Wage gap persists

Men not doing fair share of work at home is part of the reason.

The chronic wage gap between men and women is in part caused by men neglecting responsibilities at home.

“While women have gone into the workforce in ever increasing numbers, they’re still largely responsible for family responsibilities, and that’s reflected in the wage gap,” said Monica Townson, an economic consultant who studies women in the economy.

“Women won’t achieve equality in the workforce until there is a more equitable sharing of responsibilities at home,” she said.

New research from Statistics Canada released last month shows that women employed full-time, year-round make 73 per cent of what men take home.

For whatever reason men still aren’t assuming an equal share of responsibility at home. As a result women are more likely to be absent from work, work part-time or in other non-standard arrangements and work shorter weeks than men.
When men are working full-time they work an average of 44 hours a week but women work less because of additional responsibilities at home, said Nancy Zukewich, one of the co-authors of the report, Women in Canada.

In 1999, female employees missed an average of seven days due to personal or family commitments, while working men were away from the job just one day because of family or personal responsibilities.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” said Townson. Women earn less than men because they have to spend more time away from work and then, because they are learning less, it makes more sense for them to take time off work to minimize wage losses. There have been all kinds of attempts to get men to take a more equitable responsibility at home but apparently to little effect.

There are subtle pressures at work in some organizations that prevent men from assuming their fair share of work at home, said Townson.

There is still a stigma attached to the idea of men taking time off work to take care of responsibilities at home. “A man goes and asks for a day off and the boss says can’t your wife take a day off. These things still happen,” she said.

“The wage gap is still there for old-fashioned reasons, like they’re not paying women as much as men and they’re not getting as many promotional opportunities,” said Lynne Sullivan, leader of Towers Perrin’s diversity consulting practice for Canada.

However, some companies are taking a look at policies specifically designed to address some of the problems women face and are performing better because of it; by conscientiously putting more women in the boardroom, businesses will see improved corporate performance, she said.

While women took more days off work last year to tend to family responsibilities, that could be interpreted as a good sign more employers are giving employees the opportunity, said Sullivan. However, it’s still a brave man who will go in and ask for days off to spend more time with his children. “A lot of people would say give your head a shake, that’s a career-limiting move.”

That too is no longer the case with progressive organizations, she added.
While the wage gap has been closing, some of the disparity that persists is due to women having different kinds of work than men, said Sullivan. Statistics Canada found women continue to work in traditionally female-dominated occupations.

In 1999, 70 per cent of employed women were working in teaching, nursing and related health occupations, clerical or administrative positions and sales and service, down from 74 per cent in 1987.

Sullivan points to a greater mixture of men and women in call centres as an example of the gradual blurring of distinctions between male and female work.

The study also reports women are more likely to report greater levels of time stress, a problem that is compounded when they have children.

Women have also been making progress in several professional fields, making up 49 per cent of business and financial professionals, up from 41 per cent in 1987. There has also been an increase in the numbers of women doctors and dentists — 47 per cent, up from 44 per cent in 1987 — and women managers, 35 per cent, up from 29 per cent in 1987.

However, women continue to be underrepresented in engineering, natural sciences and mathematics; a trend unlikely to change soon since women are still under-represented in university programs for those fields.

There is no one magic answer to break that vicious cycle, said Townson. It would be a start however to vastly increase the number of affordable child-care spaces available for working parents. There are still a lot of people who think of child care as a convenience for the parents rather than as a service that is good for the development of the children and therefore a benefit for society itself.

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