Women in the workplace

Business and stop

A recent conversation on the Digital Eve Israel mailing list brought up the topic of pregnancy and the workplace. While the law in Israel states that employers cannot fire pregnant women, this is apparently not enforced and many stories were related by women on the list who were fired when pregnant or upon return from maternity leave. Many didn’t sue their former employers because they didn’t have the energy, resources, or hope that it would help the situation.

Suing, however, can be effective. An article from Haaretz was cited that reported on a case in September where the court ruled that a company must pay NIS 300,000 to a woman fired illegally during pregnancy. But the woman who sent out this article pointed out that if the courts become too effective, this may end up backfiring on women and companies would think twice before placing women in certain positions.

Weak law enforcement
The fact that the law prohibiting employers from firing pregnant women or those on maternity leave is not enforced, is problematic, but is not unique to this law. How many of us have seen people smoking under the non-smoking signs in public areas? But I think that this issue is representative of a larger problem that exists in Israel, and may exist elsewhere, and that is the question of women’s status in the workplace.

Supposedly, the State of Israel wants to encourage women to work outside of the home. Someone from MATI explained to me once that this is the reason that only women get tax points for children, and men do not. This is also the reason for the above-mentioned laws related to pregnancy and maternity leave – to prevent discrimination against women in the workplace.

Women-friendly work environment?
However, the reality is that these laws don’t help women as often as they could, and the general structure of Israeli society does not create a women-friendly work environment. For example, tax credits only benefit someone who has an income that reaches levels where it is taxed. In Israel, like in most countries, women earn less than men, and a third of working women are part-time employees, while only 7% of men work part-time. Another person from MATI explained to me, half-sarcastically, that the real reason women get the tax credits and men do not is because very few women would have to pay taxes anyways, so the government doesn’t lose any income.

And of course, it is clear that the law forbidding employers from firing pregnant women or women on maternity leave is not taken seriously. It seems that women are dependent on the kindness of their employer in order to keep their jobs.

The day care and school system in Israel makes it almost impossible for a woman to hold a job. Let’s just start with the two month break in the summer; the summer camps offered cost a fortune, especially for families with many children. And then, if you manage to survive the summer, a few weeks later there is Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot vacations. Then Chanuka. Purim. The month-long Pessach break. And then summer again. Now I’m all for celebrating the Jewish holidays, but why are there always vacation days added on to the beginning and end of every one of them? And do the kids need to have off all 8 days of Chanuka? Last time I checked, Purim was only one day, and yet the schools close for three days. And while cleaning for Pessach may be difficult, do the schools really need to close for a month?

Why women should work
It seems that society has not yet really decided whether women should or should not be encouraged to join the workforce. This issue is not unique to Israel; see this letter from a man in Portland, Oregon, who thinks women should stay home and do THEIR jobs (i.e. laundry and cooking), and that the entry of women to the workforce has been the downfall of the American family and job opportunities for men.

To sum up, here are some points in favor of women working taken from the response to the above mentioned letter:

  • “A Catalyst survey of Fortune 500 companies found that companies with the highest representation of women in their top management teams experienced better financial performance than companies with the lowest women’s representation.”
  • “In April 2006, The Economist said that “women … are the world’s most under-utilized resource; getting more of them into work is part of the solution to many economic woes.”

And finally, Guy Kawasaki in his manifesto “The Art of the Start,” says that women are essential to making your business work. When building your business model, he says you should ask women for their advice. The following is a bit of a long quote, but he explains his logic so hilariously that I can’t just tell you what he has to say – you have to read it for yourself:

“My theory is that deep in the DNA of men is a “killer” gene. This gene expresses itself by making men want to kill people, animals, and plants. To a large degree society has repressed this gene; however starting an organization whose purpose is to kill another organization is still socially acceptable.

“Hence, asking a man about a business model is useless because every business model looks good to someone with the Y chromosome…

“Women, by contrast, don’t have this killer gene. Thus, they are much better judges of the viability of a business model than men are. Don’t agree with me? The book The Darwin Awards provides irrefutable proof of women’s greater common sense. These awards commemorate “those individuals who have removed themselves from the gene pool in a sublimely idiotic fashion.”

“For example, in 1998 two construction workers fell to their demise after cutting a circular hole in the floor while they were standing in the middle of the circle. The Darwin Awards contain nine chapters about the stupidity of men, and one chapter about the stupidity of women. I rest my case.”

He goes on to provide an exercise on figuring out if your business model is viable. It ends with “Ask a few women if they think you have a chance of selling that many units. If they don’t, you don’t have a business model.”

Nuff said.