As in the US, the gender wage gap is a persistent problem in Israel. However, thanks to ongoing advocacy, strides are being make to lessen – and hopefully even close – the gaps and help women to break the glass ceiling.
At the “Equal Pay: Demanding Change” conference, an oversold crowd turned out on November 19th at Tel Aviv University. 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 co-organized the conference. “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, 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 holding the employer responsible 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.
New York University professor Paula England, a leading international expert on women, gender and work gave the keynote speech to the 200 conference participants. 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.
The conference followed on the heels of an early November Knesset conference, “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 a look at the proposed legislative reform as well as practical tools for equalizing wages were presented.
The three-year Equalizing Wages in Israel’s Workforce project, about to draw to a close, is funded by the European Union.