The 27 February 2019 was equal pay day, and on this occasion E&M’s Friederike Sandow reflects on what debate this day should prompt and where urgent change is needed to achieve gender parity in the professional setting.

The equal pay day is a day to be despised. It is a day that, as a working woman or man, makes one sad. It is a day that, reading the news leading up to it, is frustrating, because the arguments put forward can be infuriating and the trolls in the comment section claim the numbers are wrong and say “it‘s really not that bad, ladies“. Equal pay day is awful because no matter what percentage we look at, in whatever country, there is just no reason to celebrate.

The European Equal Pay Day fell on the 27th of February this year, and announced that women earn 16% less on average than men across the EU.

In Germany the Equal Pay Day is on the 18th of March this year. Women in Germany had to work 77 days more than men to catch up on their yearly salary, meaning that on average women earn 21% less than men in Germany. Newspapers worldwide have reported on this gap, as it is one of the biggest in Europe, and because the local public transport system in Berlin, the BVG, will offer women on the 18th of March 21% reduction on public transport tickets. The BVG does this as a PR-stunt, well knowing that offering a reduction on one day of the year does not help to solve the problem, but their PR-stunt did something else: shone a spotlight and started debates. And, oh, we need these debates. We need them to set the facts straight. And we need to have them for years to come, and we cannot allow to grow tired of having them.

The facts

The statistics differentiate between an adjusted and unadjusted pay gap between men and women. The unadjusted compares women’s wages with men’s wages overall, which leads to the 21% in Germany and 16% in the EU. The adjusted pay gap describes the differences in payment despite doing the same job, with the same qualifications at the same level, and still this pay gap is about 6-7% in Germany. Talk about whatever pay gap percentage, they are both reeking of unfairness, inequality and discrimination. Critics have said that the EU-wide 16% or the German specific 21% are misleading, that the real differences are “less than 10%“ but really, how is even a low percentage not shockingly enough, when the only reason that one earns less than the other is based on gender?

How we talk about jobs, possibilities in life and what we are capable of, as men and women, outside of typical gender roles, is vital. We need to address this in our own families, in school, at universities and in conversations with friends.

Furthermore, it is not correct to only take into account the adjusted pay gap. We need to look at the unadjusted pay gap, if we don‘t, we don‘t want to look at all and merely pretend we‘re fine, when in reality we‘re lying to ourselves, our female friends, daughters, mothers and the next generation.

The truth is uncomfortable. But saying “the gender pay gap is a myth“ is not making it go away and also, it‘s a lie. But still, we see it under each article being written on this topic. The comment that “the pay is unequal because men and women have taken different decision in their private life, men should not be blamed for that“ is self-involved and lacks the intellectual capacity to see the bigger picture: a systematic inequality.

The reasons

So, let’s talk about the why, because despite the vast research, people still get the why wrong. As one of the leading German newspapers, the FAZ, wrote on their title page on Sunday the 17th of March: “Equal Pay? Women earn less than men. But they aren‘t being discriminated at work. The reasons are to be found in their private life.“ This argument falls, quite frankly, under victim blaming. Want an easy way out? Blame the women in lesser paid jobs.

Research suggests that there are three main points we all need to look at, and look at closely.

1. Women are still more likely to take jobs that have been traditionally associated with females. Even when women chose their field of study, having top marks in history or languages and as well having received good marks in maths or science, they tend to automatically go for the social science. Men tend to go for math or science no matter if their marks are ‘just’ good or below ‘good’. Even though women are statistically better educated, they work in jobs that pay less, offer less career opportunities and development and work in fields that generally do not pay as well as others.

2. Women pause their work to stay at home with new-borns, build a family or to care for a parent. Women stay home due to this a lot longer than men. Part-time work due to child care or care for a parent leads to careers being less accessible which leads to a massive increase in the pension gap, which again leads to women having a higher risk of poverty in retirement. Women’s pensions in the EU are 39% lower than men‘s.

3. We do not give jobs that are (still) female dominated the value, importance and, as a result, the payment and credit that they deserve.

Look around, we all have examples in our family, group of friends and our very own life vita where these points apply. We all know examples from our own experiences, we are all affected.

Photo by Micheile Henderson on Unsplash

What can we do?

We need transparency. Cut the bullshit of “it‘s not proper to talk about wages.” It is. We need to. A lack of transparency when it comes to wages leads to unfair payment, doubts about what a fair payment is and how to get there.

We need to be careful with our language, language creates realities. Let‘s talk more about he and she, him and her, instead of assuming a ‘she’ or ‘he’ in classic female- or male dominated jobs. Let gender equality be reflected in how you vote. In which books you buy, what music you listen to.

Furthermore we need to have more men care for their children and encourage them to take parental leave. There was a case in Germany just recently where the husband of one of Germany‘s first female astronauts won a ‘father of the year‘ prize (5000€; patronage is the German federal ministry for families and seniors) because he will be staying home for a year to care for the children, while she prepares for her space mission. The man gets a prize for something woman have done for centuries. Allow me this comment: lol.

We need to give Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s first case she took on a careful read and remind ourselves that men and women both can care for a parent. The case Moritz vs Commissioner was argued (and has been won) in 1972, but let‘s face it, it‘s still a novelty to see a man caring for his parents. However, caring for a parent is not something inherently female or womanly.

How we talk about jobs, possibilities in life and what we are capable of, as men and women, outside of typical gender roles, is vital. We need to address this in our own families, in school, at universities and in conversations with friends.

To end with last month’s birthday girl, the notorious RBG – Ruth Bader Ginsburg: “I ask no favour for my sex. All I ask of our brethren is that they take their feet off our necks”.

We are all equal. It‘s time that we start acting like we are.

Cover Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

  • retro

    Friederike Sandow loved her studies at the University of Bath and Berlin, she would study forever if she could. Once she quit her job as a flight attendant and thus, with a heavy heart, was not constantly off travelling the world, she started to roam the streets of Neukölln, Berlin. She is now working as a consultant at a Berlin based agency and still struggles with the regular office hours. Once the morning grumpiness has been cured with a big cup of coffee, she‘ll tell you all about her undying love for cats, octopuses, Italy and Leslie Knope.

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  • Chris Ruff

    Yes Frieds

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