Israel's Got a Glass Ceiling, Too

The Israeli workforce is almost equal in terms of gender, but there are immense gaps between men and women when it comes to salary and senior management positions.

Since its invention, money in its diverse forms has determined relations of trust and power between people. The Industrial Revolution, the flowering of the market economy and the rise of capitalism as a leading ideology in the Western world further enhanced money's importance. Money became the most important means in the labor- and consumption-based world as we know it. Whether we like it or not, money is the most concrete, quantifiable and dominant resource in our lives.

As women have been excluded from all means of control, so too have they been historically denied access to and, of course, the possibility of managing money. Until the 20th century, the legal status of women was inferior to that of men - devoid of basic rights and privileges such as the right to vote and the right of inheritance. The majority of women had no way to deal with money, because their movement was confined to the bounds of their home.

Even when they entered the labor market, usually due to economic distress, they were always employed at a lower salary than men. Whether a woman was born to an aristocratic family or to a penurious fate, whether she went to work or stayed home to raise the children, her economic dependence on men was undisputed, and she needed men for the purpose of mediation and for economic management.

The situation today is less draconian, of course, but it is still quite bad. In Israel, for example, the proportion of women in the labor market is almost the same as of men, which is a good thing. But in salary, there are immense gaps between men and women, and there are precious few high-ranking women in business and in positions of influence and power in general.

A survey by the accountancy and consulting firm BDO of senior executives in the 100 largest public companies in Israel, found that only 8 percent of these high-ranking positions were held by women, and even that fragile minority earns 30 percent less than their male colleagues.

However, the truly tragic tale concerning women is being played out at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale - at the hunger-and-poverty base of the pyramid. A survey of median salary, based on data from the Israel Tax Authority, found that most of the recipients of the lowest wages in the country are women, with 25 percent of them earning less than NIS 2,900 a month gross, the lowest salary level.

The economic passivity which has been forced upon women for years ultimately dooms them to be cheap, suppressed workers, generally cut off from the main artery of resource distribution, including the resource of money. This state of affairs, though many continue to deny it (including women ), conflicts with laws related to human morality, just as racism and ethnic discrimination are crimes of humanity that involve wrongfully judging people by the color of their skin or the language they speak, and so on.

The nonenforcement of the parity laws in salary shows that, without a change of consciousness and an activist thrust at grass-roots level, the laws and regulations will remain no more than lip service. How can such a change regarding women be brought about? The most accessible and immediate road to that goal is simply to become acquainted with the subject and to encourage women to develop economic know-how and economic literacy. Simply put: to demand that women take responsibility for managing their money and for managing the budget of the home they head.

This does not entail the study of complicated economic models or following the trade in derivatives on Wall Street. It involves day-to-day steps, such as reading and understanding salary slips, knowing the terms of one's mortgage, summing up monthly outlays as compared to income, and understanding the meaning of economic instruments such as provident funds and pension funds, which are an integral element of the labor market.

Gender education continues to send the girls to warm, soft domestic corners and the men into the greater world, armed with a desire for control, achievement and victory - traits which also ultimately help one reach a higher salary level. This crooked paradigm, which is upheld with a coarse patchwork of evolutionary theories, will not crack and collapse until more and more women obtain top-flight jobs, such as board chairperson or head of a security service. In other words, when they work in "male" preserves, which are synonymous with money, control and influence, and prove to the men - and, more important, to other women - that women, too, can do the jobs with at least the same level of success.

The road to that goal involves learning about what might be thought to be boring concepts, such as marginal tax and actuarial coefficients, and also becoming familiar with very unsexy financial information, such as the tax benefits of provident funds and the average rates of management fees taken by pension funds. There's not much fun in that, and many men also try to avoid dealing with these realms, but the economically vulnerable position of women does not allow them to go on repressing the need to grasp these and other concepts, or to enjoy not having to deal with them.

Knowledge and understanding of money management - personal, family and public - is an unavoidable stage in the maturation required of women in their transformation from being a type of additional "child" (in the family, society, economy and government ) into a mature person, a full and equal partner in rights and obligations.

Otherwise, women can go on calling the men they share their lives with "life partner" or "my spouse" or other egalitarian-sounding names, but they will never achieve the state of equal opportunity - in the real world - for which they long.

Bank Leumi CEO Rakefet Russak-Aminoach, left, and her former boss, Galia Maor. Banking is the only sector in which top female executives earn more than men.
Aviv Hofi