Managing your money

The gender pay gap — alive and well, unfortunately

7 min read

Chrissy Kapralos

It’s illegal to pay women less than men in Canada — and has been for decades. Unfortunately, the gender pay gap, or difference in income between women and men, persists. Even though women enter professional schools to the same proportion as men, outpace men in college attendance and degrees, have a labour force participation rate of 82%, and are beginning to assume the breadwinner role at double the rate as they did in previous years, they are still subject to a pay gap that sees them earning an average of 13.3% less than men.

Show me the evidence — is there really still a pay gap?

The gender pay gap has decreased since the early 1900s, due to more women adopting working roles, changes in legislation, increased education, and more. So yes, things have gotten better. But even with the same amount of women in the workforce, the same number of women pursuing professional education, and even with women working the same jobs as men, evidence still shows the pay gap exists.

Let’s start with Canada. Stats Canada showed that in 2018, women between the ages of 25 and 54 earned $26.92 per hour, while men of that age group earned an average $31.05 per hour. The pay gap here? $4.13. This means a woman earned 87 cents for every dollar a man made, translating to roughly $19,000 difference in yearly salary. So, even as recently as in 2018, women made 13.3% less than men.

While still grim, these numbers have been showing improvement. In 1998, the gender pay gap stood at a bleak 18.8%. However, the decreasing discrepancy within the past two decades can be attributed to stagnant and declining wages among men, rather than any notable increases in women’s wages.

In America, it’s the same story. Women earned 85% of what men made, or 85 cents to every man’s dollar. This is equivalent to a woman having to work an extra 39 days per year to earn the same as their male counterparts.

What about women of colour?

Studies show that while women make disproportionately less money than men, women of colour make even less than white women. Indigenous women face a 57% pay gap, immigrant women 39%, and racialized women 32%. The gender pay gap is everywhere, but it targets women at every race cohort differently.

While bridging the racial gender pay gap warrants a new article altogether, you can start by bringing awareness to the issue within and beyond your organization, encouraging pay transparency, supporting women of colour when negotiating salaries, and providing sponsorship and mentorship opportunities dedicated to women of colour.

"However, the decreasing discrepancy within the past two decades can be attributed to stagnant and declining wages among men, rather than any notable increases in women’s wages."

Why does the gender pay gap still exist and how do we fix it?

There are many factors contributing to the gender pay gap, as discovered through various expert studies. Here are a few reasons why women are still making less than men in North America — and ways to alleviate the problem.

Family obligations and perceptions of motherhood

Women are working more than ever, yet continue to make more career adjustments to accommodate family life than men. Take maternity leave, for example. The professor of Business Law at the University of Central Oklahoma stated that maternity leaves contribute to lack of salary and career interruption for women, and thus widen the gender pay gap. Since women take maternity leave almost twice as much as men do, they are disproportionately affected.

This disproportionate accommodation for family life could also explain why more women take on part-time work. Stats Canada concluded that the increased likelihood of women taking part-time work over men contributes to the pay gap as well. This is because part-time work typically offers lower pay, less job security, and fewer benefits than full-time employment.

And it doesn't help that double standards exist in terms of how employers perceive mothers and fathers, as reported by the US Senate Joint Economic Democratic Staff in 2016. Working fathers are seen as having “increased work commitment and stability,” while working mothers signal “lower levels of professional commitment and competence.”

Beyond family care, working women are also taking on more household responsibilities than their male counterparts. For many, these domestic duties demand the same amount of energy as their professional job, amounting to a “double shift.” If significant enough, the double shift burden can push women to pursue lower-paying jobs, or leave the workforce altogether, further fueling the pay gap.

What we can do

  1. Prompt companies to offer sufficient paternity leave and encourage fathers to take that paternity leave. This would help create a more even playing field for women, as men could relieve the career disruption women face when taking care of children. Paternity leave also balances the weight of domestic duties and childcare, thereby reducing the pressure for women to accommodate family life at the expense of their careers.

