The Gender Wage Gap
Is it still a reality in Canada?
By Mark Swartz
Monster Contributing Writer
Equal pay for equal work. Seems fair, doesn't it? But if you're female in Canada, this basic principle often doesn't apply.
There's a real, ongoing wage gap between men and women. Not just in Canada either. But before we go waving our maple leaf flags, get this: we rank just 20th in the World Economic Forum's global survey of gender equity. Behind Sri Lanka, Lesotho and Latvia.
This income inequality against women in Canada is somewhere in the range of 20%. For every hour of equal work put in by a woman, they get paid – on average – just eighty percent of what a man makes. It's a disparity that hurts our country's overall economy. And while many of the causes are deeply ingrained, there are a few ways for you to personally fight this inequity.
Why Do Women Earn Less Than Men For The Same Work?
It's not because of competence. Nor is it due to males being higher educated, stronger, harder working...evidence shows that slightly more women than men are university educated, and put in just as much effort as men do.
So what's going on? One factor is the kind of work involved. Gender differences in earnings vary by occupation. The largest gap is in health jobs, where women earn just 47 cents for every dollar earned by men. That number hasn't changed much since 1986. Nurses do nicely in general. On the other hand, women in natural and applied sciences earned 94 cents for every dollar men earned in those occupations.
Having children or dependent elders makes a large difference too. There tends to be twice as many women working part-time as men. When asked why they work part-time, men and women provide very different answers. Most significantly, 19% of women work part-time to provide care for children or to take care of other personal or family responsibilities. Compared this to just 2% of men.
But Isn't This Discrimination Against Women?
Depending on who you ask, there are some different opinions about whether this wage gap is discriminatory. Some argue that the gap is a simple matter of plain old bias against women. Some say that it doesn't reflect direct discrimination by employers; rather it's due to decisions that women make in career choices and work–family balance.
Others suggest the income inequality merely highlights ongoing inequalities between men and women. This is controversial. Just because something has been going on for decades, doesn't mean it's fair (or acceptable). People in favour of this argument point out that occupations perceived as “women’s jobs” have always been underpaid compared with “men’s jobs.” A societal undervaluing of women’s skills and work may be partly to blame.
That perspective is actually mirrored somewhat by recent Statistics Canada data. Earnings for young men with no university degree have been rising in recent years—due to jobs in the booming oil and constructions industries; jobs in which women are under-represented. Yet women in the skilled trades are doing pretty well these days.
What's The Government Doing To Reduce This Income Gap?
At the federal and provincial levels, there are some initiatives to remedy the gap. Federally, for example, the Pay Equity Program is in place to help eliminate gender-based wage discrimination in the federally regulated sector. However this covers barely 6% of our workforce.
It falls more or less to the provinces to address wage inequality. In New Brunswick there's a Wage Gap Reduction Initiative. It's geared to employers, giving them tools to foster equal pay for equal work. Quebec has its Commission d'équité salariale du Québec.
Nova Scotia and Ontario each has its own Pay Equity Commission. Yukon has a Government Equal Pay Provisions Bulletin.
How Can You Personally Fight For Pay Equity?
If you happen to work for a union, there are usually built-in protections against wage discrimination. Surprisingly though, these rights sometimes still have to be battled for. In November 2011, for instance, The Supreme Court of Canada ruled in favour of workers in a pay equity case involving women at Canada Post, a case that was originally filed - hold your breath - 28 years before! Upwards of $250 million in owed pay may be at stake, including interest.
If you aren't unionized and you're being paid unfairly, you may have to approach things yourself (or with some others at work who support your cause). Be careful though. Speaking out the wrong way can put you in a bad light.
So consider starting by contacting a labour lawyer for advice. Depending on how severe the pay gap is where you work, you may end up having to take your case to the Federal Human Rights Commission, or a provincial Pay Equity Commission or Human Rights Commission.
Keep in mind that knowledge is power. The more you know about how much you should be paid, compared to what the men make for similar work at your employer, the better you can support your case.