The coronavirus has triggered more profound changes than we could ever have imagined. It has reassembled the fundamental cognitive structures of the human brain. Different priorities are emerging in our thinking rather than drawing on timeworn prejudices, as had been the case since the Stone Age in order to leave energy free for speedy responses to assaults from sabre-toothed tigers. Our brains are looking for something fresh and unfamiliar. The new mantra proclaims: “Even if we’ve always done it this way – isn't there another option that will make us a stronger society and keep everyone happier, instead of just making a handful of people richer?”
It is amazing what has suddenly become possible. Basic child allowance, a universal basic income – both already adopted in summer 2022. At higher levels than originally envisaged. Despite the war in Ukraine and subsidies intended to keep the economic wheels turning. That’s also thanks to a sudden awareness on the part of the ten percent super-rich Germans that having a fourth yacht moored in Monaco doesn’t make them any happier. Even corporate leaders realise tax fraud is tantamount to a declaration of social bankruptcy. Fiddling your taxes does not go down well with consumers, who no longer have to buy at rock-bottom prices thanks to the universal basic income. “Sustainability” is no longer a hip buzzword that seems to mean “unaffordable for ordinary people”, but a matter of course for all production chains.
Business and politics have apparently adopted a broader perspective. Actually, it’s crystal clear: if people are earning, they will consume more. In order to ensure economic stimulus again in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and high inflation, women and men must receive equal pay for equal work of equal value. In negotiations, the two sides of industry have finally defined what constitutes “work of equal value” and agree on appropriate collective agreements. The four gender-neutral criteria laid out in the Comparable Worth Index are applied to all industries and occupations. As a result, preschool teachers receive the same salary as electrical engineers. The gender pay gap is narrowed by ten percentage points.
Equality will be put into practice before the end of the decade in Germany. That is thanks to decisive implementation of two laws that already exist in a very weakened, watered-down form: The Act on Equal Participation of Women and Men in Executive Positions in the Private and Public Sector (also referred to by its German acronym FüPoG) will be extended to all listed companies with parity-based co-determination and will apply to the supervisory board and executive board, as well as to the first and second tiers of management. Penalties for non-compliance are foreseen. It is clear that corporate culture will only change if competitors fear penalties for non-adherence with the changed provisions. There is also a tight timetable stipulating the schedule for companies to implement particular quotas. Thanks to clear messaging, the business community seizes the opportunity and implements this legislation.
Improvements are also being made to the Pay Transparency Act. The standardised, certified test criteria quickly reveal whether and where wage discrimination exists in companies. The legislation’s impact is further boosted as it now also applies to companies with fewer than 200 employees – the type of firm in which mainly women work. From this point, people begin talking about money – with friends, colleagues and their bosses.
The gender pay gap is narrowed by another five percentage points.
The residual gender pay gap vanishes when companies realise unpaid care work helps fund the economy as a kind of shadow economy. Interruptions in working life to take on unpaid care responsibilities (still primarily found among women in summer 2022) are no longer seen as a “gap” or “time-out” in career paths, but rather as further training for leadership positions. By now, parents receive not just three but seven non-transferable months of paid parental leave. This means both parents take the same amount of such leave. Companies can adjust easily and are glad that their female employees return to the workplace more quickly rather than taking on the lion’s share of unpaid care work. That is a huge advantage in an era of skills shortages.
Traditional stereotypes about roles – the sabre-toothed tigers of our era – have become extinct. Girls fall in love with maths and boys with care work. Parental leave grounded in parity demonstrates that family care work is neither female-dominated nor hostile to men. And women in STEM professions? Women in leadership positions? That’s just normal.
Uta Zech, actress and advertising executive, owner of the agency Zech Dombrowsky Design, presents panel discussions and conferences, taught for 15 years at the Filmschauspielschule Berlin, and has been President of Business and Professional Women (BPW) Germany e.V. since June 2016.