I am fully aware of and confident in my professional abilities as an accountant. And yet, as a Charedi woman, I am situated, alongside many of my similarly capable peers, somewhere in the lower margins of the earnings distribution. Working Charedi women are indeed a distinct, and in some ways unique group in the Israeli labor market. Strong, ambitious, talented, and devoted – but earning significantly less, on average, than others performing similar work.
The average wage of a Charedi woman is 5,750 NIS a month. Her non-Charedi (Jewish) counterpart makes 9,416 NIS. A portion of this gap is certainly owed to the industries in which Charedi women are more likely to be employed. Furthermore, a Charedi woman is more likely to be working part time, further bringing down the overall average of the demographic. Yet, even controlling for these factors, there remains a significant gap between the earnings of Charedi women and their non-Charedi peers. Charedi women are currently employed across a wide range of sectors: graphic design, architecture, technology, accounting, design professions, and many others, often in full-time employment. All the same, on average, the Charedi woman in any of these industries is likely to be earning less than the industry average for a given position.
Charedi women are currently employed across a wide range of sectors: graphic design, architecture, technology, accounting, design professions, and many others, often in full-time employment. All the same, on average, the Charedi woman in any of these industries is likely to be earning less than the industry average for a given position.
It is often argued that this disparity is a product of discrimination: Charedi women produce on par with others but earn less simply because they are Charedi. MK Uri Maklev claimed as much in a Knesset session addressing gender inequities:
“Many workplaces do not want to accept Charedi women. And even those who are accepted face a long-established record of wage discrimination and abusive treatment of Charedi women. Throughout the economy one can find secular women in large firms earning 30% more than Charedi women. Some companies even receive subsidies for Charedi workers, and they are forced to explain these gaps” (discussion at the Knesset Committee for Advancing the Status of Women and Gender Equality, July 2, 2016).
MK Moshe Gafni has made similar statements. At a conference hosted by Temech, an association that “develops and promotes work opportunities for the Charedi woman and supports integration into the workforce with professional training, mentorship and placement services,” Gafni declared:
“I am distressed that Charedi women earn far less than their counterparts. At times, they can both be working in the same room, doing the same job, yet the secular woman earns twice what her Charedi counterpart does. We will act on this matter.”
So, MKs are already determined to act. But what precisely are the necessary actions? As always, before prescribing solutions we must first properly diagnose the problem and its root causes.
In this article, I will argue that as a general matter, Charedi women’s earnings are set by basic economic rules: supply and demand and cost versus benefit. The assumed “discrimination” against the Charedi woman is but the price she pays for her choices in a tough world.
Accordingly, the young Charedi woman, Torah observant and committed to raising a large family, might be paid less largely because her employer will realize reduced benefit from her work as compared to that of her secular counterpart. To be even more precise, her (relatively) low salary is an inherent feature of both the supply of and demand for her work. These basic market forces conspire against her, whether in direct relationship to her productivity or owing to more generalized outcomes of supply and demand unrelated to productivity.
Some of the considerations that can greatly limit employment options for Charedi women include transportation constraints, limited fields of employment, and a desire to work in an environment deemed suitable for a Charedi person. At the same time, the Charedi woman chooses to marry at a young age and has relatively many children. While the average birthrate for non-Charedi women in Israel is 2.4 children, the average birthrate for Charedi women is 6.9 children.
The choices entailed in living a Charedi lifestyle bring great benefit and innumerable joys. Childrearing (one of the choices) is a truly wonderful thing, and children bring infinite happiness, contentment, blessing, and beauty. But at the same time, in harsh economic terms, raising them can reduce the mother’s productivity – and consequently her pay. It goes without saying that the earnings gap does not detract in any way from a woman’s value as an individual and as a mother. On the contrary, it is this very value and the decisions it generates that are reflected in a relatively low salary. Yes, the choices made by Charedi women have a cost – a cost quite readily quantifiable by comparing the pay stubs of Charedi women and their counterparts.
Charedi women’s earnings are set by basic economic rules: supply and demand and cost versus benefit. The assumed “discrimination” against the Charedi woman is but the price she pays for her choices in a tough world.
