On September 14, the Women in Law conference commenced with an insightful panel discussion addressing the pervasive issue of the gender pay gap. The panel consisted of Elisabeth Lechner from the Austrian Chamber of Labor, who focuses on discrimination in the workplace, Zara Nanu, CEO of Gapsquare, and Lukas Flener, Partner at fwp Rechtsanwälte. The discussion was moderated by Melanie Kocsan-Göschl, a legal expert in the Women’s Department of the Chamber of Labor. The dialogue ventured into the intricacies of the gender pay gap, shedding light on its multifaceted causes and potential avenues for change.
“Women Earn Less Than Men – That Is a Fact, But Why is It the Case?”
Melanie Kocsan-Göschl set the stage by posing a fundamental question: Why do women earn less than men? The panel explored comprehensively, considering factors such as career decisions, workplace discrimination, less effective salary negotiations, and the impact of motherhood-related career interruptions. The discussion unveiled the complex interplay of these elements, highlighting the challenge of dissecting and addressing each contributor to the gender pay gap.
Delving into the first question of the discussion—identifying the main factors behind the gender pay gap—Zara Nanu emphasized underlying definitions, unequal pay for the same job, organizational disparities, and the impact of horizontal and vertical structures. She pointed to the role of leadership positions and occupational segregation, where jobs primarily occupied by women are systematically undervalued. Elisabeth Lechner added a sociocultural perspective, noting a shift from unconcealed discrimination to more subtle biases intensified by societal expectations beyond the workplace.
“If You Don’t Know About a Problem, You Can’t Stress a Problem.”
Elisabeth Lechner underscored the significance of awareness in addressing the gender pay gap. While acknowledging progress in reducing direct discrimination, she highlighted the importance of the pay transparency directive. Lechner also delved into societal expectations of women, primarily related to childcare. She revealed that Austria, in particular, maintains traditional views on women’s roles, impacting choices such as placing children in daycare. The discussion unfolded into an examination of societal norms shaping women’s career preferences and choices.
“Women Are Still in Many Fields Considered Ticking Time Bombs If They Are Between 25 and 35.”
Elisabeth Lechner drew attention to a critical issue—women being viewed as “ticking time bombs” between the ages of 25 and 35. In many fields, women in this age group may face challenges in being hired as leaders or promoted due to potential future maternity leaves. This bias, Lechner argued, is not as prevalent for men of the same age. The conversation pivoted to the core question of cultural change.
“But how Do You Change Culture?”
The discourse on cultural transformation began with an emphasis on role models. The importance of representation and progress in dismantling biases were noted. Elisabeth Lechner expressed optimism about the evolving cultural landscape, propelled by increased representation and awareness. The discussion expanded to interrogate societal definitions of labor and their implications. Questions were raised about the artificial distinction between paid and unpaid labor and the need to reevaluate the value assigned to care work.
“The Motherhood Penalty is an Absolute Real Thing That is Backed up by Data.”
Zara Nanu illuminated the motherhood penalty with data-backed evidence. She highlighted shifts in attitudes, noting men taking parental leave and organizations recognizing the longevity of the ESG agenda. The conversation then delved into Claudia Goldin’s concept of “greedy jobs” and the systemic challenges perpetuated by certain job structures. The panel explored strategies to encourage women to pursue careers in male-dominated fields, citing blind auditions as an intriguing approach.
“We Are Seeing Shifts in Attitude and Men Who Are Taking Their Time Off Saying ‘Actually That is Not So Bad’.”
The positive shift in attitudes towards parental leave, especially among men, emerged as a key theme. Zara Nanu celebrated the progress observed in more progressive and forward-thinking organizations. Lukas Flener injected a note of realism, linking this shift to the fact that men generally earn more. The intersectionality of gender and income dynamics was explored, emphasizing the need for structural changes to enable genuine choices in balancing work and family.
“Yeah, Because Men Earn More.”
Elisabeth Lechner addressed the financial aspect, stressing the dilemma faced by couples where the male partner earns significantly more. The societal expectation that the higher earner continues working long hours perpetuates a cycle that impacts not only women but also men. The discussion called for structural changes to alleviate these pressures, fostering an environment where choice rather than socio-economic necessities drive decisions.
“What We See Are More Progressive Larger Organizations, More Forward Thinking and Understanding That the ESG Agenda is Here to Stay.”
Zara Nanu offered insights into the role of technology in addressing workplace inequalities. The Fair Pay Pro software, developed by Gapsquare, aims to utilize innovation, data, and technology to promote equity at work. Nanu emphasized the changes in the global landscape, showcasing a growing proactive stance from corporations and investors. The discussion underlined the need for tailored solutions, acknowledging that one size does not fit all.
“You Can’t Treat All Patients in the Hospital Based on the Average Temperature.”
Zara Nanu emphasized the importance of recognizing the uniqueness of each organization and individual. Drawing on data from millions of employees, she stressed the role of data in helping organizations understand their specific challenges and formulate effective strategies. The dialogue encapsulated the necessity of moving beyond generalized approaches to address the nuanced issues contributing to the gender pay gap.
“We Need to Fast Forward Our Employment Frameworks and Our World of Work Into the 21st Century.”
The urgency of modernizing employment frameworks resonated throughout the discussion. Zara Nanu called for a paradigm shift, leveraging technology to propel workplaces into the 21st century. The evolving nature of work, coupled with inherited employment structures, was highlighted.
Visions for the Future of Workplace Equality
As the panel discussion drew to a close, Melanie Kocsan-Göschl asked each panelist to share their vision for the future of workplace equality. Lukas Flener’s vision centered around fairness, advocating for fair conditions and a level playing field for corporations and employees. Elisabeth Lechner expanded the vision to encompass intersectionality, inclusivity for people with disabilities, and a workplace where competence has nothing to do with appearances. Zara Nanu urged the acceleration of employment frameworks into the 21st century, leveraging technology to dismantle archaic structures.: I have two daughters who will be in the world of work by 2023, and when they see people flying to Mars, I want them to be closer to equal pay than they would be now.”
Melanie Kocsan-Göschl encapsulated the forward-looking perspective by emphasizing the need for higher income transparency and modern working hour standards. She pointed to the evolving desires of younger generations for improved work-life balance, suggesting that reducing working hours could positively impact women in the workforce. The collective vision painted a future marked by fairness, inclusivity, and a recalibrated understanding of work and value.
In conclusion, the panel discussion on the gender pay gap provided a nuanced exploration of the challenges and potential solutions. From dissecting the multifaceted reasons behind the pay gap to envisioning a future where fairness prevails, the discourse reflected a commitment to driving tangible change in workplace equality. As organizations, individuals, and societies grapple with these complex issues, the call to action echoes loudly—a call that resonates not just in boardrooms and policy discussions but in the everyday choices and cultural shifts that collectively contribute to a more equitable and just future. The path forward involves a shared responsibility, where individuals, businesses, and policymakers actively dismantle systemic barriers and foster an environment where competence, irrespective of gender, age, or ethnicity, is the primary determinant of success.
As the discussion showcased, the call to action is not a mere aspiration but a tangible commitment to shaping a world where equality is not just a concept but an everyday reality.