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Gender pay gap: how to move forward?

Egalité salariale hommes/femmes : Où en est-on ?
Published on
24 March 2019

In 2017, the decrease in pay gap between men and women ground to a halt. It appears that transparency isn’t enough to overcome differences in salaries. Recent research highlights the fact that equalizing household tasks within couples would encourage gender parity in the professional world.

Interview with Mark Smith, a professor of HR management and Dean of Faculty at Grenoble Ecole de Management.

What's the current status of the gender pay gap in Europe and around the world?

Since laws enacted in the 70s, there has been marked improvement in terms of equal rights for men and women. However, improvement has been insufficient in terms of the gender pay gap. If you analyze the pay gap in France, women are basically working for free the last two months of the year. To make matters worse, the world economic forum noted in its 2017 report that the gender pay gap had stopped decreasing after a decade of slow but consistent progress.

Can you describe the current situation a bit more?

In general, we can summarize by saying that when one gap decreases another increases. Scientific and technical careers are still quite masculine as are jobs in data science or mathematics. There are more women in business schools, but MBAs remain a masculin field. There are still many stereotypes about women in various sectors, which can lead to a job being undervalued as women integrate the field (e.g. teaching, or certain medical jobs). Certain sectors such as politics and the military are still very conservative as compared to other sectors.

What does your research highlight in terms of pay gaps and transparency?

Our research looked at best practices used by companies that aim to reduce the gender pay gap. We studied the impact of publishing pay gaps in Belgium, France, Sweden and Germany. This policy of transparency led to a decrease in pay gaps for mostly women and men in the same organization. Our conclusion was that an obligation for transparency on pay gaps helps highlight differences, but it's not enough to solve the problem across all social and professional sectors.

Does this mean that legislation by itself cannot solve the problem?

It’s difficult to measure the exact impact of policies and legal requirements, but they’ve definitely helped change attitudes. For example, Sweden has long required transparency about gender pay gaps, and now employers see this change as a positive factor. The same goes for Iceland, where audacious legislative measures and support initiatives for employers appear to offer a path towards greater change. In France, the situation seems to have improved since the Copé-Zimmerman law voted in 2011, which requires gender quotas for boards of directors.

Your recent study explains that personal factors could also help increase gender parity in professional spheres...

Up until now, studies highlighted the interactions between careers within a couple. This balance is not fixed and impacts internal power dynamics within a couple. In many countries, women represent half of the working population and it has become normal for mothers to work. Yet women often modify their work schedules to handle unpaid home work that is often considered mostly a woman's domain. As a result, working women still do more family/home tasks than men.

What would be your suggestions?

To reduce gender pay gaps in highly qualified fields (engineers, etc.), we have to work on several factors. First, we have to raise the awareness of companies and governments in terms of their role to play in regulating this gap. Second, we have to raise awareness and encourage individuals to recognize their responsibilities in the personal sphere. This means creating a couple’s dynamic in which both parties work together to share family tasks and become actors for change.

Women have a key role to play in thinking about their career choices and encouraging their male counterparts to adapt their behavior to match the realities of current double-career couples rather than continuing to match the standards of previous generations.

What is the impact of the Me Too movement on gender equality?

Me Too created legitimacy for women to voice problems with sexual harassment at work. The movement has changed standards. Sexist and homophobic jokes are no longer acceptable. But for greater equality, gender issues have to be a primary factor for business strategies in the years to come.

WoMen[a]GEM working towards greater gender parity in education

The guiding principle of WoMen[a]GEM is to ensure that Grenoble Ecole de Management’s female students start thinking of themselves as equals right off the bat.

In 2017, Susan Nallet, head of employer relations and careers, and Mark Smith, dean of faculty at GEM, were appointed by the GEM Executive Committee to launch the WoMen[a]GEM network. The goal is to work in the field and at the school to encourage gender parity amongst students, future managers and at partner companies.

The network is designed to increase understanding of gender-type behaviors, break with cultural habits that guide career choices, encourage technical careers for female students and help companies achieve their gender parity goals. “The initiative aims to create a favorable environment at GEM to enable gender parity projects in the fields of education, employment and research,” explains Susan. The end goal being for Grenoble Ecole de Management to become an international leader in terms of gender parity in business schools.

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