In anticipation of International Women’s Day, Oxfam Canada released its 2017 “feminist scorecard” to track the Trudeau government’s promises on issues such as equal pay and violence against women. The result? The organization says more work needs to be done, particularly in the area of equal pay. “The government has disappointingly taken very few steps to ensure women’s work is fairly paid and equally valued,” it said.
According to data from Statistics Canada from 2014, women working full-time in this country make on average 74.2 cents for every dollar a man makes based on annual salaries.
Since 1981, the gap has decreased from an annual earnings of 63.6 cents on the dollar, but the women leading the charge on pay equality know their work is far from over.
“It’s not as simple as going to employers or governments and saying, ‘pay us all the same,’” says Kyla Cullain, CEO and founder of Canada’s only nurse-run construction company, Next Step Transitions Inc.
“It’s really deeply-rooted social constructs that have supported these stereotypes and expectations, and gender discrepancies.”
Canada has also been lagging behind many developed countries when it comes to the size of its wage gap. Data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) showed that in 2013, Canada ranked seventh, just better than Turkey and just lower than Finland.
Provincially, the data also reflects variations within the gap across Canada.
Hourly pay versus annual earnings
However, this does not tell the entire story. A separate Statistics Canada study called “Women and Paid Work,” released March 8, 2017, shows that in 2015 women between the ages of 25 and 54 working full-time made 87 cents for every dollar a man made.
The difference is that the recent study used hourly wages rather than annual salary.
This study highlighted the fact that traditionally, annual earnings was used as the standard metric when looking at the gender wage gap. On that basis women earned $52,500 on average compared to $70,700 for men in 2014. But the recent Women and Paid Work study says this annual earnings data can be problematic.
It found that women tend to work shorter hours and take more part-time jobs. So on an hourly basis the report found that women were paid 87 cents on the dollar compared to men in 2015, a much higher number than the 74.2 cents that Statistics Canada reported based on annual salaries.
This makes it somewhat misleading to compare annual earnings of men and women.
“This isn’t really a great measure of the gender wage gap because it’s confounded by differences between men and women, and how many hours they work, even when they’re full time,” says Melissa Moyser, author of the Statistics Canada study.
Moyser says the work weeks of women are on average 5.6 hours shorter than that of men, which is largely due to the fact that women still are the primary caregivers for children, as well as older members of families.
“In spite of the fact that women have taken on more breadwinning roles, they’re still responsible for the lion’s share of domestic labour,” she says. “This is why we tend to see that women scale back on their labour market participation and involvement.”
Moyser’s study also found that even after obtaining a bachelor’s degree, women made about 90 cents on the dollar in 2015 compared with men.
Women in the workforce
Karen Wilson, president of the Ottawa Women’s Business Network, says a lack of representation for women in leadership roles and in boardrooms could be a factor.
“You look at the stats about how many women are on boards of companies, and how many women are in senior leaderships, and they’re very, very low. They’re rising very, very slowly,” she says.
“That’s something that gets in the way of women actually pursuing those kinds of roles, because if you don’t see someone like you in those positions, you might not feel like you’re qualified to do that kind of work.”
Wilson says when it comes to negotiation, women tend to be more compromising. She says she believes this could be a factor as to why women are held back from higher level positions and face differing salary expectations.
“I had a job once where I was expected to make coffee. … the thing is I don’t mind going and getting someone a cup of coffee, but I’ll do it because I’m a nice person not because I’m female.”
Wilson says through her work with the Women’s Business Network, she strives to help women gain more confidence in promoting their value within the market.
“I noticed in my first year in nursing that men were blowing past all of us in terms of getting management positions and promotions,” Cullain says.
“I immediately started questioning, ‘do women have confidence to ask for that promotion? Are we applying? Are we considering all those other factors that come along with a job of that responsibility?’ Still despite some great changes that are happening, we’re still the primary caregivers in our families. We’re still the primary caretakers for older family members as well.”
[© Austin Stanton and Katie Burley]
The track record and equal pay
In response to these issues, public policies have been drafted since the Ontario Fair Employment Act in 1951.
This was followed up by the Canada Federal Employment Act in 1953, and the Female Employees Equal Pay Act in 1956, guaranteeing equal pay for women doing work that is “identical or substantially identical” as men.
In October 2016, the federal Liberal government tabled Bill C-25, which was designed to mandate that corporations disclose the number of women represented in their boardrooms. As of December, the bill was being studied in committee.
Cullain says she thinks this transparency is a move towards solving the greater problem of gender parity in the workplace.
“Just like our census gives us data to support where we should invest in certain social programs, I think this can give us a real good idea of what’s happening across the business sector,” she says. “If we don’t have that data, then we can’t really use it to make changes. So for me, I think having that transparency is fundamental to addressing the problem.”
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