The gender pay wall

The Guardian reckons, is that the women still have less economic power than men — only 22 per cent of managers are women and only 30 per cent of experts on TV are women.

Updated: November 27, 2016 12:28 am
On October 24, thousands of Icelandic women left work at 2.38 pm to protest disparity in pay. Reuters On October 24, thousands of Icelandic women left work at 2.38 pm to protest disparity in pay. Reuters

Speaking at The Hollywood Reporter’s Actress Roundtable, Amy Adams, a five-time Oscar winner, made a telling statement on the gender pay gap — an issue that traditionally enters the Hollywood discourse only during the Oscar season. “You should be asking this to the Producer Roundtable: ‘Do you think minorities are underrepresented? Do you think women are underpaid?’. We are always put on the chopping block to put our opinion out there… I’m like, ‘Why don’t you ask them and then have their statements be the headlines in the press?’,” she said.

Adams’s comments come at a time when the campaign for equal pay has gathered momentum, across the world and across fields — from the US women’s football team to women in Iceland and France, who left work early to protest against being paid less than men.

On October 24, in Iceland, thousands of women left work at 2:38 pm and headed to the heart of capital Reykjavik. “Punctuality mattered: They were trimming a typical 9-to-5 workday by precisely two hours and 22 minutes, or around 30 per cent. Thirty per cent also happens to be the gap in average annual income in Iceland; for every dollar a man makes, a woman makes 72 cents,” writes The Atlantic.

French women followed suit close to two weeks later, leaving their workplaces at 4.34 pm on November 7. While French women are paid much better, they are still paid 15.5 per cent less than their male counterparts.

According to The Atlantic, if women in the United States had staged the same protests, they would have left work at 2.12 pm. In South Korea, it would have been 12.36 pm. In Pakistan, 10.50 am.

But it is the Icelandic protest that is the eye-opener. For one, the country is arguably the most gender-equal nation on Earth, ranked first in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap ranking, which quantifies disparities between men and women.

Iceland has had either a woman president or prime minister for 20 of the last 36 years. Their women have made giant strides ever since 25,000 of them — at the time close to 90 per cent of the women population —protested at Reykjavik on October 24, 1975. “Within five years, the country had the world’s first democratically elected female president — Vigdis Finnbogadottir. An all-female political party — the Women’s Alliance — was established…. By 1999, more than a third of MPs were women,” The Guardian says.

Besides, over the years, Iceland has made many policies to eliminate gender inequality, including State-subsidised childcare and gender quotas for corporate boards.

So why did the women protest?

One possible reason, The Guardian reckons, is that the women still have less economic power than men — only 22 per cent of managers are women and only 30 per cent of experts on TV are women.

Writing in the Bustle, Allie Gemmill lauds Adams’s “gumption” in targeting the people responsible: the producers. “It seems that the gender pay gap may never close completely but to be able to draw attention to those who are culpable but also capable of really bridging the divide is absolutely necessary… Adams is, in a way, speaking for all women,” she writes.

Earlier, Patricia Arquette devoted most of her 2015 Oscars acceptance speech to pay gap. Variety says the actress’s speech gave momentum to the California Fair Pay Act, which came into effect in December 2015. Even if, like Arquette says, it cost her two movies.

Jennifer Lawrence, arguably among Hollywood’s highest paid actresses, made headlines when she addressed the disparity in the October 2015 issue of the newsletter Lenny. “When the Sony hack happened and I found out how much less I was being paid than the lucky people with d****, I didn’t get mad at Sony,” she wrote in an essay. “I got mad at myself… I gave up early.”

According to Forbes, Lawrence, made $52 million in the 12 months leading up to June 2015. During the same time, Robert Downey Jr, a top-paid actor too, made $80 million.

Just a day before Adams’s remarks, members of the US women’s football team appeared on CBS’s 60 Minutes to highlight their labour dispute with the US Soccer Federation. Theresa Avila wrote in The New York magazine about the woman’s team filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in May, claiming that the federation, which governs both the men and women’s teams, violates laws protecting employees against sex discrimination.

The players said they generated much more revenue than the US men’s national team last year but were paid only about a quarter of the men’s earnings. And, as they pointed out in 60 Minutes, their team is much more accomplished. The women are three-time winners of the World Cup and have also won four gold medals and a silver at the Olympics; the men’s team, on the other hand, has never won a major tournament.

“We feel like second-class citizens because they don’t care as much about us as they do for the men,” midfielder Carli Lloyd, whose hat-trick against Japan secured the 2015 World Cup, told CBS reporter Norah O’Donnell. Lloyd said the inequity extended all the way down to the types of seats in flights. While the men’s team always flew first-class, Lloyd said, “we fly in coach”.

Back when it filed its lawsuit, the football team got a vocal backer in tennis star Serena Williams. “Will I have to explain to my daughter that her brother is gonna make more money doing the same job because he’s a man?” she told Glamour magazine.

Serena should know as even in tennis, widely cited as a leader in gender equality among major sports, women players still earn significantly less than the men. According to The New York Times, women tennis players earn 80 cents on each dollar men earn. “The median pay gap between a woman in the top 100 and her opposite number on the men’s tour is $120,624,” Ben Rothenberg writes.

If all this sounds like a yawning gap, the WEF predicts it’s unlikely to change anytime soon. Its recent report says global progress towards economic parity has suffered setbacks in the past few years and that the gap might not close for another 170 years. “We’re now hitting a bit of a wall” in terms of policy reforms to address these imbalances, The Guardian quotes Saadia Zahidi, one of the report’s co-authors, as saying.

 

Curated by Arun Prashanth Subramanian