The Canadian Women’s Foundation reports that females in Canada earn between 67 and 87 cents for every dollar their male counterparts make. Debate exists as to whether systemic gender discrimination is really at play here, or whether voluntary lifestyle choices explain most or all of the Canadian gender pay gap. Regardless of the reasons behind women’s lower wages, everyone can agree that putting measures in place to ensure wage equality is a step in the right direction.
Canada’s Gender Pay Gap Examined
Comparing the annual earnings of full-time workers in Canada, women earn an average of 72 cents for every dollar a man earns. Other methods of measurement, such as comparing hourly wage rates or including part-time workers in comparison figures, result in slightly lower or higher numbers but still show reduced earnings for women. Some researchers, including the Canadian Women’s Foundation, have concluded that at least part of the wage gap is due to gender-based wage discrimination. Others point out that lifestyle choices made by women and men such as field of employment, education and number of hours worked explain away most of the gap, and that the oft-quoted figure of 72 cents is misleading because it doesn’t compare two employees working side by side at the same job for the same hours. Either way, wage discrimination has no place in a progressive society. Policy prescriptions from the Canadian Labour Congress help ensure women in the workplace get paid what they are worth.
Unions fight on behalf of workers for higher wages and better working conditions by leveraging the power of collective bargaining. Membership pays off in Canada, especially for women, with unionized female workers earning an average of $26.32 per hour, compared to $19.67 per hour for women not in unions. The union wage advantage of $6.65 per hour aggregates to $550 million earned by female Canadian union members over their nonunion counterparts. Provinces need to make it easier for women to join unions and, in turn, receive the wage benefits that membership confers.
Improve Support Services
Certain lifestyle issues explain part of the wage gap, but not all of them are voluntary. More women than men elect to work fewer hours due to parenting demands, but at least some of these women would take on greater responsibility in the workplace if they had access to affordable and reliable child care services. Some progressive workplaces have taken the lead on this issue and implemented on-site child care for both male and female employees who are parents. Such employers tend to have greater gender equity in pay, since working mothers are better able to balance professional and family responsibilities.
Pay Equity Legislation
Even if you are skeptical of the existence of gender-based workplace discrimination, legislation mandating equal pay for equal work has no downside. If employers are not underpaying women in the workforce to begin with, then they face no fear of sanctions from equal pay legislation. If, however, discrimination is to blame for at least part of the wage gap, new laws could crack down on employers that fail to offer women fair wages for their labours. The gender gap is a controversial subject, and the debate raises as to its true causes. No matter the reasons for women earning less than men, certain common-sense provisions can help ensure that all Canadian workers are paid what they are worth.