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Do young women know their worth?
The L Word

Do young women know their worth?

1 by Sarita Rao 5 min. 08.03.2022 From our online archive
The long road to gender parity, starts with one small step – that every young woman knows her worth, writes columnist Sarita Rao
Women's strike, Saturday 7 March 2020 promoted in a bookshop window Photo: Librairie Ernster
Women's strike, Saturday 7 March 2020 promoted in a bookshop window Photo: Librairie Ernster

This L Word Column was first published on 7 March 2020. 

I had an unusual request, which on the eve of International Women’s Day, has made me wonder if changing the mindset of young women isn’t just as important as lobbying for better rights.

The request was from an young woman at school who helps my daughter for twenty minutes a week with maths.

Whatever she is doing – being a good role model, unveiling the mysteries of BIDMAS, or simply just improving my daughter’s confidence – it’s working. And I am relieved, because maths has changed beyond all recognition since I was a teen.

I pay her a nominal amount each week, enough to grab a sandwich whilst she’s tutoring. After a month, she communicated via my daughter that she wanted a pay decrease. Yep, you heard right, a pay cut!

I was outraged and sent her a long email. Why? Because she had undervalued herself, as so many women do, and she is just 16 years old.

Mind the gender gap

Luxembourg appears to fair well on gender pay gap surveys, the latest of which shows the overall pay gap as better than in most of Europe and running at about 5 per cent, which is still not equal. But this generic figure belies some home truths.

The November 2019 Deloitte survey “Women in the Boardroom” revealed that the number of women on boards in Luxembourg has gone down by some 3%. Women held only 12% of board positions, none as CEO. In addition, Eurostat figures show that Luxembourg has the highest pension pay gap in the EU, with women getting 43% less than their male counterparts.

In part this is due to women working fewer hours. That’s because they’re doing the lion’s share of the housework and childcare. According to the latest OECD statistics, women in Luxembourg spend almost twice as many minutes per day performing unpaid work (2 hours for men versus 4 hours for women).

Equality in the year 2074

The 2020 World Economic Forum report on the Global Gender Gap shows that gender parity is best in education and worst in political representation. There are still 72 countries where women are barred from opening a bank account, and there is no country where women and men spend the same amount of time on unpaid work.

The WEF report goes on to say that: “without changing legislation and cultural/social attitudes towards the relative time women spend on unpaid domestic work and care, the burden of household and care duties will not be rebalanced, a situation that will continue to undermine women’s career opportunities.”

So how bad is it? Well the report suggests that it is unlikely this inequality will end in our children’s lifetime. In Western Europe, gender parity is expected to take more than 50 years, and in some parts of the world more than 150 years.

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Girls should value themselves 

So back to the young tutor. I wondered what made her think she deserved a pay cut? Possibly, it was a sense of right and wrong, in that some weeks she could only manage to meet my daughter for 15 minutes, when we’d agreed on 20 minutes. But that didn’t take into account what she was doing in those 15 minutes.

For me her worth has been shown by the fact my daughter doesn’t lie her head on the desk when she has to do her maths homework, or ask me to help, which results in a frantic search on YouTube for Kahn academy videos.

And that’s the point really. Women can be twice as productive in half the time if they need to be. I know this because I’ve worked full time without kids, full time with kids and part time with kids. I worked hardest in the latter job.

Perhaps if we valued outcome, productivity and achievement more than time spent at the office, the gender pay gap would be very different. Better still would be to introduce flexible working or homeworking as standard for both genders. I’m sure men would like to be home earlier too.

More than anything we need to change the value system young girls judge themselves against (and there’s a whole other article I could write about that subject). Would a boy tutoring my daughter have suggested a pay cut?

Somewhere at an early age, girls are questioning their value and abilities, and as long as they continue to do so into adulthood, companies can get away with paying them less. And believe me they do. The 2017 KPMG Remuneration Survey shows that women in senior positions earned on average 24% less than their male counterparts.

Maybe Luxembourg, like Iceland, will legislate more firmly to ensure that women get the financial recognition they deserve both in work, and at home.

The road to gender parity is going to be long one, but it will only ever happen if young women take up the cause and value their abilities more.

So to my daughter’s young tutor, I ask that you never, ever again in your lifetime, ask for a pay cut.

The Women's Strike takes place on 8 March 2022, from 17.00 at Place de la Gare in Luxembourg City. 

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