My aim in this article is not, God forbid, to suggest that we should in any way compromise the Charedi way of life or our commitment to raising large families. My goals are rather twofold: First, to promote an economic outlook that is at once more correct and more productive. Such a perspective should hopefully serve to empower Charedi working women with greater satisfaction from their work and greater contentment with their choices in life. Charedi women should not feel discriminated against or exploited. Second, I wish to temper what has become an accepted policy attitude towards addressing pay equality between men and women in general and towards Charedi women in particular. One gets the sense that any policy proposed, whether legal or social, that aims to improve the position of mothers in the workplace, necessarily comes at the cost of significant pain to employers. Such policies do not benefit Charedi women; they harm them by incentivizing potential employers to stay away. A change in mindset would benefit all parties.
As a final introductory comment, I should stress that this article will not address the contemptible phenomena of illegal employment in its various forms. I will not discuss the abuse and exploitation of workers that is sadly accepted among certain educational institutions and networks. Such abuses include ignoring regulations governing employment of education workers; insisting that teachers and kindergarten teachers agree to uncompensated work time; or even demanding cash kickbacks out of the employees’ salaries. These forms of discrimination and exploitation are worthy of every condemnation, and a discussion of these issues and their causes requires separate treatment. This article addresses employers who pay a legal salary to Charedi women. Legal, and yet lower, relatively, than what the market seems to suggest as fair.
I want to reiterate at the outset: Payment of relatively low wages to Charedi women is not “exploitation” or a “violation of rights.” So long as we are dealing with a private and free market, in which the employer can choose whether to hire the woman in question, and she can choose freely if and by whom she wishes to be employed, compensation is ultimately a matter of mutual agreement. There is no exploitation or abuse when two parties, acting as free and independent agents, agree to a particular remuneration arrangement.
Accordingly, the starting point for any discussion about pay levels of Charedi women should be that an employer owes the Charedi woman (and everyone else) absolutely nothing. The employer has every right to pay a Charedi woman 30 NIS an hour, and her secular counterpart 60 NIS. If the Charedi woman wishes not to accept such a pay difference, she doesn’t have to take the job. Nobody is forcing her to work for this employer. True, the wage gap might not be based on objective factors, and it might express an unwarranted rejection of the true value of Charedi women. But, as long as all parties involved agree to the set wages, the most we can say is that there is a problem here. In no way is this a matter of exploitation or a violation of the woman’s natural or legal rights.
The employer has every right to pay a Charedi woman 30 NIS an hour, and her secular counterpart 60 NIS. If the Charedi woman wishes not to accept such a pay difference, she doesn’t have to take the job. as long as all parties involved agree to the set wages, the most we can say is that there is a problem here. In no way is this a matter of exploitation or a violation of the woman’s natural or legal rights.
Is the relatively lower pay of Charedi women a result of discrimination? I do not believe so. Economies generally operate in very simple and evenhanded ways. The marketplace is driven by one guiding principle: maximizing benefit at minimum cost. Each actor in the market seeks to maximize their benefit. Sellers seek to receive as much reward as possible in exchange for the goods or services they offer. On the other side of the table, those looking to obtain such good or services will want to part with as few shekels as they can get away with.
A prospective employer seeking to purchase labor will look to incur the lowest possible cost to achieve the output he or she needs. The prospective worker, on the other hand, wishes to be compensated as much as possible for his or her hour of work. Given this matrix of competing ambitions, how then is the wage ultimately determined? As with any deal, the two parties negotiate until a mutually acceptable meeting point is discovered and a contract can be drafted. This agreement will represent the maximal payment the seller (or worker) can receive for the item (or labor) and the maximal benefit the buyer (or employer) can extract from the object (or labor). How do the buyer and seller each know that they have arrived at that point? To answer this question, we will imagine a simple example.
Let’s travel back a few thousand years, to a simpler and less sophisticated world, which consists of a single small city. In this city we find Uriah, who inherited a field from his father. Uriah needs workers to plow the land and he is ready to pay half a Pruta for a day’s work. He goes to the market and tries to recruit workers, but to no avail. None of his fellow villagers wants to work in his field. Why not? Each one seems to have a different excuse. One person’s daughter is sick. A second prefers to sort his ceramics collection, which he hasn’t touched since he was eight. A third prospect seems interested and even agrees to report for work, but in the end his wife convinces him to stay at home.
