New Zealand is taking this issue by the horns, passing legislation toward more equal pay. I recently saw someone comment on how this is an example of why we need women in government. I'm not arguing against the value of having women in government, but I think it's hyper-simplistic both to think that policy is the answer to the equal pay issue, or that women only in government can influence this issue. True culture change involves changes throughout systems, in all sectors, at all levels. And throwing a policy change over the wall leaves companies in a hard place.
A policy change doesn't magically give companies more money, after building business models that are admittedly less-than-ideal by often not budgeting for equal pay for men and women. But the issue there is not first the money, it's first the mindset -- the lens, the perspective.
When my kids were small, it hit me that we were willing to pay a young man a certain amount for yard work but only paid babysitters a pittance to care for the most important part of our lives. This was quite shocking to come to realize. But that experience, at that small scale, also gave me appreciation for the fact that most systems are not currently set up to make significant budget changes. When my kids were little, we *couldn't* pay babysitters per hour as much as we paid for yard work, because the former required more time and our budget was very, very tight there for a while. So I had to sit in the inequality for a while until our budget freed up, and then I tried to make changes in our choices so as to reflect more equality and more of what we valued.
Still, the awareness -- coming awake to the faulty layers under our budget/expense choices -- laid the foundation for changes I made later in how I approached things as our budget freed up. If we want to equalize pay for women, the money has to be taken from somewhere else but budgets are usually very tight and set around traditional ways of doing things. (That's a whole other topic. COVID has revealed how overextended most business models are. Too many businesses plan for the very edge of their hoped-for income, rather than building models that are modest, less built around debt, and more respectful of the limits of human resources.)
I don't see people talking about this in a practical sense. A government making a decision that pay for a certain field must go up doesn't connect to, "OK, where is that money going to come from?" In my view, those best poised to make more immediate change in culture are first parents -- who can be sure that their own lenses at home are not somehow creating false inequalities in their homes. Children can also be taught to seek training and education that will help them be prepared to contribute well to their workplaces, and can be taught things like negotiation skills.
Women and men in the business world, especially those who are starting out as leaders in innovative companies and other organizations, can establish models, budgets, and plans that embed equality into their structures from the get-go (without imposing it, meaning not all companies are going to have equal numbers of men and women because not all women will be seeking full-time work, and that needs to be valued, too).
Educators can help teach simple principles of equality so that as students are trained in things like financial management, business, etc. they can be aware of the need for equal pay.
It doesn't make sense to me to punish existing companies as New Zealand seems to be proposing. Making legal claims against a company may only hinder that company's ability to pay. I think there are better ways we could bring cultural change. They will take longer, perhaps, but the best change is patient, not choosing expediency over paying the price for the kinds of perspective and systems changes that are needed for change to stick. They need time to make changes to policies, budgets, cost models, etc. And we have to also realize that such demands may make the cost of consumer goods go up. Nothing comes without impacting other parts of the system.
My last thought is that women can change culture in how we teach at home, in schools, etc. as well -- in places where women have traditionally more influence. I hope we never lose site of how important women are to families first and foremost. Yes, we need the voices of women in other places, but true impact can't be measured without considering what strong homes do for society.
Beyond that, where women are in other spheres, they can also have an impact. Women in business can patiently share their voices. I think in particular of women in smaller companies where decisions are being made from the get-go and the ground up. It's easier to establish good policy than to try to change it in already-established systems. Equal pay for women is a great objective.
Women in government is a great objective (although, again, I'm not one for forcing quotas of equal women as full-time workers, as society needs our homes to be strong, and that can often include having one parent working less than the other), but let's not wait for policy changes or more female governmental leaders to start first to look at our own assumptions in our own little worlds, and to also encourage and engage in teaching practical principles.
We can do this without playing the "women as victim" card which often is associated with activism for gender equality. Women, right now, can have an influence in the larger culture simply by taking a look at how and where they can raise awareness of when and where inequalities exist -- within their own spheres of influence. Cultural change can be influenced in all sectors, and women have lots of influence. We can teach simple principles of what makes sense (equal pay makes sense at the basic level), and look for biases in our own living. But let's do it all with wisdom and order and patience and grace. Change takes time.