Crowds chanted 'equal pay' — but that could take centuries

Jul 9, 2019

The crowd at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais in Lyon chanted "Equal pay!" as the US women's soccer team defeated the Netherlands 2-0 to win their fourth World Cup title. Before the final, US co-captain Megan Rapinoe criticized FIFA for disparities in prize money between the men and women. 

FIFA president Gianni Infantino proposed doubling the total prize money of the World Cup to $60 million last week. The men’s edition in Russia last year, featuring 32 teams, had a total prize money pot of $400 million. That amount for the men will rise to $440 million for the Qatar World Cup in 2022.

In March, 28 members of the US women's national team filed a lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation, accusing it of gender discrimination.

"It certainly is not fair," Rapinoe said in an interview before the World Cup final. "We should double it now and then use that number to double it or quadruple it for the next time. That's what I mean when I talk about do we feel respected? If you really care about each game in the same way, are you letting the gap grow? I'm not saying the prize money is $450 million this time or next time around. I understand that, for a lot of different reasons, the men's game financially is far advanced than the women's game. If you really care, are you letting the gap grow, are you scheduling three finals on the same day? No, you're not." 

But the pay gap is not unique to women's soccer. The World Economic Forum's 2018 Global Pay Gap report looked at 200 countries. "To date, no country has achieved parity, and only the top seven countries in the rankings have closed at least 80% of the gap," the report says. 

Saadia Zahidi is a managing editor at the World Economic Forum and led the team that compiled the gender gap report. 

She, too, sees the disparity between the US men's and women's teams. 

"If you look at how that team is performing, what they're doing, what they're delivering, they're actually doing so much better than the male soccer team," she said. 

Zahidi says in the last 10 years, the pay gap has actually widened because of increases in men's pay. 

"Why is that? I think it's because ... there is still this continued gap when it comes to the care infrastructure and women are still primarily responsible for providing the care responsibilities in most families," she says. "That's one aspect that continues to lead to a situation in which women are actually not able to rise into positions of leadership or, in some cases, make it into professions that require more of a time commitment."

The World's Marco Werman spoke with Zahidi about how long it would take to close the global pay gap.

Marco Werman: So, let's look at somewhat differently in the reverse: the homecare part of this. I know some stay-at-home dads, but very few still. Won't that number have to increase?

It's not just childcare. It's also elder care, it's aging societies, it's very young societies in other parts of the world. There is a broader opportunity here for job creation when it comes to essentially developing the care economy, whether that's childcare, whether that's elder care or other forms of care and division of responsibilities inside families. There are commercial solutions that are being offered and one aspect that is — and there's not a lot of evidence to support this but there's some speculation about where we could be heading in the future — where women essentially have a comparative advantage when it comes to the care sector. It's just that it happens to be a very informal sector and it happens to be a very low-paid sector. So we've actually turned that around. Use that comparative advantage and get a lot more women into well-paid, well-regulated, certified roles inside the care economy. But we're a long way from having formalized that and very few economies have started thinking about that as an actual job creation opportunity.

Related: Can quotas solve gender inequality in government?

If we're just talking about closing the gender gap, the pay gap, your research for the World Economic Forum shows that for some countries it's going to take more than 200 years to close the gap. And I'm not talking about Pakistan or Iran here, I'm speaking of the US.

So the US is ranked 51 at the moment, or in last year's study out of 149 countries. And you're absolutely right — it will take more than 200 years to close that gap in the US. In fact, countries like Saudi Arabia are bound to close the gap faster if they stay on the current trajectory as compared to the United States. A large part of that stalling has to do with the sort of broader economic gender gap. A second part of it is political leadership. I think political leadership is another area where the US is lagging behind when it comes to parliamentary positions, when it comes to essentially ministerial-level positions. And, of course, the US has not had a female head of government, unlike an increasingly large number of countries that have.

Related: The ‘glass cliff’ puts women in power during crisis — often without support

Can things only get better or is there a chance for things to get even worse?

In the US, there's a massive shortage, for example, of people with computer science and data science skills. Now, how is that shortage going to be fulfilled? I think a lot of companies are starting to realize they have to actually reach out into either minority groups or they have to start looking at women as part of that pipeline of talent instead of limiting themselves to the groups that they're looking at.

I'm imagining that you had to have been looking at some historical precedents to determine how events might unfold that would favor progress in closing the pay gap. I mean to say that it will take like 500 years for the gender gap to end in Iran and Pakistan or over 200 years in the US. What do you base that on?

It's absolutely within our control to decide how fast we want to close some of these gender gaps. In the Nordic countries, this is not about historical inertia. This is about the policies that they are very deliberately putting in place, whether that is about mandating pay parity inside the workplace and otherwise having very significant penalization for companies that do not provide that kind of pay parity. Whether that is paternity leave, which is something that they really sort of put in place and accelerated on in the last decade only. I think this is not about historical trends moving out into the future unless we do nothing.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. Reuters contributed to this report. 

From PRI's The World ©2019 PRI