Uriah does not understand what is going on. He looks from his field to his neighbor’s. Shimshon, his next-door neighbor, has ten workers who showed up at the crack of dawn. Why then is he only able to collect a bunch of excuses? Other villagers, who don’t have work, seem content to sit idly in their homes puttering about rather than work his field. While he gets started plowing his large and lonely field, he tries to figure out what went wrong. Heading back to the city at the end of the day, he quietly asks Shimshon: What’s the secret? How do you get workers?
As it turns out, there is no secret. Shimshon simply pays more than he does. Uriah was offering a half Pruta, while Shimshon offers a full Pruta for a day’s work. Uriah, newly enlightened, immediately comes up with a novel idea: he will outbid Shimshon and break the market. He will offer two Prutas for a day’s work! Sure enough, the following morning Uriah arrives at the market and declares, “Two Prutasa for a day’s work!” Immediately, dozens gather round him. The ceramics are forgotten, the sick daughter is healed, and everyone is ready and available to work. There is just one problem. Uriah has only ten plows. He tells the assembled crowd that unfortunately he can only hire ten workers and no more.
A riot breaks out around him. The prospective workers argue over who showed up first, who is a better worker, who davens with Uriah in the same shul. Everyone wants to work for Uriah. Just as the fight starts getting ugly, one man at the back of the throng yells out to Uriah, “I am willing to work for you for a Pruta and a half.”
The crowd is stunned. This kid, who seems a little off, who always shows up late and whose name no-one remembers, dares to undercut the market and bring down the price! Uriah is a little naïve, but he knows math. This fellow is offering four days of work for the price of three. Why not?
After a moment, the brighter folks in the group realize that if they too agree to work for a Pruta and a half they are guaranteed a place in Uriah’s workforce, and nine Prutas at the end of the week. Nine Prutas will be enough to buy chicken for Shabbos, fresh challas made from fine flour, an Aliyah in shul, and enough left over for some herring. Within several minutes, most of the would-be workers update Uriah that they, too, are willing to work for a Pruta and a half.
Shimshon, who is running a bit late this morning, arrives at the market to pick up his workers and wanders into the commotion. People are begging Uriah to take them to work for him. “No need to fight,” Shimshon informs them, “You can come work for me.” But nobody, including his ten workers from the previous day, is interested in his offer.
In the end, an equilibrium prevails. Competition for work between the workers has reduced to an absolute minimum the wages they are willing to work for. Any lower than that minimum, and they would prefer to go home and water their plants. At the same time, competition between the two employers for workers has led them to raise the price they are willing to pay as high as they can go. Beyond this ceiling, labor costs will exceed their profit and their businesses will collapse. The market has discovered the price of labor for that day.
- As more employers enter the market, competition for workers gets fiercer and wages rise.
- As more workers enter the market, jobs become scarcer and competition for jobs intensifies. Pay goes down.
- When the number of available jobs exceeds the number of potential workers, workers have the upper hand and can demand higher pay.
- When the number of potential workers is greater than the number of available jobs, employers benefit from lower wages.
The meeting point between the workers and employers is discovered when the parties all become equally desperate, the former for work, the latter for labor. How far might each side drag this out? We can extend our metaphorical scenario, but we will always come back to a simple rule: The person managing a business will endeavor to retain as much profit as possible. Obviously, there can be exceptions. One may choose to employ his nephew and absorb the losses the business will incur due to the relative’s inferior work. But such cases are exceptions. A business owner will swiftly go bankrupt if he manages his entire operation on the basis of such favors. A business needs to be profitable. As long as there is no external intervention in the market, a worker’s wage will perfectly reflect how much an employer values the work and, conversely, how much pay makes it worthwhile for workers to work for him.
But what happens in our imaginary example if, say, the city’s mayor decides that it is a disgrace that workers are only paid a Pruta and a half for a day of work? He pounds the table at the next city council meeting and declares, “I heard that in the nearby village, workers are paid three Prutas, while we only pay 1.5. Shameful exploitation! A disgrace!” What might he do? Perhaps he’ll launch a propaganda campaign against the exploitative field owners, who pay so little to the poor wage earners. Perhaps he will initiate an executive decree that workers must be paid at least two Prutas? Will that work?
