Iranian women face uphill battle toward equal pay

Bourse and Bazaar | Maziar Motamedi: In recent months, longstanding social issues Iran have taken a back seat to major economic challenges such as a sliding national currency, rampant corruption, and the return of sanctions. But social inequality has an economic cost too as proven by the gender pay gap and disparity in work opportunities for men and women in Iran.

According to data compiled by IranSalary, the country’s first specialized online platform for remunerations, Iranian women earned 27 percent less on average than their male counterparts in the previous Iranian year (ended March 2018). The wage gap has widened in recent years, rising from an average of 23 percent three years ago.

World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report put Iran at a dismal rank of 140 in 2017, only ahead of Chad, Pakistan, Syria, and Yemen. Iran ranked 108 in 2006 among 115 nations. Iran’s worst-performing index in 2017 was “economic participation and opportunity”.

IranTalent, a leading jobs website and parent company of IranSalary, began collecting and publishing detailed data on Iran’s employment market five years ago. Its statistical sample was initially around 30,000 people and has since grown to over 130,000 in its latest report.

“The thing that really spread in the press and in other circles from the very first year was the income gap,” Aseyeh Hatami, the founder of IranTalent and IranSalary told Bourse & Bazaar. “Before that nobody had really examined this issue and hardly any awareness had been promoted around it”.

“There are no written laws in Iran saying men have the right to earn more than women,” she pointed out, but added that at the same time there are no laws that actively protect women’s right for equal remuneration.

IranSalary’s figures offer interesting insights into Iran’s work environment. For instance, the wage gap increases with seniority. The few women who manage to climb their way up to a management position in a male-dominated system find that they earn as much as 47 percent less than male managers.

According to Hatami, the private sector is responsible for the majority of the gender pay gap in Iran’s labor market. That is not to say, however, that governments have been champions of equal pay. The reason behind their less significant role in widening the pay gap is that they have simply employed fewer women, especially in the higher echelons.

State-run companies are much less equal in dispersing job opportunities—just 25 percent of employees in state enterprises are women. That rate stands at 34 percent and 38 percent among private sector and foreign firms respectively.

Another useful indicator in IranSalary numbers was the size of companies. Larger companies in Iran contribute to inequality—only 17 percent of their high-ranking managers are women. These companies are reluctant to admit their failure. “Even in our interviews with the big companies they said [the disparity] is not true and the reason behind the disparity is that men mostly earn more through overtime work since they take it on more than women,” Hatami said, stressing that their data clearly signals otherwise.

On the other hand, she said figures show that married people are earning more than single workers, mostly since they employ their negotiating powers more.

On the whole, Iran suffers from a lack of transparent and comprehensive data across all its sectors. The job market is no different. IranTalent has managed to establish its reputation by gathering more than one million profiles from employers and employees.

The firm’s CEO says it can help women and all jobskeers, leveraging this data to show them their potential professional trajectory in relation to their educational degree. “One major problem is that people don’t even know what they can do in the future with the degree they’re holding.”

For example, only 40 percent of people studying law actually become attorneys and legal counselors. Knowing that information will help Iranians—both men and women—carve out a better career path, Hatami hopes.

But what can be done to rectify the situation of the gender pay gap? Hatami does not hold out much hope for a major cultural shift both among officials and private sector employers, at least not in the short term. She points out that some hardliners in Iran still say women should not even be allowed to work.

She has felt the sting herself as well. “Most people are surprised the first time they find out the CEO of IranTalent is a woman”. But she says she is sure that as women increasingly enter the work field, they bring positive change with them.

“We must work to create a more open and accepting culture that pays better attention to women’s potential. But most importantly, women must start believing in themselves and negotiate for higher salaries when they are applying for a job,” Hatami said.

She has not mounted an equality program in her company, but says they have managed parity through holding a simple view when taking on employees. For Hatami, “Talent and capabilities have always been central, not gender.”