gender’; thus including even transgenders in its ambit. Although there are drawbacks in this Code (for eg it does not categorically define ‘Gender Discrimination’ and also does not spell out how women can be protected if gender-based discrimination happens) the Code highlights a shift in the way individuals in the government level are now looking at this issue. This is a commendable step that, if implemented well, can bring us a step closer to the ultimate goal of pay parity. However, it is important to move beyond laws and encourage companies and investors to take the lead and ensure that pay structures are shared in a transparent way.
Women’s rights are human rights
India’s introduction of the new environment, social, and governance (ESG) reporting requirements for the top 1,000 listed companies in the country by market capitalization will go a long way in imposing moral pressure toward improving current pay parity gaps. We have quite a bit of a way to go before we reach the stage of attaining economic gender equality. This is also because apart from evolving laws and conditions, the entire society – both men and women – needs to internalize the fact that gender pay equality is not just about money but also about respecting women and believing in their capability to uplift our society financially.
This is a basic human right and we must all fight against this imbalance.
Despite progress, miles to go, still
In spite of many obstacles, the silver lining is that gender pay parity has only improved over the years. In an article about pay parity, Ellen Wulfhorst, former Chief Correspondent, Americas, Thomson Reuters Foundation, and a freelance writer, writes about how the wage gap has indeed reduced over the last 40 years, from women earning 64.2% of men’s wages in 1985-89 to 82.4% of man’s wages in 2020-2021. According to a UN report, there has been progressing over the last decades: more girls are going to school, fewer girls are forced into early marriage, more women are serving in parliament and positions of leadership, and laws are being reformed to advance gender equality. While the statistics may not be as encouraging, they do show growth. There is a massive push to overcome various hurdles in a male-dominated commercial sector and it is being driven by governments, not-for-profit agencies, the corporate sector, women leaders and society at large.
Think about the words you choose
There has also been progress in minimising conscious and unconscious gender bias. Gendered language represents an important, often overlooked, aspect of gender neutrality. The shift in the use of terms such as “Chairman”, “Salesman” “Chairperson” and “Salesperson” in the corporate world is a significant structural shift. Organizations are after all a microcosm of society at large. Specific efforts by organisations to induct women into male “dominated” roles have also helped in breaking unconscious bias ‘for’ or ‘against’ certain roles in organisations. Progressive policies to support important life stage needs of women including effective return to work policies have been important policy interventions that are helping minimise gender inequality. Finally, macro-structural changes such as girls' education, equal access to careers, access to credit and safety of women have clearly been areas of focus for social and current Governments.
Indeed, new world order is being imagined. And we are here for it.