If the mayor is truly concerned about the residents of his city, he needs to properly identify the supposed problem. Are workers in his village paid less because there is an excess supply of labor as compared to demand – more workers than available jobs? If so, perhaps he should encourage and incentivize development of additional fields of employment, and thereby stimulate more demand. As the need for workers increases, so will their wages. Perhaps wages are lower in his village because the employers do not make enough profit from their fields to enable decent pay. Well, the mayor might then initiate advanced training for the townsfolk and teach them innovative farming methods. With their new skills they will be able to be more productive and their employers will yield more output from their work. As productivity increases, the employer will earn more from his farm and will seek the more skilled workers, paying them higher wages than he was able to before.
The Job Market of Charedi Women
True, today’s employment market may more complex than the one described in our example. But the basic principles we observed remain the same. Notwithstanding rare disruptions (which sometimes indeed occur), high demand for jobs (surplus of workers) reduces pay, and a great supply of jobs (scarcity of workers) raises it.
One of the main factors contributing to the relatively lower wages of Charedi women is the short supply of desirable jobs, creating a surplus of workers competing for those jobs. Relatively low supply against relatively high demand. Charedi women operate within a range of limitations that significantly narrow the scope of jobs available to them. Truncated supply increases workers’ demand for relevant, appropriate jobs, leading to a decline in the level of pay. This framework is not a “market failure”; there is no monopoly eliminating robust competition, nor is there any other external distortion of the marketplace. Limitations that the Charedi community chooses to adopt for its own members do not cause a market failure. The market is free and open. When the group limits its own options, the market reacts in turn. The resultant limited supply and high demand translates into market value.
One of the main factors contributing to the relatively lower wages of Charedi women is the short supply of desirable jobs, creating a surplus of workers competing for those jobs. Relatively low supply against relatively high demand
Below is a list of the limitations that Charedi community chooses to contend with, and which have significant consequences for the labor market:
Limited mobility: Many Charedi women do not have a driver’s license or own a vehicle, and their ability to travel from home to work and back relies on public transportation systems. Economic distress is not at fault here. It is simply not customary for women to drive in many Charedi communities (mostly, but certainly not exclusively, Chassidic ones).
Dependence on public transportation limits the mobility of the Charedi woman. Further compounding this challenge is the fact that public bus services often do not run between Charedi concentrations and major commercial centers of the country (metropolitan Tel Aviv). As a result, the mere number of jobs physically accessible to the non-Charedi woman is much greater than those within reach of her Charedi counterpart. One woman can leave home in her private car and arrive at work in thirty or forty minutes, while the other must take three buses to reach the same place.
Both realities – Charedi women not driving and the absence of robust public transit between Charedi concentrations and commercial hubs – are value-based societal choices. This article is not examining or questioning those choices. It merely points out that those choices have costs. For our purposes, the direct cost of limited transportation options is a fixed spike in the demand for work within or close to Charedi cities. The great supply of workers seeking those jobs will perforce bring down pay levels.
Appropriate work environment. For a variety of reasons, many Charedi women are uncomfortable with and do not wish to work in a secular environment. At the same time, Charedi work settings are relatively few. This leads of course to high demand for the limited number of jobs in those Charedi companies and institutions that provide the appropriate environment. Bottom line once again: the high demand for a limited supply of jobs brings down wage levels.
As above, this is a feature of the marketplace, not a “bug” or system failure. Charedi women willing to work in secular workplaces will likely earn a salary very comparable to that of their non-Charedi peers. True, a Charedi woman may have a harder time finding such a position than her non-Charedi counterpart. All things – credentials, resume, etc. – being equal, an employer may simply prefer to hire someone who seems more familiar, i.e. a secular person, rather than employ a Charedi woman who appears to have landed in his office from a different planet (and he might not, for reasons of diversity, or because he believes Charedi women are great workers – each has his own considerations). Yet once hired, a Charedi woman’s pay in a regular firm will usually be on par with that of others in her company serving a similar role. The technology sector is a prime example of the above. Pay for Charedi women working in Charedi technology firms is significantly lower than the industry average. By contrast, Charedi women integrated into secular companies do not earn less than others.
Here, too, if left alone the market will function as it should. Given sufficient demand for workers in the technology space (which is true of the general job market in Israel), employers will hire anyone qualified and willing to do the job, regardless of whether the prospective employee is religious or secular, Jew or Arab, man or woman. Business owners have work that needs to get done. But many Charedi women are unwilling to work in such a setting and will only work at firms that cater specifically to Charedi women. Such opportunities are relatively few when compared to demand in the broader market, resulting in a race to the bottom. Is it any wonder that employers in the few companies with dedicated programs for Charedi women can find diligent workers at almost any salary?