  2. If you’re a woman in a heterosexual relationship, talk to your partner. Women are implicitly and explicitly taught to oversee family life regardless of their employment status — but that shouldn’t be the case. Communicate with your partner about how balancing family obligations can help you, your career, and your wellbeing.

  3. If you’re a man, realize this imbalance still persists and find out how you can help alleviate the disparity at home and at work. Advocate for paternity leave, implement a fairer distribution of household duties, and continuously check in on your partner to ensure you’re making progress.

Industrial distribution

According to Statistics Canada, industrial distribution explains 39.7% of the gender pay gap in 2018. Three high-paying and male-dominated sectors in particular have contributed to the pay gap between 1998 to 2018: construction, manufacturing, and mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction. In spite of the high wage premiums, women comprise a mere 14% of jobs in the trades. Why? Many trades environments are unwelcoming to women, with barriers to entry ranging from lack of mentorship opportunities to a culture of rejecting workers who must leave by 5pm for childcare responsibilities. While more women are joining the trades now compared to a decade ago, there is still a long way to go.

What we can do

  1. Trades employers and unions must prepare their workplaces to welcome women. From creating apprenticeship programs for women to offering flexible childcare options to even providing women with uniforms and safety gear that actually fit — all are great starting points to promote gender diversity in the trades sector.

  2. Fortunately, there are many organizations and initiatives we can support that promote trades as career options for women, like Women of Powerline Technicians and Women in the Trades. By decreasing the underrepresentation of women in the trades sector, we can ultimately help decrease the gender pay gap.

Raises and promotions — or lack thereof

Multiple resources cite raises and promotions as a contributor to the gender pay gap. Some sources state women are less likely to ask for raises, while others say women ask for raises the same amount as men, but emerge less successful.

In fact, the Harvard Business Review found women to experience a 15% success rate in asking for raises, while men had a 20% success rate. The difference between these two numbers can be attributed to, once again, double standards. Women are more likely to be viewed as “bossy,” “intimidating,” or “too aggressive” when seeking higher compensation.

What we can do

  1. Women must feel empowered to negotiate their compensation or ask for raises without fear of coming off as “too aggressive.” Experts recommend women research average salaries for their current position, and to save evidence of clients or coworkers praising their work to use as the basis for requesting a raise.

  2. Remember that negotiating doesn’t end at the salary. If your employer is unable to reach your salary expectations — and even if they’re able to — inquire about a bonus or more vacation time.

"By decreasing the underrepresentation of women in the trades sector, we can ultimately help decrease the gender pay gap."

Gender discrimination and unconscious bias

Unconscious bias occurs when a person believes a stereotype about a group of people, even without realizing it. It impacts all parts of our lives, including employment and compensation. For example, cultural indoctrinations tell us that women aren’t as strong as men, potentially affecting who gets the job when hiring for trades positions. The perception that women can’t handle the responsibility of a high-stress, senior position could also result in unconscious bias when hiring for executive positions.

What we can do

  1. Demand transparency laws for pay. Canada’s recent requirement for public-sector salary disclosures was found to have decreased the pay gap at universities from 15% to 4%. This requirement also contributed to female professors getting more raises.

  2. If you are an employer or manager, support and approve the discussion of salaries. In many workplace environments, employees refrain from speaking about their salaries for fear of reprisal from their employers. The ability to openly discuss compensation can bring awareness to any form of discrimination, be it conscious or unconscious.

  3. Employers can also be transparent about salary ranges before hiring, and share pay information with their employees. Moreover, they can prioritize pay audits to reduce their gender pay gap, as done by companies like Salesforce and Intel.

Is there hope in closing this gap?

The awareness brought to the gender pay gap in the last few years has been a great step in helping to address it. With continued awareness and education, support for women to ask for more, balanced family responsibilities, removal of unconscious bias, greater pay transparency, and acceptance of women in trade roles, North America has a chance at closing the gender pay gap.

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