It's 2016 – let's deal with pay equity (Editor's Notes)

New whitepaper offers solutions to tackle decades-long issue

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 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 was given 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 head-scratcher — it’s hard to fathom anyone purposely paying a female worker less just because she’s a woman — 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 HRPA’s research. The paper offers ideas to solve some issues, such as getting more women into the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math), 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.

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 — 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. Let’s fix this.

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