New York University Professor Paula England, a leading international expert on women, gender and work and past president of the American Sociological Association, addressed 200 participants from every sector and area of the country at the Equalizing Wages in Israel’s Workforce conference, “Equal Pay: Demanding Change,” at Tel Aviv University on November 19th. England, who has been studying gender and labor markets for decades, put the issue of wage gaps in a deeper systemic, global context for the businesspeople, academics, activists and government officials present.
England’s analysis of the issue presented the complexity involved beyond comparing wages for the same job done by a man and a woman, including segregation by professions, the fact that women are entering male professions but the reverse is not happening, and more. She said she was impressed by the Project’s comprehensive partnership involving academia, government, business and civil society that is working together to reduce wage gaps in Israel.
The need for the conference was evident. “We planned for 80 people but the hall was filled to bursting; we had to drag in chairs from the hallway,” said Shatil community organizer Shira Eytan, who organized the conference along with our project partners. “The relevance was clear.”
Co-sponsored by Israel Women’s Network, Adva Center, the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission at the Ministry of Economics and Tel Aviv University’s Department of Labor Studies in the Faculty of Social Sciences, the conference focused on a Project-proposed reform to Israel’s Equal Pay law. The original law provides recourse for women who feel they are discriminated against at work with regards to pay, but it leaves the burden of proof to the woman in ways that are almost impossible to fulfill, so the law has rarely been used. The reform is meant to turn the law into one that can be applied by putting responsibility in the hands of the employer rather than the employee. It also would take concrete steps toward equalizing wages between women and men in Israel – which are unequal by every measure, despite the fact that the Equal Pay law is 50 years old.
Prof. Tamar Ronen Rosenbaum, Dean of Tel Aviv University’s Social Science Faculty and EU Ambassador Lars Faaborg-Andersen greeted the participants. Among other presenters, the director of research at the Ministry of the Economy’s Equal Opportunities Commission presented data demonstrating that employers are not aware of the inequality within their own organizations.
The conference followed on the heels of a Knesset conference on November 4th, “Divide and Conquer: Why is it Forbidden to Discuss Wages in the Workplace?” sponsored by MK Michal Biran (Zionist Camp) and the Equal Wages Project. Research on gender wage gaps, information on hidden discrimination and wage secrecy and on the proposed legislative reform as well as practical tools for equalizing wages were presented. The conference attracted an impressive number of MK’s from the coalition and the opposition including opposition leader MK Chaim Herzog, as well as Social Equality Minister, Gila Gamliel. Each of the MKs spoke about the importance of legislation ensuring equal wages.
The three-year Equalizing Wages in Israel’s Workforce project, about to draw to a close, is funded by the European Union.