Equal pay matters

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To begin with, women should be at ease with the idea of standing up for themselves


Anamika Chatterjee

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Published: Tue 29 Sep 2020, 8:07 AM

Last updated: Tue 29 Sep 2020, 10:13 AM

Could ambition have different meaning for a man and woman? Career goals can be more of stuff sterner than a paycheck at the end of the month; it constitutes rewards and recognition. And yet, for many women in workplaces, growth can be narrowly defined, and thus, equal pay for equal work becomes more of an ideal rather than reality. That conversation is now changing, thanks to concerted efforts made by governments to narrow the gender-based wage gap. One such stride was taken by the UAE recently through a federal law that decreed that women will be paid as much as men for the same job and their wages would be determined by market standards and not gender.
This is reassuring news for many reasons. Empowering women financially goes a long way in empowering them socially; it is also an acknowledgement of their contribution. Historically, this acknowledgement has been hard-fought. In the early 2000s, Alabama resident Lilly Ledbetter became the face for 'equal-pay-for-equal-work' campaign in America when she took her employers to court upon learning that she had not been paid at par with her male colleagues. Things are still not radically different in the glittering world of Hollywood, where A-list actresses such as Jennifer Lawrence and Michelle Williams have admitted to not being paid at par with their male co-actors. As governments and institutions are warming up to the idea of equal pay, it is worth noting that the hindrances aren't always external. Sometimes, our own preconceived notions about 'model behaviour' at work can come in the way of our growth.
In an interview with Vogue last year, Ledbetter cited an interesting case. "Women get locked into positions where they can't pursue what they know is the right thing," she said. "I tell them, do the math. I talked to a woman who was promoted to a position the company had wanted a male for, but they promoted her and raised her pay, but they shorted her by $40,000 less than what the man would have made." When Ledbetter asked the woman to lodge a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, she was told, "If I had, I'd be back as a secretary or looking for a job."
There have been reams of studies that point out why women negotiate far less aggressively than men. For one, they feel they are relatively new to the workplace, which has been a traditional male bastion, and ought to be more patient when it comes to their growth. Add to that, the years of conditioning where one is told that their demands are secondary and should be treated as such. In an uber-competitive workplace, demanding rewards is necessary to growth.
In her famous book, Women Don't Ask, Linda Babcock notes, "Even when women can imagine changes that might increase their productivity at work, their happiness at home, or their overall contentment with their lives, their suppressed sense of entitlement creates real barriers to their asking. Because they are not dissatisfied with what they have and not sure they deserve more, women often settle for less." 
Then how does one navigate the complex workings of corporate world? To begin with, be at ease with the idea of standing up for yourself. That also means being unafraid of having that 'difficult' conversation. While the onus may be on your superiors to narrow gender-based wage gaps, it is important to take charge of one's ambition. And what better place to start than equal pay for equal work? -anamika@khaleejtimes.com 

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