Gender pay gap: On Nov. 6, women in France start working for free

German Labour Minister Hubertus Heil torches an ice sculpture reading "21 percent", the salary gap between men and women in Germany, during an Equal Pay Day rally at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate on March 16.

As women in France begin working for free starting at 15:35pm (3:35pm) on November 6 due to the country’s gender pay gap, some European nations are tackling wage disparity head-on while companies say more women are good for the bottom line.


Across the EU, women are paid an average of 16.2 percent less than men, meaning they work for free for almost two months out of the year.

The date on which European women begin working for free  known as Equal Pay Day  is calculated according to the most recent gender pay gap figures from Eurostat (the EU statistics agency) and varies from country to country. Women across Europe began working for free on November 3 while French women will mark this day on Tuesday. For British women it falls slightly later, on November 10.

French women’s groups, including the Fondation des Femmes (Women's Foundation) and Les Glorieuses (The Glorious), are promoting the #6Novembre15h35 hashtag on Twitter to mark the moment and bring attention to the gender wage gap.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) issues a Global Gender Gap Report each year, ranking 144 countries according to the disparity between women and men in sectors such as education, health, the economy and political life. Its most recent report found that overall inequality is narrowing but that progress has slowed: At current rates it will take 100 years to close the gender gap, compared to the 83 years estimated in 2016. The economic gender gap remains the most persistent and will likely not be closed for another 217 years.

Nordic countries tend to rank well on equality, with Iceland, Norway, Finland and Sweden all in the top five, joined by Rwanda in fourth place.

One of the WEF report’s lead authors, Till Leopold, underscored that in tackling the wage gap, government policies must take into consideration the many hours spent on unpaid work.

Women “still tend to do the majority of unpaid and household work”, he told FRANCE 24. “On average, men do 34 percent of the unpaid work that women do.” And when considering both paid and unpaid work, “women work 42 minutes a day more than men”.

For this reason, he said, evolving social attitudes on more equitably sharing tasks within the household “also has an important role to play [in] closing the gender pay gap globally”.

The WEF reports also found that countries with nationwide policies on flexible parental leave, mid-career breaks and working remotely “tend to do well” on closing the income gap.

Offering public care services for older people and nurseries for the young children of working parents has also been found to be effective at minimising wage disparity.

Global Gender Gap Report, 2017, World Economic Forum

Iceland leads the way

The island nation of Iceland has led the WEF’s Global Gender Gap Index for the past nine years. It became the world’s first country to enforce income equality when its law on Equal Pay Certification came into force on January 1 of this year. The law requires all companies and institutions with 25 or more employees to obtain an annual certificate stating that their remuneration practices are in line with legislation prohibiting gender discrimination.

It also has the highest rate of female employment in the world, with eight out of 10 women working outside the home.

But even tiny Iceland, with a population of just over 330,000, has not achieved total parity. A persistent gender pay gap remains despite a law mandating equal pay that has been on the books since 1961.

Women in Iceland still earn around 17 percent less than men, according toofficial figures. The government wants to close this gap within five years and has introduced legislation that would require businesses to prove their pay scales are egalitarian by agreeing to regular salary audits.

To protest this lingering inequality, women across Iceland – including Prime Minister Katrin Jakobsdottir – staged a workplace walkout at 2:55pm on October 25.

The Equality Unit at Iceland’s Welfare Ministry said in an email that identifying gender discrimination in the workplace was challenging, in part due to “unclear job descriptions and secrecy around salaries”. Under the country's new Equal Pay Standard, each workplace designates its own key job criteria, ranks its positionsaccordingly and then decides on a standard salary for jobs of similar or equal value.

The standard ensures that salaries are decided “objectively across the board”, the Equality Unit said. Its use has “contributed to better trust and morale in the respective workplaces when staff knew that their salaries were determined on an objective and just basis”.

Sweden is another country that has seen some success in tackling income equality with concerted policy measures. Ranked in fifth place on the WEF’s most recent Global Gender Gap Report, the country's 2009 Discrimination Act requires employers to be proactive in promoting gender equality and take measures against workplace harassment.

