I don’t see a lot of discussion on the feminist blogosphere about income equality, and I see even less about possible solutions. Echidne’s three-part series can hardly be improved on at documenting the gender gap in earnings; however, there is no similar piece I know of about solutions.
After Hujo asked me what I think should be done, here are a few ideas, all of which have worked or are slated to. Building up on what I said two months ago:
1. Enforcing laws mandating equality in hiring, promotion, and pay. Although discrimination is illegal in most countries, enforcement tends to be on the lax side of things, even in very developed countries like the US and Britain. In Britain, only 3% of women who’ve been fired for getting pregnant bother to complain to the Equal Opportunities Commission.
There appears to be evidence that ordinary crimes have a higher reporting rates when there exists a law-and-order culture; reporting rates for crimes in several European countries and in the US are going up, and in addition the US has higher overall reporting rates. Therefore, spending money on a public campaign showing that there’s greater enforcement and imposing punitive fines on employers who are found to engage in discrimination will promote a virtuous cycle of more reporting, leading to more enforcement, leading to even more reporting.
2. Implementing flex-time schemes, which will help women, who are under greater pressure than men to balance work and family rather than to ditch family in favor of work. On top of that, they also foster a culture based on results rather than on working hours, which reduces discrimination against women. Best Buy’s experience with a result-based policy has been positive in terms of gender prejudice, worker happiness, and productivity all at the same time.
3. Cracking down on the old boy network. Although strictly speaking it’s possible to develop an old girl network or to have a gender-neutral old classmate network, in practice these networks perpetuate existing gender inequality. Especially in large corporations, it makes sense for the government to encourage merit-based hiring, since having high-profile rolemodels will help female professionals be more assertive.
One of the best parts of The Conservative Nanny State talks about the travesty that is the policy that non-voting shareholders are considered to agree with management’s position. Although Dean Baker suggests making it illegal in order to tame CEO pay, it can also be used to decenter the old boy network. If the government ensures that the shareholders have a greater say in hiring, it can kill the entire network, since presumably the average shareholder doesn’t care that an applicant went to business school with the CEO’s brother.
4. Subsidizing daycare. Going by Ontario costs, a given child needs C$38,000 in daycare. At about 330,000 births in 2001 (and declining), the cost to all provincial governments together would be $12.5 billion, which is slightly less than 0.9% of GDP. In the US, US$30,000*4 million children per cohort is $120 billion, which is almost exactly 1% of GDP. The government can afford it, and it helps women who want to pursue the work-family balance that most professional men do; unlike men, women have a hard time finding a partner who’ll stay home with the kids and do housework.
5. Mandating gender-rigid parental leave, of the form Norway and Sweden are gravitating toward. Pregnancy leave of 15-17 weeks is unavoidable. Parental leave is fairly gender-neutral in most cases, but because parents can choose how to share their allotted leave, the lion’s share of the burden falls on the mother. As it makes women miss work more than men, it incentivizes discrimination; before the government imposed gender quotas in boardrooms, Norway had a smaller percentage of female board members than the US, and I think that so did Sweden.
6. In politics, instituting proportional representation, which increases women’s political representation more than anything. A good example of that in action is Germany’s 1994 election, where 13% of single-member-district winners were female compared with 39% of people elected on party lists. That will be good not just for female politicians, but also for ordinary professional women, who will have more rolemodels.