the gender wage gap: are we making progress on gender parity at work?

In 2015 praise for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s gender-equal cabinet was splashed across international headlines. When asked why he made the decision to go with a 50/50 gender split in his cabinet, Trudeau simply said “because it’s 2015.”

Unfortunately, our Prime Minister’s sentiment hasn’t yet trickled down to the rest of Canada. As the World Economic Forum made clear, Canada is still a long way off achieving gender parity in the workplace. In fact, to the contrary, it appears we’re taking steps backward. By the end of 2016, Canada had dropped five positions to 35th on the WEF’s 2016 Global Gender Gap Report.

progress on gender pay gap women in workplace

where we stand on gender parity now

According to Statistics Canada, women currently earn about 72% of what men earn and the rate is less still for Indigenous women and women of colour, even though they’re working just as hard (or harder) and as many hours, or more if you count the unpaid work they do in the personal realm. Globally, Stats Can reports the gender pay gap in Canada is over twice the global average. As hard as women workers peddle, the report suggests that if current trends continue, it will be 118 years before the gender wage gap is closed. That means we won’t reach gender parity until 2135!

It’s enough to make one give up hope on ever achieving wage parity.  Even ore discouraging, the field is uneven from the starter’s pistol. In their first jobs after graduation, women often find themselves earning less than their male colleagues for the same or equivalent work. Their starting positions are at the back of the field; they seldom catch up because they’re offered limited opportunities for growth and development. The proof is in the number – or lack – of women running and sitting on boards of companies.

Communities and countries benefit when women earn more, and not just because they pay higher taxes. A report issued by Oxfam Canada and The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives pointed out that women are more likely to be engaged in child-care or paying for daycare, than their male partners. “In Quebec, where subsidized full-day daycare was implemented in 1997, the employment rate for Quebec women has doubled and their poverty rates [have dropped significantly].” By keeping more of their income, women workers contribute more to economic growth and GDP.

why do women still earn less?

Some attribute the wage gap to old-fashioned thinking. Many employers – and some women themselves – think it’s normal for women to earn less than men and accept it as a reality of the work world. For many women, maternity leave is the great detour from their career trajectory; often it’s something careers of working women never fully recover from.

Childbearing usually happens during the years when career paths are established and on the rise. Whether consciously or otherwise, women still feel the pressure of choosing between having a family and having a career. The stress for those women scrambling to ‘have it all’ is fodder for a future article. And in spite of the rapidly closing education gap, and with more and more women earning post-secondary and graduate degrees, some occupations are still male-dominated, leaving women with less well-paying and lower status jobs.

can anything be done to close the gap?

According to Sarah Kaplan, professor of strategic management at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, organizations should start by doing a salary analysis. Once inequalities are identified, companies need to start paying up, even if it’s in increments. This will separate those organizations committed to wage equality from those paying lip service. Similarly, salary transparency where everyone knows what everyone earns will go a long way to creating an environment where everyone is empowered to and more comfortable with asking for equal pay for equal work.

What about that contingent that insists the gender wage gap is a myth? These are the pundits who believe statistics are being misinterpreted to support a political agenda that would allow greater government intervention in the employer/employee relationship through more legislation. Then there are those who claim women are the architects of their own struggle. They attribute the gap to the choices women make in terms of career, the hours they work and the time off they take. They claim men earn more because they work more – not harder, they’re quick to point out, just more hours.

It might be interesting to share these points of view with your female colleagues but a word of warning: make sure you’re standing a safe distance away.

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