Limited professional training. Treatment of our topic would not be complete without acknowledging the limitations of the Charedi training programs. While there has been a recent boom of professional training programs, many Charedi women are still not competing on a level playing field with members of the general public. Thousands of young women enroll each year in the few options offered by the [post-high school] seminars. These boil down to (mediocre-level) programming or accounting for students inclined towards the sciences; graphic design or architecture for those with an aesthetic flair; teaching for the education-minded; alongside a very limited number of additional options. Needless to say, the limited areas of employment increases competition for each available position in those fields.
Much ink has been spilled exploring the “right” level of professional training in Charedi girls’ schools, which I will not address directly in the present article. But an important point, with significant implications for our discussion, must be recognized. The Charedi post-high school seminaries are not accredited to award their graduates academic degrees. Young women who successfully graduate a professional training programs offered over two post-high school years at most Charedi seminaries earn a certificate attesting completion of a vocational training program. To be sure, these tracks are created this way by design and as a matter of principle. A host of spiritual and educational values are at play here. The result: significant reduction in the scope and level of the education, even within the subjects that are being offered.
Charedi seminaries do not offer pre-med subjects such as biology, chemistry, and physics; nor do they allow nursing programs or accreditation of any profession requiring an academic degree. Moreover, the certificate programs on offer cannot be compared with full academic degrees. The architecture track in a Charedi seminary will confer upon its graduates a “building engineer” certificate recognized by the government regulating agency, the [Israeli] Government Institute for Technology and Sciences Training. But a building engineer license is a far cry from a full degree in architecture. The latter requires five intensive years of study at an accredited, degree-granting, academic institution. The same is true for the accounting track. Training offered at a Charedi seminary includes partial preparation for the Accountants Council exams, successful passing of which is required for an accounting license. By contrast, most prospective accountants complete an academic degree in accounting and business administration as a matter of course prior to sitting for the exams. Similarly, the programming track is a certificate program, duly recognized by the Government Institute for Technology and Sciences Training. But this is certainly not a computer science degree.
Charedi seminaries do not offer pre-med subjects such as biology, chemistry, and physics; nor do they allow nursing programs or accreditation of any profession requiring an academic degree. Moreover, the certificate programs on offer cannot be compared with full academic degrees.
The community pays a price for the narrower range and level of educational options. When hundreds of engineers or architects are released into one small market within a few short years, supply outpaces demand and wages will drop sharply. An employer choosing between a potential worker who graduated from a recognized academic institution, and one holding a professional certificate, is more likely to offer a job, and pay a higher wage, to the former. This is not discrimination. These are the rules of the marketplace. Competition between candidates brings down the price of labor, not the employers. A Charedi architect wished to hire an engineer as a drafter. To this end, he put out an ad, and swiftly had twenty respondents. He was ready to hire the first candidate he interviewed, offering her a (modest) monthly salary of 8,000 NIS, and she was willing to sign. But a similarly credentialed young woman was sitting outside in the waiting room; she was willing to work for 7,500 NIS. Why should he pay more? He runs a business, not a charity. In the end, he chose the most talented candidate and paid her (a meagre) 6,000 NIS.
In an interview on the Kol Hai radio station on July 6, 2015, Minister of Economics Aryeh Deri made this point. Matrix, an outsourcing firm supplying programming services, was accused at the time of exploitating and discriminating against the many young Charedi women it employed. “I suggest we not throw out the baby with the bathwater,” Deri said. “We need to remember that there are many [Charedi job seekers]. Not every [employer] is interested in making special accommodations, to take people without experience and without academic degrees, and to create a workplace that is compatible with their way of life… Those who do this today – if we come out against them, we will be left with nothing.”
Absolute necessity. Another factor affecting the low pay of the Charedi woman is the degree to which she needs a job. In our imaginary market above, when Uriah offered his fellow townsfolk half a Pruta, none wanted to work for him. They were not so desperate for the money, and, at the wage offered, preferred to putter about and tend to their private affairs. But what would happen if one of them had a sick wife, God forbid, and needed to buy her medicine from the apothecary in the nearby village? Desperate for money, it is likely that he would be willing to work even for half a Pruta.
