How Women Can Fight the Wage Gap by Demanding More Pay

As a rule, women don’t negotiate salary, and they’re reluctant to ask for a raise

Hila Weissberg
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Hila Weissberg

Ayelet is a senior manager in a high-tech company, and is the primary wage earner in her family — and makes a very nice salary. But since the wages in her company are confidential, Ayelet (not her real name) does not know how much her colleagues make. Until now she just assumed they made the same as she does, more or less. But recently she learned that one of her male colleagues, who has an identical position and is considered less competent — makes thousands of shekels a month more than her.

This information slipped out by accident, and Ayelet felt she had “been punched in the stomach.” “I am the mother of two children, and my colleague, like me — is an involved parent and leaves the office during the week to take the children home from preschool. But somehow, as a woman, I am seen as a ‘mother,’ and therefore it is possible to pay me less. My colleague is not viewed as a parent, but first of all as an employee. When the gap was revealed, I understood my boss made an excellent deal when he hired me. He received an excellent, dedicated worker at a sale price. I was sure ‘it won’t happen to me,’ and it happened.”

Wage gaps between men and women in similar roles start right from when they begin the new job. While men tend to negotiate their job offer, women tend to accept the offer as is — and even be grateful for getting the job. The wage differentials only grow from there.

“Today I am once again looking for a new job and my approach is apologetic in advance,” said Ayelet. “Everybody knows the salary ranges in high-tech. I know what is the maximum salary I can ask for, and it is hard for me to mention it. Men do it without blinking, and I — even if I push myself — will blink. I lower the bar in advance. Why does it happen? It is hard to say. I am not lacking self confidence, I know I am good, I work with men and speak ‘man talk,’ but when it comes to salary — I choke,” said Ayelet.

What is your conclusion?

“Women need to be aware of their difficulty in demanding maximum salaries, and to practice this skill,” she said. “It is important to talk to colleagues about salaries. The minute salaries are a confidential figure, the employer benefits. Not the workers.”

‘A market failure’

Many Israeli women identify with Ayelet, reports a survey conducted recently by the Panels company for TheMarker. Forty percent of the women surveyed think that if a man was doing their job he would be paid more than them — and 51% of women in senior positions said a man would be paid more. The reason for the difference — according to 56% of the women sampled — is that men prefer to reward men more than women.

Another reason cited by 42% of women was availability: Men work more hours a day than women. Forty percent of women said a man’s chances of promotion were higher than theirs, while 57% said the chance for promotion was the same. Like Ayelet, to whom it never occurred that there were wage differentials in her company — most Israeli women, 56%, also think for some reason that there is no such gap in their own organization.

But figures from the Central Bureau of Statistics show otherwise: There are very large wage gaps between men and women, 34% to be exact, between the average wage for men and the average wage for women. The difference in hourly wages is only 15%.

And Israel’s predicament is bad in international terms, too: According to OECD data, Israel ranked among the bottom four out of 29 Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries in gender wage gaps. The other three biggest offenders are Japan, Germany and South Korea.

The good news is that over the past 10 years the gap between the median wage for men and women in Israel has shrunk from 28% to 21%.

Like Ayelet, many women are not aware of these wage gaps — or prefer not to know. Employers, for their part, tend to state confidently that they don’t have such wage gaps — until they bother to check their own data. Usually the results are surprising.

“I was convinced there were no wage gaps in Microsoft Israel,” said the former local CEO Aryeh Skop. “I decided to conduct an examination and I discovered gaps of 25%. I was very surprised. While men are always examining alternatives to improve their salaries, women are happy with what they have,” he said.

A similar survey conducted two years ago inside the Economy Ministry, found much the same situation. Even though most employees’ salaries are based on a collective bargaining agreement and not personal contracts, in the civil service there are still wide salary differentials between men and women. The study found that women in identical jobs with the same number of years experience earn 23% less than the men. The reason: The women work less overtime and are on call less.

Gaps begin at home

Tziona Koenig-Yair, commissioner for equal employment opportunities in the Economy Ministry, says the gender wage gaps start already at home. “As long as women continue to bear the main responsibility in the home, we will not see a narrowing of the wage gaps: Measuring employees by the hours and not by output, stereotypes about women’s work, low remuneration for ‘women’s professions,’ and a lack of measurement of the differentials. Even if the employer finds wage gaps n his company, he tends not to take responsibility for it.” To eradicate these wage differences in both the private and public sectors, the chairwoman of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, MK Aliza Lavie (Yesh Atid), along with the Israel Women’s Network’s Equal Pay project are pushing a new law, whose goal is to require managers to analyze their salary data by gender — and examine the results. Another goal of the law is to ban employers from preventing workers from discussing wages between them. Employers’ organizations have bitterly fought this requirement, saying such a law would badly damage the competitiveness of their businesses, but Lavie has not given in and has separated this section from the main part of the law, which deals with organizations in the public sector.

The issue touches Lavie personally. Twenty years ago she was the director general of the Israel Youth Exchange Council, and a mother of two. She told of how she asked for a raise, and received a very chauvinistic, insulting response. “I was a young mother and I worked very, very hard. I decided to ask for a raise and the answer I got was, ‘Aliza, you are a second salary, let’s not start with raises now.’ And in truth I didn’t start. There was no one I could consult with,” she said. “I felt that I needed to apologize for even being a mother. But as a I grew older I understood that I will not let anyone, ever, call me a ‘second salary.’”

MK Aliza Lavie during a Knesset discussion about the status of women this week. Credit: Emil Salman

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