A binder full of women (Editor’s Notes)

Gender inequality still a prevalent issue in 2012
By Todd Humber
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/15/2013

Sitting down and reviewing the 22 issues of Canadian HR Reporter published in 2012 was a fascinating exercise. Every December I pore over the year’s work in compiling the materials for our Year in Review feature.

This time around, three articles on gender inequality made me do a double-take — the headlines and facts seem, frustratingly, more at home in the 1950s than 2012.

First up is pay equity. Yes, we’re still talking about it. Yes, the overt form of “I’m paying you less because you’re a woman” is mostly in the rear-view mirror. But more subtle forms continue to propagate.

One article featured a case involving a hospital and school board in Ontario. At both, men had a shorter path to reach the top wage rate than women in comparable jobs — for example, service workers (a male-dominated profession) could reach the top of the pay scale after nine months but clerical workers (a female-dominated profession) could not reach the top until after 24 months — which translated into a difference of $4,000 in the first two years, according to the union.

An Ontario court upheld the practice, stating that as long as the top wages were the same, pay equity was achieved. Technically, yes. In theory, no.

Next up was discrimination against pregnant workers and new parents. As a society, Canadians have decided new parents should have time off work, be compensated through employment insurance benefits and have the right to return to their jobs at the end of the leave without penalty.

Is it inconvenient for employers? Absolutely — it causes staffing headaches and turmoil. But it’s a level playing field and it’s a cost of doing business.

But firing a women for being pregnant? Everyone knows it’s illegal but it seems it’s nearly as common as it is reprehensible — about one-half of the pregnancy discrimination cases a human rights coalition in British Columbia deals with involve pregnant workers who have been terminated.

Lastly is the glacial pace of increasing female representation on boards of directors. It has taken nearly two decades for the percentage of board seats occupied by women to rise from six per cent to 10 per cent. At that pace, it would take another 45 years for the figure to hit 25 per cent.

During the United States presidential election, we caught a glimpse of why this snail’s pace continues. During one debate, Republican nominee Mitt Romney made his infamous quip about women. When asked about women’s equality, he pulled out this little gem about the hiring process for his cabinet as governor: “I went to a number of women’s groups and said ‘Can you help us find folks?’ and they brought us whole binders full of women.”

That was revealing for two reasons. First, why don’t they know qualified female candidates first-hand? You don’t see them scrambling for a “binder full of men” when seats open up.

And second, the binders really do exist. And not just in the U.S. — Vancouver-based Women On Board just released the second edition of its Women on Board Source. It’s a website, so not technically a binder — but its purpose is the same, with profiles of more than 60 highly qualified women who would make “exceptional” women board candidates.

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