'I don't think it's that complicated. Let's just do it and pay women equal as men'
“I don’t think it’s that complicated: Let’s just do it and pay women equal as men.”
So says Melanie McClure, CHRO at FX Innovation, a digital transformation company in Montreal, in discussing the ongoing challenges around gender equity.
“A long time ago, this was a taboo thing; it’s not a taboo [anymore] and we do need to push it and again, just do it,” she says.
Canada was eighth worse in pay equity, out of 43 countries surveyed, in a 2018 study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), says McClure, so “it’s still a big issue today.”
“There’s a lot of things that are not explainable in this but hopefully everybody’s going to push and it’s going to be different in a few years — but [there’s] still a big way to go in Canada.”
For one global employer, 125 Canadian employees will be given International Women’s Day on March 8, the day off to “think about themselves and women that are in their lives.”
Why does the inequity continue?
With International Women’s Day around the corner, the fight for gender equity in society remains an ever-present condition, so why is this battle still happening?
“There’s a lot of things at play that make it difficult for women,” says Allison Venditti, founder of professional support and training company Moms At Work in Toronto.
“In general, work doesn’t work for many women. The structure, the lack of flexibility, the lack of remote options and then there’s all sorts of other systemic barriers including a complete lack of pay transparency and lack of internal work on pay equity in general.”
While more education around the issue might be warranted, that effort might muddy the real issue, she says.
“It’s fair to say it’s not a priority because if it was, they would have done it already. What we know is that if it’s not impacting you, then it’s not a priority so when leadership is made up of mostly men, or women who have no interest in pushing the feminist agenda, then it doesn’t happen.”
For some employers, all the training in the world won’t help, says McClure.
“I would be skeptical that people don’t know about it; we know about it, there’s people that are still putting their heads in the sand and not putting it as a priority, so putting it as a priority and in a role like us, we do have influence.”
It’s up to HR professionals to take the lead in efforts to both create and enforce equity, she says.
“Be bold and push and be an activist and eliminate barriers for woman in entry and promotions. Make sure that you are an advocate and that you also be more vocal with everybody in the company.”
“We have the power to do it: stop being silent about it, be brave and push it higher because it’s a culture thing in some companies and it needs to be brought up. It’s not just HR — there’s a lot of women in HR but there’s a lot of men that also need to put it as a priority.”
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Focus on hiring
There are a lot of things that can be fixed in the hiring process, says Venditti.
“[It’s about] making the hiring process more reasonable, limiting the number of interviews and length of interviews, being transparent about pay, benefits,” she says.
“Many women will not ask the questions that they need the answers to within the interview for fear of not being hired: questions about time, about flexibility, about benefits, about mat-leave top-up.”
To alleviate this roadblock, Moms At Work prepared a one-page template that employers can hand out to prospective employees, “so that they don’t have to feel bad asking those questions,” she says.
A recent study suggests salary histories — where employers ask about past compensation — could be a factor when it comes to pay gaps for women and minorities.
What about transparency?
With 20 years of experience as an HR professional, Venditti has seen first-hand the problems with salaries in organizations and the reason why women are paid less is simple.
“It has to do with the incessant undervaluation of women and women’s work, period. The fact is that we know this and we have a tool to fix it and that people are demanding it so, at this point in time, the tides have shifted and people really have to step up,” she says.
As well, while it isn’t legally required in a lot of workplaces, there is nothing stopping employers from conducting pay audits immediately, she says, just to get a firm handle on the potential scope of the issue.
Pay transparency legislation has been seen as one of the potential remedies to ensure equality but it is no silver bullet, says Venditti.
“I resent the fact that we have to legislate basic things, that we have to legislate doing the right thing — that seems backwards to me; we have to have pay equity commissioners in order for them to pay women the same as men — that seems broken to me that we would have to spend all this money instead of just saying, ‘Maybe we should really aim to pay people to stay.’”
For transformational change to happens, it often takes a number of small steps that front-line workers can take, says Venditti.
“[It’s about] you asking for more money, you sharing your salary with a coworker, you talking to a junior employee about these things — those things all matter and they make a difference. I don’t want people to feel like this is an insurmountable obstacle that we need to wait for federal legislation to change. We can make those steps ourselves very specifically and intentionally to make change.”
When it comes to pay transparency, Canadian employers are less inclined to disclose salaries in job listings.