By Claudine Kapel
Although the gender wage gap has been the focus of much attention over the past 25 years, an actual resolution to the challenge remains elusive.
The Ontario Pay Equity Commission, for example, points out recent Statistics Canada data that shows the gender wage gap in Ontario is 29 per cent for full-time, full-year workers. That means that for every $1 earned by a male worker, a female worker earns 71 cents. And progress has been slow -- the commission notes that in 1987, when the Ontario Pay Equity Act was passed, the gender wage gap was 36 per cent – so the wage gap has been “narrowing slowly over time.”
So what is driving this persistent wage gap?
One obvious consideration is discriminatory employment practices related to hiring, promotion and compensation. The Ontario Pay Equity Commission cites estimates that as much as 10 to 15 per cent of the gender wage gap is due to discrimination.
Beyond pay practices, however, rests the larger and even more complex issue of occupational segregation – wherein some jobs tend to be held by men and others held by women. A gender wage gap will persist for as long as higher-paid jobs remain predominantly held by men and lower-paid jobs remain predominantly held by women.
The 2010 Catalyst census of Financial Post 500 Women Senior Officers and Top Earners paints a dismal picture in this regard. According to Catalyst, only 17.7 per cent of senior officers in Financial Post 500 companies were women – up slightly from 16.9 per cent in 2008. Further, women corporate officers held 6.2 per cent of the top earner positions in 2010, representing a nominal increase from 5.6 per cent in 2008.
Catalyst also reported that in both 2008 and 2010, more than 30 per cent of companies had zero women senior officers.
The issue of the gender wage gap and its links to occupational segregation is further illustrated by the latest study from the U.S. Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Their study highlights a U.S. gender wage gap of 18.8 per cent. But even more significantly, the study found that women’s median earnings were lower than men’s in 107 out of 111 occupational groups.
The U.S. study found that the 10 occupations with the highest median weekly earnings for full-time work employ almost three times more men than women. In contrast, the 10 occupations with the lowest weekly median earnings for full-time work employ twice as many women as men.
Canadian employers face some legislative impetus to address the gender wage gap, such as the pay equity requirements found in some jurisdictions. But occupational segregation is a bigger issue than what is tackled by pay equity. More expansive thinking with respect to career development, talent management and succession planning is needed to shift organizational focus from regulatory compliance to the optimization of human potential.
Claudine Kapel is principal of Kapel and Associates Inc., a Toronto-based human resources and communications consulting firm specializing in the design and implementation of compensation and total rewards programs. For more information, visit www.kapelandassociates.com.