In the general public, a 24-year old single woman is usually free of burdens. She only needs to look after herself. By contrast, a 24-year old Charedi woman may be a mother of three children whose husband is in kollel. She is under much greater pressure to find a job, and, consequently, is willing to work even for lower pay. A woman in the general public could tell herself: I didn’t study for four years just to earn 1,000 NIS more than a cashier. But a Charedi woman is much more likely to jump at the extra 1,000 NIS. Her demand for work is almost limitless. Under such circumstances, the fact that her employer pays her less is not “exploitation” but a simple consequence of her willingness to work for less. Finding a good deal is not exploitation. None of us would pay 60 NIS an hour for cleaning help if the same work can be secured for 40 NIS an hour. We simply prefer to pay less if we can, and our hypothetical business owner is no different.
Thus far I have identified several factors that affect the employment opportunities of Charedi women and which may contribute to bringing their pay below the market average. Attempts to raise the salaries of Charedi women must take these considerations into account. Constraints on their mobility, a desire to work in a Charedi or all female environment, the narrow range of professions commonly taught in Charedi institutions, inferior professional training, atop a heavy burden to provide (often as the sole breadwinner for a large family), are all very real and determinant factors.
Those who seek to raise the wage of Charedi women must consider how to confront the market conditions Charedi women face, without harming their way of life. First and foremost, one must note that notwithstanding their willingness to work for relatively lower wages, prospective employers are not rushing to hire Charedi women. In economic terms, it seems that the reduced wages correspond to reduced output. The marginal benefit to a business owner from hiring relatively cheaper workers is not great enough to compensate for reduced productivity nor incentivize such employers to prefer the Charedi woman over a non-Charedi worker. Thus, efforts to force employers to pay Charedi women higher salaries will not encourage businesses to open employment centers for Charedi women. The opposite is actually the case.
To improve the conditions of Charedi women, one must address the constraints outlined above. We should look to increase the supply of jobs available to them, increase their productivity with better training, and improve their bargaining position by reducing the economic pressure they face. So long as the Charedi woman is desperate for work, much more so than the employer is desperate to hire her, she will be willing to work at almost any price.
So long as the Charedi woman is desperate for work, much more so than the employer is desperate to hire her, she will be willing to work at almost any price.
The rest of this article will focus on the most important factor of our discussion, one that people tend to either ignore or deny for various reasons. Specifically, whenever a Charedi woman (really any woman) shows up for a work interview, an invisible elephant is present in the room – or rather a baby. Not the baby from Minister Deri’s bathtub, but a real baby. Much as one may wish to ignore this simple fact of nature, the reality is that the Creator assigned women the biological role of bringing children into the world. No one can do it for them. Bringing children into the world and raising a large family are difficult tasks, all of which require time, effort, and physical and psychological resources. These must be taken into account for purposes of our discussion.
“I finally took on a male worker,” I was told by a colleague, a Chassidic woman who owns a small business. She had previously only employed Charedi women as a matter of pride and principle.
Until she caved.
“I didn’t have a choice,” she explained. “I have seven female workers. At any given time two of them are before or after birth. The child is sick, the baby has an ear infection, or the kindergarten called that the daughter needs to be picked up. I couldn’t handle it any longer. I took on a male worker. The man sits and works from eight to five. He doesn’t go out for doctor’s visits or to pick up his daughter. There are no mandatory leaves or children’s illnesses. He just works.”
My friend articulated simple and obvious points, realities that should be familiar to everyone, but ones that nobody wants to talk about openly. The true cost of employing young women who are mothers of children, is, in fact, usually higher for the employer. True, net salary may be lower, but there are many other costs the employer must absorb. In addition, the productivity of women during childbearing years can be lower than that of their male colleagues. It is the employer who must bear all these consequences. Let us consider a case study, based on facts on the ground, to demonstrate the costs to an employer associated with an employee giving birth.
Brachi is a Charedi graphic artist who works eight hours a day and earns 6,720 NIS a month. Brachi and her husband are, thank God, expecting their first son. During her pregnancy, Brachi is absent from work for a total of 30 hours for doctor’s visits, tests, and sonograms. Happily, all is well. A pregnant woman is entitled by law to 40 hours paid absence from work over the course of her pregnancy. Cost to Brachi’s employer: 1,200 NIS.
