Editorial: the wage gap – a problem for all

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Photo: PantherMedia

Yesterday, we had equal pay day in Estonia. Celebrated in quite a few nations, the date varies. In Europe, Estonia is the last in line – 111 days from beginning of year. This is the very number of days that the ladies must work extra, yearly, in order to earn as much as the gentlemen.

It’s been interesting to watch the development of the discussion. A decade ago, the tendency was to treat this as a pseudo problem. Back then, the dominating arguments were the so-called deservedly-so and the single-case-claims related to certain ladies who made more money than men. In media, chief executives were saying this could not be a problem as they don’t have it in their company. Examples were underlined of successful female bosses and specialties where women were paid better than the guys. And, the problem nonexistent, the need to discuss it was absent.

A few years later it started to be acknowledged that the issue might be serious. In response to that, part of the society put defences up. In the emotionless statistical figures, they saw indirect accusations towards the state, the government, the bosses or the males as such. Instead of the problem, what was focussed on was twisted methodology, the issue itself downgraded to feminist weirdness or political propaganda.

In the years that followed, the development was towards recognizing the problem. A social ministry study in 2012 on awareness of gender wage gap in Estonia revealed most were aware. Close to half of those interviewed deemed the problem a very big one. Indeed: not limited to meaning a smaller salary, inferior lifestyle and inferiority in the now, wage gap also translates into lower pensions in the future and an overall contradiction to the principle that people should be treated the same irrespective of gender, age, nationality or beliefs.

True: even a few years ago, other possible explanations were being sought for the problem: women do labour in fields with lower salaries; women are worse at asking for wages; women have more problems with the so-called glass ceiling which will not let them climb the career ladder. Only now it is gradually beginning to be accepted that closing the wage gap would be good – not for the people only, but also for the job and the state. Thus, this is not a personal problem of those concerned, but needs to be tackled broadly. Employers have begun to realise that, worse yet than wage costs is when people do not feel valued on their jobs. Still, the understanding is fresh and fragile, needing time to develop roots.

Understandably and naturally, change takes time. In this, we are no different than the other societies. Regrettably, the denial and the defence never helped to solve the issue, as revealed by the numbers pointing to Estonia still a leading European gap-land. Rather, the change has worked the other way: over these past years, the gap has been torn wider. But how does one fall lower than the bottom?