Gender inequalities at work: “The glass ceiling resists but begins to crack”

Gender inequalities at work The glass ceiling resists but begins

At equal position and volume of work, men are always better paid than women in France. According an INSEE study published on March 3, using the latest available figures for 2019, men would thus earn 22% more than women – a significant gap, which is nevertheless being reduced over time, since this figure reached 28% in 2000. According to the document, “a little less than a third” of this gap can be explained by the differences in working hours: in 2020, 27% of working women thus work part-time, compared to 8% of men. Above all, the arrival of children continues to constitute a real inequality in the professional career of women: in 2020, 81% of mothers in a couple are working, compared to 96% of fathers.

The latter also have less access to the most remunerative positions, while working in sectors of activity that are generally less well paid – more qualified than men, women only represent, for example, 43% of executive jobs and higher intellectual professions. in 2020 – they were 21% 40 years ago, in 1982. While the so-called “Rixain” law of December 24, 2021 requires companies with fewer than 1,000 employees to reach a rate of 40% women by 2029 in its governing bodies, the 2023 Professional Equality Index published this Wednesday, March 8 by the Ministry of Labor shows that there is still a long way to go: in total, 60% of the companies concerned have less than 30% women among their senior executives.

A “glass ceiling” which resists, but “tends to crack more and more”, emphasizes Rachel Silvera, lecturer in economics at the University of Paris-Nanterre and co-director of the Mage research network (MarchĂ© labor and gender). On the other hand, the researcher evokes a real resistance of what she calls the “glass walls”, and denounces the lack of diversity in the most profitable sectors of activity.

L’Express: According to the results of the 2023 Professional Equality Index, published this Wednesday by the Ministry of Labor, only 18% of companies with more than 1,000 employees have 40 to 59% women among their senior executives, and 5% more than 60% women. How to explain this figure, and why does this “glass ceiling” still resist in your opinion?

Rachel Silvera: This glass ceiling is indeed resisting, but it should be noted that it is starting to crack more and more, especially in the highest spheres. Among the equality policies implemented in recent years, those that work best are precisely those that aim to establish a greater presence of women in leading positions, such as the Rixain law of December 24, 2021. There is therefore what I call a phenomenon of “elitist equality”: the large groups, in particular, have grasped the challenge of calling on talented women in their management teams, whether for the high potential of these latest or for corporate branding. While women are more and more educated, a company that wishes to integrate these women among the highest positions will have no trouble finding them: it is above all a question of will and conviction.

At the same time, many systems have been put in place in recent years in large groups: mentoring, coaching, networks of “talented women”… We must realize that all this is progressing, even if we are not obviously not at the end of the equality process. When you observe the top of the top of the pyramid, among the big CEOs for example, it still gets stuck. There are only a handful of women. But it is the tree that hides the forest: where the problem is most impressive, it is when one is interested precisely in all the other positions, and not only in those whose remunerations are the highest.

According to the latest data published by INSEE, women received on average 22% less pay than men in 2019. How can this be explained?

First, there is unfortunately a degree of outright discrimination on the part of employers: a woman will be paid less than a man because she is a woman. But this phenomenon tends to subside, and does not explain everything. Because beyond the glass ceiling, there are what I rather call “glass walls”. Even if more and more women are accessing a high level of diploma, there is still no real diversity in all professions, especially the most remunerative ones – we observe it in the fields of digital or tech for example , in which young girls do not yet dare to orient themselves. This is precisely one of the factors that plays on wage inequalities. In fact, women today are confined to a few trades, which are not only the professions that pay the least, but also those where part-time work is most often imposed, such as sales, cleaning or service to the person for example. The latest studies show this clearly: there are three times more part-time jobs among women than among men.

And even when women are better qualified, or when their profession is recognized as “of high social utility”, such as midwives, nurses, specialized educators or teachers, for example, we realize that their professions are systematically devalued in terms of wage remuneration. The arduous nature of their duties is not recognized. To limit professional inequalities, one way would be, in my opinion, to oblige employers to respect equal pay for equal positions, but also for positions of equal value.

In your opinion, has the Covid pandemic, and in particular the massive increase in telework, worsened professional inequalities between men and women?

The image that we have kept from the Covid crisis is precisely these nurses, these caregivers, these cashiers, mostly women, who were placed on the front line during the crisis. I think the pandemic has made it possible to highlight their work, and in particular the value of their work, which I mentioned earlier. They were partly upgraded at that time, but not enough. At the same time, many women have been forced to telecommute in terrible conditions, without necessarily benefiting from dedicated spaces: some of them have even come close to professional distress. It was up to women to take care of young children, but also of the schooling of the older ones, since the schools were closed. The pressure that was put on the shoulders of women at that time was extremely strong.

Since then, teleworking has been generalized and redesigned, and in particular offers advantages such as the reduction of transport time or a reorganization of working hours. But it also carries risks for women’s professional careers. A study by the High Council for Equality has just been made on the subject, and highlights how the unequal distribution of household chores, the imbalance of the family load or the mental load can affect the career of women in telework. “Out of sight, out of mind”, as the saying goes: in the long term, the report shows that teleworking creates a real risk of reducing women’s career opportunities, via a disconnection with professional networks for example, or even by the perception of teleworking as a mode of childcare.

The question of parenthood is precisely very interesting: to what extent does the arrival of children in the home continue to affect women’s careers?

Unfortunately, this inequality due to the arrival of children still persists. Women still have careers that are more difficult than those of men, with more breaks, gaps or stagnation in the same position. Today, one in two women slows down or even puts their career on hold when children are born, while this is the case for one in ten men. Mothers are therefore penalized in their professional careers, and not only to access the highest positions: even for a middle manager, pregnancy still generates a slower professional progression than that of a man.

Even before the arrival of the child, several surveys show that a suspicion, sometimes unfounded and/or unconscious on the part of the employer, can slow down the progression of a woman’s career: since you will be potentially unavailable in the months or years to come, companies will favor the progression of male executives, in terms of salary compensation or professional promotions.

Faced with this observation, how can we best reduce inequalities in the professional sphere?

The laws on equality at work are already numerous: the problem is that they are not all effective, especially for the most precarious women. I think it is therefore necessary to combine the notions of social inequality and gender inequality. Then, a revaluation of the care and bonding professions, in which a majority of women work, is essential.

We must also tackle the bonus system, which also represents a real source of wage inequality between women and men. Finally, the tools used to calculate inequalities in companies must be adapted to the reality of the job market: the professional equality index put in place by the government is in my view ineffective and incomplete, as denounced by a very recent study by the Institute for Public Policy (IPP) on the subject. Some companies do not fall within the scope of the measurement, while others simply do not respect their obligation… We must go further.