It is no secret that women may be weaker during pregnancy. Whether the cause is morning sickness, exhaustion, or pain, their productivity is often impacted. And yet for some reason, it is a crime for an employer to say so out loud.
During the weeks leading up to her due date, Brachi begins working alongside a substitute who will fill in for her while she’s on maternity leave. The substitute is paid 2,500 NIS (gross) for those two weeks. Throughout the three months of maternity leave, the employer must continue to set aside 12.5% towards Brachi’s pension contributions, totaling 2,700 NIS. (Brachi will refund the employee contribution when she returns to work, but the employer portion will not be returned).
Three months pass, and our new mother comes back to work! A small party takes place in the office celebrating Brachi’s return. But Brachi now works for only seven hours each day. The extra hour, legally provided as time for nursing, must be paid by the employer. The owner sees no output for this hour of compensation, which amounts to 840 NIS gross per month, equaling a sum of 3,360 NIS for four months.
In sum, Brachi’s employer paid during this period more than 11,000 NIS (!) for the pregnancy and birth of his loyal employee, all aside from losing her actual work output. If she is a good and reliable worker, perhaps he bears these costs happily and gratefully. But still, these costs come straight from his bottom line; he receives nothing in exchange for these payments. Moreover, he must also face the clients who don’t understand why the substitute doesn’t have their presentation ready on time.
It is no secret that women may be weaker during pregnancy. Whether the cause is morning sickness, exhaustion, or pain, their productivity is often impacted. As women we all know this, and we all recognize the effort and sacrifice required to maintain a household and keep a full-time job during this period. And yet for some reason, it is a crime for an employer to say so out loud. Many employers are happy to accommodate their pregnant employees whenever possible and give them allowances not extended to other staff. Ultimately, however, the employer is not just a good person, but also the manager of a business. He must make sure his business is viable and clients properly served. He can only run his business effectively when he can rely on his workers’ output. And the honest truth is that pregnant women often produce much less.
Aside from disruptions associated with pregnancy and birth as such, along with motherhood often comes an overall reduction in the worker’s productivity. The accepted norm in Charedi (and general…) society is that mothers handle the needs of the household and attend to young children more than fathers do. Mothers of young children must often miss work due to a child’s illness, school function, or simply the vacation schedule. Many cannot or would not work overtime, opting to care for their children and raise them themselves rather than rely on outside help.
We must acknowledge that a Charedi woman, with all her wonderful traits, great integrity, and excellent skills, is often weaker manpower. She may be diligent, stable, and loyal, but she does not give her all to the workplace. She can’t and she doesn’t want to. Her heart, soul, and energy are claimed first and foremost by her family. Not her employer. This reality translates into her reduced economic value in the job market.
We must acknowledge that a Charedi woman, with all her wonderful traits, great integrity, and excellent skills, is often weaker manpower. She may be diligent, stable, and loyal, but she does not give her all to the workplace.
Some may insist that this is a cruel approach. Employers should be considerate of their workers and happily incur the costs associated with their growing families. But the free market is not driven by mercy or compassion. A market is a place where things are traded; cost and benefit are the relevant factors, not goodwill. We may expect or even demand consideration from a specific employer for a specific worker in a specific case, but the economy overall does not have the capacity to be compassionate or considerate.
The rules of the market are not cruel. They are fair. Once we accept the rules of the game, we pave the way for fairer and healthier relations between the two actors in the labor market, the buyer and the seller – an employer purchasing labor, and the workers who sell it. Recognizing the price business owners are likely to pay for employing young Charedi women will allow for an open and inclusive dialogue, in which all parties’ interests are represented and considered.
The Energetic Legislator
A legislator sees that young mothers – not necessarily Charedi ones, but young mothers as such – have difficulty integrating into the workforce, so he pursues various protections: “If there is discrimination,” the legislator declares, “let us correct it with affirmative legislation.” We will require that employers provide new mothers 124 hours of paid absence (40 hours of tests followed by 84 hours of nursing). We will protect them from being fired for long periods. We will pass additional regulations and mandates governing employment of women.
So it was. A laundry list of legislation is duly passed, with the goal of protecting women during and after pregnancy. Labor laws, especially those addressing female employees, are very logical and humane. They seek to help the women during those times when she is weaker and prevent harm to her livelihood. But the direct cost of those laws is felt solely by the employer.
