Imagine a world where everyone is equal. Where everyone is treated the same way, regardless of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. Maybe I’m feeling a little naive as I write this post but at the same time, this is something that I truly believe deep down in my heart. Maybe we haven’t yet gotten to the place where everyone is equal, but I’d like to think that some countries are taking steps in that direction. Like Iceland, who introduced a law last year that equalizes pay between men and women. But is this actually a step in the right direction? Before we explore that, let’s talk about the legislation itself.
Organizations with 25 or more employees are required to obtain a government certificate, which is intended to demonstrate pay equality. If they don’t do this, then they will be required to pay fines. Ultimately, the goal of the legislation is to ensure that men and women are paid equally. What might be the most interesting aspect of this legislation is the fact that Iceland has actually been ranked the best in the world for gender equality by the World Economic Forum for the last nine years. Why that’s interesting is because that means they’re already close to closing that gender pay gap.
In 2018, women earned $0.78 for every $1 earned by men. And that’s not even addressing the issue of what women of color are paid for the same work. That is the pay gap for white people only. An interesting thing to consider is how career disruption can have an impact on wage. Meaning, if you are out of a job for a period of time, you are more likely to be penalized when attempting to get back into the job market, and thus receive a reduced wage. But which gender is more likely to be out of a job for an extended period of time? This typically falls on women, who often stay home to look after their children. Sometimes for years, if a family has plans for several children.
Is equal pay a human rights concern? That’s an interesting question, and one I don’t necessarily have an answer for. What I will say is that I think the problem is much larger than women aren’t getting paid as much. I think the issue is that women aren’t getting the top roles that men seem to be able to land. But once they do, there is still a gap in the pay.
Of course, women are more likely to stay home and raise children. Even if it’s just for the first year of their child’s life. Which is why more men are given senior leadership positions. Because they’re more likely to be at the desk, working until 6 pm at night. It’s a bit of a double-edged sword. On one hand, we as women want things like paid maternity leave because child rearing is expensive, but on the other hand, we also want senior leadership positions. Now, I’m not suggesting that these two can’t work together. In fact, I think they can. That said, the system needs to change. Our idea of a work-life balance needs to align more with family. And not the traditional family roles of the man goes to work and the woman stays home and looks after the children. It has to be broader and more encompassing.
For example, I work with a single mother. She has a twelve year old son who has a disability. She works two jobs, and goes to school. She is home for her son after her first job or school, and then goes to her second job until 9 pm at night. She hustles hard, and is not compensated in the same way that a man would be for that same work. My point is, this isn’t a black and white idea. Pay equity is about the way that society thinks people should act and behave. Maybe this served us well in the 1950s and 60s, but we are in a time where the concept of gender is fluid, so how can we apply these same values to something that no longer exists?