Susanne Fransson, a lawyer and researcher at the Department of Social Work at the University of Gothenburg, underscored the role governments can play in fostering an environment that encourages social and economic equality.

She noted that the Swedish government has introduced policies offering high-quality, publicly financed childcare and a generous system for parental leave that grants "a high degree of flexibility" to working and single parents. Government services, in effect, are making it easier for parents to work.

And yet women’s monthly salaries remain at less than 88 percent, on average, of men’s (with the smallest disparity found among blue-collar workers).

This 12 percent pay gap means that women essentially work for free after 16:02pm (assuming an average work day of eight hours that ends at 17pm). The Swedish Women’s Lobby (Sveriges Kvinnolobby) launched the 16:02 movement in 2012 to tackle this disparity.

EU women earned 16.2 percent less than their male colleagues in 2016. The greatest disparities were in Estonia (25.3%), Czech Republic (21.8%), Germany (21.5%), the UK (21%) and Austria (20.1%) while the greatest parity was observed in Romania (5.2%) and Italy (5.3%).
EU women earned 16.2 percent less than their male colleagues in 2016. The greatest disparities were in Estonia (25.3%), Czech Republic (21.8%), Germany (21.5%), the UK (21%) and Austria (20.1%) while the greatest parity was observed in Romania (5.2%) and Italy (5.3%). Eurostat

High return on investment

Even while gender equality continues to lag across the globe, numerous studies have shown that a more balanced gender makeup can be very good for the bottom line.

An MIT study from 2014 concluded that gender diversity in the labour force increased productivity. A 2015 McKinsey Global Institute report found that $12 trillion (or 11 percent) could be added to global GDP by 2025 if the public, private and social sectors did more to close the gender gap. In McKinsey’s “full potential” scenario – in which the role of women in the labour market becomes equal to that of men – as much as $28 trillion (26 percent) could be added.

A 2016 Morgan Stanley study found similar benefits for individual companies: A data analysis of more than 1,600 global stocks conducted by the financial giant found that more gender-diverse firms offer comparable returns and less volatility.

“Calls for more female participation in the economy have grown louder, often based on political or cultural arguments founded on fairness,” the report noted. “Yet, a persuasive argument for diversity and equality can also be anchored to the bottom line, where ensuring that more women are working and leading in the workplace is simply good business.”

“More gender diversity, particularly in corporate settings, can translate to increased productivity, greater innovation, better decision-making, and higher employee retention and satisfaction,” Morgan Stanley found.

A study of more than 21,000 public companies across 91 countries conducted by the US-based Peterson Institute think tank and the EY corporate and legal services firm in 2016 found specifically that more women in upper management increased profitability. The report estimated that a company where 30 percent of its leaders were female could add 6 percentage points to its net margin compared to a comparable business without women in leadership roles.

Software giant Adobe announced in October 2018 that it had closed the gender pay gap among employees in the almost 40 countries where it has offices, becoming one of the first multinationals to do so in India. Male and female staff are now paid the same amount for doing the same job within any given geographic location (Adobe announced a year earlier that it had achieved gender parity at its US locations).

Perhaps surprisingly, the more women achieve, the wider the pay gap they face. While in OECD countries women are paid 16 percent less than men on average, the highest female earners are paid 21 percent less than their male colleagues. There are also fewer of them in senior management, with only one woman calling the shots for every 10 men, the OECD found in its seminal 2012 report, Closing the Gender Gap.

The WEF’s Leopold also noted that encouraging cooperation between the public and private sectors can be useful in tackling the gender gap. The private sector can play an important role in promoting change “across supply chains, industries, communities and wider society”, he noted.

The World Economic Forum is currently working with the French government and the private sector to set up what Leopold called a “Closing the Gender Gap Task Force” in France that would “provide a platform for public-private collaborative action” in this arena.

Les Glorieuses say they won’t let up until women have an equal place in French society.

“The fight against wage inequality is not a frivolous struggle aimed at robbing men of their privilege. It represents the determination of feminists to demand equality,” the group says on its website.

“Without economic equality, there can be no social equality, no political equality. And we will not stop until that is the case.”

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