Every law that favors mothers works to the detriment of employers. Every additional mandated absence must be paid out of his pocket. Every day added to the period during which he cannot fire her costs him money. Every added week of maternity leave is another week of calls from angry flients waiting for the regular worker to return.
Every law that favors mothers works to the detriment of employers. Every additional mandated absence must be paid out of his pocket. Every
“If so, why bother?” Employers, logically, will often turn to a safer option. Better to employ men or women who are not young mothers. Why risk taking on a worker they cannot fire? Why hire a worker that will cost more and produce less? If an employer does choose to hire a young Charedi mother, it stands to reason that he will sometimes try to recoup these additional costs in the form of lower pay.
What does our legislator do? He sets up another committee against discrimination, initiates new legislation forcing employers to pay beyond what’s worthwhile, and establishes new mandates ensuring that employers cannot evade any of the above.
To take another example, assume that people who are mentally disabled receive 10 NIS an hour for work in a given country. Many employers are happy to employ a disabled worker and thereby contribute to society. Comes along the populist legislator, looking to be seen as a protector of the weak, and yells from the rooftops, “We must equalize the wages of the disabled. After all, is their fault that they are disabled?” He calls for the disabled to “earn a dignified living!” and passes a law that 30 NIS an hour must be paid to all, even to a disabled worker. Heading home happy and satisfied, he stops along the way for an interview with the local press, pointing at his great efforts on behalf of the disadvantaged.
But what happens the next day? Lo and behold, employers stop hiring disabled workers. Why hire a disabled worker for the same price as a non-disabled individual? It is not profitable or economically sound and certainly no way to run a business. Comes along the next legislator and mandates that every business must employ a fixed number of disabled people. Will that solve the problem? Of course not. This will just bring down the motivation of people to employ those workers and suppress employment overall. Not to mention that it is simply impossible to enforce such a law. I fear we are heading in the same direction when it comes to employing women in general, and Charedi women in particular.
Bearing children is of course no disability. Women have the amazing ability to bring new life into the world. But we need to recognize that this magical role can affect our work output. The solution is not more legislation. Rather than being a fence protecting women in the workplace, too much legislation can turn into a barbed wire barrier preventing us from attaining the best jobs we are suited for. My own customers have shared with me their hesitation to hire young Charedi women. “I will never be able to fire her,” they say with concern. “And besides, within a year she will be out on maternity leave and I will have to absorb the costs.”
This article is not an appeal to legislators. It appeals first and foremost to my friends, Charedi women. It suggests that they change their self-image. Let us stand tall, lift our heads, and recognize that if we are paid less it is not because our work is less valued or we are less respected. Our lower pay is the costs of our choices, wise and good choices, but ones that have economic results.
Acknowledging the harsh realities of the marketplace will result in healthier relations between Charedi workers and their current and prospective employers. Charedi workers should remember that devotion to their families and commitment to religious ideals detract nothing from their human value – on the contrary, they have tremendous value – but they do have a cost in the labor market. This recognition can in turn encourage employers to understand and better consider the needs of their Charedi hires. Wage expectations will adjust and work relations will be fair.
Let us stand tall, lift our heads, and recognize that if we are paid less it is not because our work is less valued or we are less respected. Our lower pay is the costs of our choices, wise and good choices, but ones that have economic results.
People are not generally ashamed to shop for goods and services they need; nor do they feel discriminated against when they pay the appropriate price. If you bought a washing machine, chances are you paid something like two thousand shekels. When you buy a new car, you’ll need to budget for eighty thousand shekels at the very least.
And if you bought a child?
Women of childbearing age may be “worth less” in the job market. Their output may be reduced, though there are many women who manage to juggle the double burden. All the same, their cost to the employer is higher. As an accountant and mother of small children, I produce far less than my peers of a similar age with identical resumes who are not married and not mothers. This is the reality and its price. Reality cannot be negotiated or bargained against.
The cost may prove too high in some cases. But these are the rules of the market. A Charedi woman’s labor is priced according to precisely the same terms as the labor of other workers in the market. It all depends on the market, on demand and on supply. While we work to raise the pay of Charedi women by adding to their job options and improve their productivity, we must also eliminate the image of the poor, exploited Charedi worker.
I have full confidence in the power of words and terminology. We are not oppressed or exploited. We stand tall. Our cart, the one referred to by the Chazon Ish, is full. It is full of diamonds. Costly ones.