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In Israel, Are Professional Women ‘Regressing’?

The photos of 14 men are plastered across the cover of last week’s finance supplement of Yediot Aharonot. What makes this particularly outrageous is the context: a story on the salaries of senior managers in Israel’s business sector. Apparently there is not a single woman in Israel’s business community making a salary worth reporting about.

The issue at hand is a legislative effort currently underway to correct socioeconomic inequalities by capping top salaries in publicly traded companies. Last week, Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, who is heading the committee debating the issue, announced that the government will not intervene in salary decisions, because “[i]ntervening can cause more harm than good”. And so, men such as Haim Katzman, chairman of Gazit Globe, who made 18.8 million NIS ($5.2 million) in 2009; Eli Yunis, CEO of Mizrahi Tfahot, who made 18.6 million NIS ($5.1 million), and Shlomo Rodev, chairman of Bezeq, who made 11.74 million NIS ($3.26 million), will continue to get what they want and believe that they deserve, without any government action. It’s like the Wild West over here — if you can get it, grab it, and there’s nobody to stop you. At least if you’re a man.

It was actually the second time in a week that Yediot ran a story about Israeli business life that ended up being exclusively about men. Earlier in the week, Yediot followed up on a new item according to which miluimniks — reserve soldiers — are disproportionately fired upon return from duty, a practice which is not only illegal but also flies in the face of an Israeli hero culture that holds army volunteerism as still, for the most part, sacred. In order to check up on this, Yediot went to a bunch of senior managers and asked if they would hire miluimniks, and then published the results. Again, the page was plastered with photos of a dozen men — no women — who are all in senior positions, and expressed tremendous enthusiasm at hiring milumniks. It should be added that the pool of miluimniks is almost exclusively men. So this is really about the perpetuation of one men’s club via another men’s club, and ensuring that the men involved receive financial rewards.

Women in Israel continue to struggle to make economic advancements. According to Rena Bar-Tal, Chair of the Israel Women’s Network, speaking recently at a conference on women and power at Ben Gurion University, women are still making 63% of what men make for the exact same work with the same credentials — a figure that has not significantly moved since 1982. Women continue to hold a small fraction of senior management and directorial positions — anywhere between 5% and 15%, depending on the study. This is true in the public sector as well, where women actually make up the majority of employees. Even though 65% of state workers are women, less than a third reach the level of senior management. In fact, of the 106 government authorities, only four have a woman director.

Dr. Linda Efroni, an expert in economics, law and gender who has been researching these issues since the 1970s, said that the more educated a woman is, the greater the gap. That is, in comparing equal work of men and women with comparable credentials, as status increases, so does the gender gap. Minimum wage workers, she said, such as security guards, seem to be the closest to equality. That is, she added, until one accounts for the “back door” rewards: men, even in low-paying positions, are more likely to receive benefits and opportunities, such as overtime, car and phone benefits, and even extras that they do not necessarily deserve. In one case, for example, she discovered a “field bonus” for workers who presumably had to drive into difficult terrain in order to do their work — and this field bonus was given to lawyers who never left their desks.

“We can argue about women’s choices, about childcare, whatever,” Efroni said. “That’s not the point. The fact is, women are discriminated against in Israel, this has been going on for a long time, it has nothing to do with motherhood, and we are regressing.”

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