COVID-19 Outbreak “Wake-up Call” on Equal Pay

April 14, 2020

Hiba Akroush achieved pay parity after UNDP training

The progress in closing the gender pay gap is at risk of being reversed by the outbreak of coronavirus, but women in Jordan who have made equal pay to men, reflect during quarantine and say the time is now to bring the discussion of equal pay. Women take time off work to care for others and the low-paid sectors they occupy cut back hours and employment.

For Dareen Hanash, a software engineer, the gender pay gap was an issue of the past where she gained equal pay as men working in coding technology. Yet, she wants to continue keeping the equal pay for all conversation moving forward – more so after the break of COVID19.

The gender pay gap remains at the centre of efforts to achieve gender equality. In Jordan, this issue persists in the tech sector despite recent pushes for gender pay parity. The pay gap between men’s and women’s salaries subsists even when other important factors such as experience, managerial roles, education and location are accounted for.

Jordan ranks 138 out of 153 countries on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index of 2020 with respect to women's economic participation and opportunities, with 2019 seeing a 28.9 per cent unemployment rate for women, according to Sisterhood is Global Institute latest report.

Dareen faced inequality of pay in two jobs at IT companies where she was getting “a considerably smaller” salary than her male colleagues.

“When I protested against this they said my male colleagues were responsible for the livelihoods of their families and that they deserve a higher wage,” she said.

Recent World Bank research in Jordan noted inequalities in salaries, annual raises and promotions. It found that evident in the private sector, where men will earn as much as 40 per cent more than women for the same job. 

“While the gender-based pay gap is less in the public sector it is still high at 28 per cent,” the study concluded.

Dareen had almost given up on her dream to become a successful programmer. After graduating college with a degree in Computer Information Systems, she juggled many jobs that were not contributing to her career path and she ended up working as a photographer.

“I worked in several companies. I didn’t see any career development, I was over-worked and underpaid. What I studied at university was vastly different from what was needed in the workforce. I thought I was going to learn modern programming at work, but that also never happened,” she said.

A Fresh Start

It was not until Dareen heard from a friend of her about an intensive tech-training course that her life took a turn in a course that’s she always dreamed of. Soon after, she was part of the first batch of a bootcamp financed by UNDP in partnership with Finland to empower women to become “market-ready” software engineers.

During the four-month bootcamp, this young software engineer learned crucial software programming skills in order to build and deploy production-grade web applications. Most importantly, she was also equipped with strong Soft Skills including interpersonal communication and soft skills such as effective communication, active listening, taking and giving constructive criticism, consensus-building and collaboration.

Upon graduating, Dareen felt “confident enough” to apply for international software companies.

“Before the programme, I did not apply for jobs in leading software companies as I felt my skills were shy of getting me a job at such places,” she said, as she paused  “After the training, I applied to so many companies, where I started to get job offers,” she smiled.

Dareen now is a programmer at Britecore, an international software company that developed a fully-managed core platform for property and casualty insurers. She boasts that this job is what her dream looked like. She continues to dream of a brighter future in software engineering.

Yet, she recognized the grim reminder that the majority of women in tech get paid less than men doing the same job. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic continue to deepen economic crises globally, Dareen believes it is important to discuss and encourage pay parity and prevent pay gaps from deepening.

The women-in-software-engineering Programme trained a group of 30 vulnerable women and provided them with income-generating opportunities and access to the market through improving high-demand digital skills, with a focus on computer programming. This intervention focused on women in Zarqa and Mafraq, two governorates that have been facing adverse economic effects of the influx of refugees.

Women Work, Economy Grows

For Hiba Akroush, another graduate of the UNDP-Finland financed women software engineers bootcamp, the training enabled her to get a job where she and her male colleagues receive equal pay for the same jobs.

“I’m a feminist and I feel unhappy that pay gaps still exist in the workforce where women hold the same responsibilities, if not more, than men but are not paid exactly the same,” she said.

The International Labour Organization found that men working in Jordan’s private sector earn an average of 41 per cent more than women. In the public sector, the study by the ILO noted that men earn about 28 per cent more. It also found that the pay gap in manufacturing is 41.3 per cent; in health and social work, 27.9 per cent and 24.5 per cent in education.

“Discrimination also extends to non-wage benefits such as health insurance and paid expenses – which many women are not entitled to. Also, many employers do not provide maternity leave, forcing women to take long career breaks, leading them to fall behind in pay and promotion,” the study added.

For Hiba, an industrial engineer by education, getting a job in the IT sector was difficult until she received the training that UNDP and Finland financed.

“I was getting very frustrated. I studied something I didn’t want and worked in jobs that I didn’t like, for years,” she said.

Hiba took one course in programming at university and since then, she was captivated.

“I started telling everyone I knew that programming is what I actually want to do. A friend had heard about the tech-bootcamp, and I applied immediately,” she added.

This young software engineer was absorbed in the intensive, hands-on training she received at the technology bootcamp and was immediately hired after graduating at global travel tech-giant Expedia.

“That was one of the most beautiful experiences in my life and a turning point that I waited years for,” she said.

Hiba just received a promotion at work. She dreams of advancing her career and “hacking her way further into success.”

This UNDP project has addressed gender inequalities in the labour market and gender wage gaps in Jordan, focusing on Syrian and Jordanian young women.