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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Rachel Silvera. « Une pure discrimination »

by Mina Kaci

Rachel Silvera: “Pure discrimination”

Translated Saturday 21 August 2010, by Helen Robertshaw and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Economist and lecturer at Paris-X University, Rachel Silvera believes that employers suspect women of not attaching enough importance to their jobs.

HUMA: What is your reaction to the judgement delivered by the Appeals Court in favour of an employee discriminated against compared to her male colleagues?

Rachel Silvera: It’s a very significant decision. This employee’s case has been dragging on for several years and an initial legal decision hadn’t been in her favour. As human resources manager, she wasn’t entitled to be appointed a director, whereas the men she worked with were all computer sales directors. However, she worked the same hours, had the same responsibilities and was part of the same management committee. But her role couldn’t be considered of comparable value, even though it was identical. As a result, she had a salary difference of around €20,000 per year.

The Appeals Court’s new decision sets the record straight. It dispels the business argument that jobs like human resources management, marketing or communications don’t bring any added value. The reality is that companies couldn’t function without these jobs. Most predominantly female jobs are in these areas, where the women reach executive level.

HUMA: Is this decision by the Appeals Court a first?

RS: There have been many European decisions of this kind. In France, there has already been a similar case. But until now, it concerned mainly women who were not executives. We can therefore consider that for these women, the Appeals Court’s decision represents a considerable advance. I hope there will be a snowball effect. I know that the HALDE (High Authority for the Fight Against Discrimination and For Equality) has several ongoing cases; it wants to back this line of action if the government gives it the means to do so, for the HALDE can help and act as intermediary in this type of matter.

HUMA: How do you explain the fact that, on average, men earn 17% more than women who haven’t interrupted their career for family reasons, as shown in a study by OFCE (French Economic Observatory)?

RS: This study shows there is real discrimination, which goes beyond the pay differential due to career breaks associated with motherhood or working part-time. There is indirect discrimination in the sense that it’s not just motherhood that holds women back in their careers. There is a suspicion on the part of employers that leads them not to give women the same responsibilities as men, not to promote them in the same way because employers imagine that women will have children and therefore won’t be available. Where older women are concerned, employers immediately think that they will be needed to care for their parents. Employers will always have this connection in mind even when there is none or it isn’t proven. It really is pure discrimination.

HUMA: Do you think there is social tolerance towards inequality between the sexes?

RS: I’m convinced of it. People still consider women’s salaries as secondary incomes, so they think it’s not the end of the world if they’re paid less than men. Social tolerance is all the greater when it comes to disadvantaged women. People are indifferent to the fact that these people may have very short working hours and appalling working conditions. There are still very few negotiations in companies. People talk of threatening sanctions without putting words into action.

Rachel Silvera is co-author, along with Séverine Lemière, of “Comparer les emplois entre les femmes et les hommes: de nouvelles pistes vers l’égalité salariale, Documentation française” (“Comparing Women’s and Men’s Jobs: New Paths Towards Pay Equality, French research”).

Interview by Mina Kaci

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