What is Holding Back Women’s Wage Equity

An editorial on this topic in the Toronto Star on July 16, 2014 quotes a study conducted by Oxfam and the Berlin based Heinrich Boll Foundation that covered the Group of Twenty industrial countries.

Here are some excerpts from the editorial:

“Women get paid less than men, do most of the unpaid labour, are most likely to be in part-time work and suffer discrimination at home, in the workplace and institutions.”

“Canada is at the top of the gender equality wage scale.”

“On average the nine million women in our (Canada) labour force earn 71% of the wages of men. That puts Canada 10 points ahead of the average for members of the club.”

“Progress in women’s labour force participation has slowed to a halt over the past two decades and the gap between men’s and women’s shares of earned income has remained virtually unchanged.”

We can take some pride in being better than anyone else in the Group of Twenty but that would be false pride in that the wage gap is still unacceptable in my view. In Ontario the Pay Equity Act introduced in the early 1990’s has failed to narrow the gap significantly. What has gone wrong? Following are my views on what has caused this gap to remain at an unacceptable high level.

  • The care giving responsibilities, for children and aging parents, still rest mostly with women. This makes it difficult to devote time to improve career advancement. Often it has forced women into part-time jobs in order to meet family responsibilities.  Or women may not choose to move into executive positions because of the time commitment and need for family-work balance.
  • The Employment Insurance (EI) program prevents women on maternity and parental leave from staying connected with the workplace in any gainful manner. For example, a woman can jeopardize her EI benefits if she engages with her employer in any formal way.  By not being able to stay connected it forces a woman to withdraw completely from the workplace, which may result in women falling behind.
  • Because of a lack of affordable daycare both in terms of the number of spaces and the cost, many women are forced into part-time jobs which are not conducive to career progression.
  • Discrimination created by false stereotypical assumptions about type of work and the commitment to organizations that women have is still very strong and this keeps women back in career progression.
  • In many cases employers’ experience requirements for a particular job are unnecessarily high and this works against women who frequently don’t have as much experience as men due to the points outlined above.
  • Notwithstanding the fact that most women work outside the home there seems to be the view that men are the breadwinners and women take care of families.

The Pay Equity Act never addressed the fundamental problem that work dominated by women was structurally undervalued and its application has not ameliorated the situation. If society is serious about wage equality it must address the structural problems that disadvantage women.

Angelo Pesce
Principal Consultant