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Apr 12, 2016

OK, employers – it's 2016. Deal with pay equity

New whitepaper offers solutions to tackle decades-long issue

By Todd Humber

Canada has a federal cabinet that is a perfect gender balance. The reason, as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau famously answered last fall, was because it’s 2015.

Well now it’s 2016. And despite the laudable makeup in the halls of power in Ottawa, the wage disparity between men and women is alive and kicking. That was a point driven home this week with the release of a new whitepaper by the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in Toronto.

Closing the Gender Wage Gap looks at a six key reasons behind the gap, including education and career path decisions, negotiations, performance evaluations and workplace flexibility.

My mom was an elementary school teacher. I got an early lesson in pay equity in the early 1990s when her school board in Windsor, Ont., almost doubled her salary — from something in the low $30,000 range to more than $50,000. She was a combination of happy and aghast — pleased to finally be paid the same as a man doing the exact same job, but upset that women educators had toiled for so long at a lesser wage rate.

Pay equity has always been a headscratcher — it’s hard to fathom anyone purposely paying a female worker less just because she’s a woman. Well, at least not in this day and age. Enough time has passed that we can’t blame the Don Drapers of the world or the 1950s anymore — so we don’t have that old punching bag of an excuse.

So what’s at play? If we assume men are making these decisions, well — men have mothers, daughters, wives, sisters, nieces. The list goes on and on. It’s hard to imagine more than a handful having a Neanderthal attitude towards gender equity.

And yet, according to Statistics Canada, the pay equity gap persists at anywhere from 12 per cent to 31.5 per cent. In real dollars, that’s $168 billion in wages missing from the Canadian economy.

The bulk of the blame, then, surely rests on unconscious biases — a notion clearly addressed in the HRPA’s research.

The paper offers ideas to solve some issues, such as getting more women into the STEM fields, offering training on negotiations (apparently men are better at asking for money) and conducting blind evaluations in the hiring process.

But the ideas I really like are the ones with more teeth. Clearly, we need a little more bite to match the bark to solve a problem that has been dragging on for decades.

The paper calls on the Ontario government to introduce wage transparency reporting. It’s something that is done in the Nordic countries, and the United Kingdom has launched a plan to “end the gender pay gap in a generation” by requiring employers with more than 250 staff to publish average pay gaps.

Sunshine is the best disinfectant, after all.

Another solid recommendation is one that calls for the province to develop online training for managers that focuses on cultural sensitivity, the wage gap and pay equity. Ontario already has a similar web-based module to introduce managers to health and safety laws — and it’s mandatory for supervisors to complete it.

Done properly, this could help managers uncover hidden biases and ensure they don’t continue making decisions that kick the pay equity can down the road.

Is fixing this going to be expensive? Perhaps. Your payroll will undoubtedly go up.

But what’s the alternative? As a man, do you want to go home to your wife, look her in the eye, and tell her “Sorry, you’re worth a bit less than me?” Or deliver that message to your daughter? Or mouth those words to your mother?

There was one bit of bright light that also appeared as a headline this week. According to an article posted on CNN, “women in technology, sales or marketing with two years’ or less experience actually got salary offers that were seven per cent higher than those received by equally inexperienced men, according to the job site Hired.”

But don’t celebrate too much. The same study found — surprise, surprise — that men received higher salary offers for the same job title at the same company 69 per cent of the time.

It’s unfathomable this gap isn’t closing quicker. It’s 2016. Fix this.

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Re: HR Reporter
Thursday, April 21, 2016 1:14:00 PM by Bobboccio
Hi Todd- I appreciate you responding to my question.

I guess I'm a little unclear where you are speaking of equality of opportunity, and equality of outcome. Much of your article is about the outcomes being different between men and women. Two of the key reasons you list as being behind the gap "education and career path decisions" are clearly about equality of outcome. But "and yet, according to Statistics Canada, the pay equity gap persists at anywhere from 12 per cent to 31.5 per cent," is clearly about equality of result. I assume you have problems with both (that women both are encouraged to make life choices that are not career-focused, and that women make less in their lifetimes).

All of your answers though, only address equality of opportunity, and not one is about equality of outcome! If you are worried about equality of outcome, then your solution of being blind to gender is not nearly enough.
HR Reporter
Wednesday, April 13, 2016 10:01:00 AM by Todd Humber
Hi Bobbocio - it's a fair question. In my opinion, it starts with what you can control. Thomson Reuters takes equality very seriously. In fact, all managers have a goal that is prepopulated around ensuring a diversity of candidates are considered for all roles. I'm proud to say that pay equity, or equal pay for equal work to Kate's point, does not seem to be on the radar at Canadian HR Reporter because I think we have hit the point where gender doesn't matter. It's not taken into consideration when hiring, or when promotions are handed out. We have to be very aware that hidden biases don't creep into the mix, but I haven't seen any signs of overt or hidden biases in the workplace here. So I feel comfortable throwing stones from this non-glass house. :)
HR Reporter
Wednesday, April 13, 2016 9:40:00 AM by Bobboccio
Hi Todd,
Perhaps you can tell us what you at Canadian HR Reporter are doing in particular to help close the gap? How close are you to eliminating the equal pay for equal work gap in your office?
Pay equity or equal pay for equal work
Tuesday, April 12, 2016 3:57:00 PM by Kate
Hi Todd. I liked your article, but I think you are speaking more toward equal pay for equal work. I would suggest that the use of the term "pay equity" is confusing. Pay equity is more commonly used to describe the legislation that requires us to pay jobs of equal value without gender bias. Your article seems to focus much more on equal pay for equal work. Nevertheless I agree — come on people, it's 2016. "Fix this".