What's Happening With the Gender Pay Gap in Canada?

It’s no secret that a gender wage gap exists between men and women in the Canadian workforce. And even though Canada is taking strides towards gender equality, women play an important role in Canada’s economy but are not yet being paid fairly.

According to the latest Statistics Canada data, women earn 87 cents to every dollar made by a man.

The gap between how much women are paid and how much men are paid has only shrunk 10 cents since 1981. That means that thirty-seven years ago, women were earning 77 cents to every dollar made by a man.

One major factor that has played a part in this improvement is higher education, according to analyst Melissa Moyser.

“Gender-based pay inequality tends to diminish with increasing levels of education […] and women have sustained a long-term trend toward higher education.”

From 1991 to 2015, Moyser said that the proportion of women with a university degree increased by 21.1 per cent from 14 per cent to 35.1 per cent.

A higher proportion of men also got university degrees during the same period - to a lesser extent - jumping 11.2 per cent from 17.4 per cent in 1991 to 28.6 per cent in 2015.

This is all well and good, “yet women have not been able to educate themselves out of gender differences in pay entirely,” said Moyser.

Even with a university degree, women earned an average of 90 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2015.

So, why does the gender pay gap persist?

It’s often “largely as a result of wage inequality between women and men within occupations,” said Moyser.

It’s also about a difference between the number of men and the number of women in certain occupations, according to Moyser. There are more men in high-level executive positions than women.

According to a report from RBC, less than three per cent of women head incorporated businesses in Canada, which is half the rate of males. Further, only one in five directors of large publicly listed companies in Canada are women.

Moreover, women are more likely to work part-time or do unpaid labour than men.

“Women are over-represented in low-paying occupations and under-represented in high-paying ones,” said Moyser.

According to Moyser, female-dominated occupations might also be considered less valuable than male-dominated jobs.

When comparing a female-dominated occupation to a male-dominated occupation that requires the same level of training and education, women still earn less than men.

For instance, both nursing careers and natural and applied science careers typically require a university education, yet the average hourly wage for a professional women working in nursing is $35.37, while for a professional man working in natural and applied sciences, it’s $39.85, according to Moyser.

In fact, men out-earned women in the majority of occupational groups in 2015.

On a salary scale, according to even more recent data based on a survey of 173,631 respondents from 2016-2018 from Seattle-based company PayScale, the median salary for women in Canada is $47,300, while the median salary for men in Canada is $60,000.

If you think you haven’t noticed a difference between men’s and women’s wages in Canada, you might want to think again. PayScale points out that there are two different kinds of gender pay gaps: the controlled and the uncontrolled.

The controlled pay gap compares the earnings of men and women in similar jobs, while the uncontrolled pay gap compares the earnings of all working women to all working men. It’s a useful tool for seeing the disparity within industries, compared to within the entire workforce.

And that gap increases as men and women move up the ranks in their careers, says PayScale.

In Canada, PayScale’s report shows that women earn 97.9 cents to the dollar in the controlled pay gap, and 78.7 cents to the dollar in the uncontrolled pay gap.

According to PayScale, women over 30 tend to have more stagnant careers than men - women are more likely to remain in a junior role than men - and women leave the workforce at higher rates than men.

So, what are the feds and the province doing about the persisting gender pay gap that’s taking so long to close?

At the provincial level, the province is working on a three-year strategy called Then Now Next: Ontario's Strategy for Women's Economic Empowerment. Basically the strategy aims to uncover and close pay gaps by increasing pay transparency at hiring, requiring companies to publish employee pay based on gender and other characteristics, and improving compliance at Ontario’s pay equity office.

The strategy also incorporates mentorship programs, wraparound supports for low-income women, and even encouraging large firms to hit a target of 30 per cent women on private-sector boards.

At the federal level, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in January that there will be legislation introduced this year to ensure equal pay for equal work. But according to the Financial Post, it probably won’t be as intense and even progressive as Iceland’s. In Iceland, they moved to fine businesses that don’t implement pay equity measures.

Is Canada doing enough to close the gender pay gap?

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