The Gender Wage Gap is Real

The gender wage gap is the difference between wages earned by men and wages earned by women.  According to Statistics Canada (2011) in the province of Ontario when observing full time, full year wages, female workers receive on average 26% less in wages than male workers. In other words, women on average made 74 cents for every dollar their counterparts, the men made.  Of that 26%, statisticians estimate that as much as 10 to 15 % of the gender wage gap is due to discrimination.  The disparities in wages are even higher for women of color. This problem is not limited to the province of Ontario, in fact among the 34 nations of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), Canada ranks as the 4th worst country for gendered inequality in wages, ahead of just Korea, Japan, and Germany. This inequality exists despite the fact that more women than men are attaining post-secondary degrees. Does that sound like an imaginary phenomenon or some feminist conspiracy? I’m not asking this question facetiously.  One would hope that the point of bringing attention to the problem of gender pay gap is ultimately to eliminate it.

The first step forward is to agree that this is in fact a human rights issue. We can’t do that if we are busy trying to minimize it. Ideally, the next steps would be to determine whether or not the wage gap is an issue of fair pay or an issue of barriers to well paying jobs. Research tells us that it is a combination of the two.  It’s important to distinguish fair pay from barriers to well paying jobs because the solutions for either issue vary drastically. The first involves pay equity laws and the latter requires employment equity laws. Pay equity, a fundamental human right, can be found in the Canadian Human rights Act. It is a means of eliminating sex and race discrimination in the wage-setting system. While, Employment equity, as defined in Canadian law by the Employment Equity Act, requires employers to engage in proactive employment practices to increase the representation of four designated groups: women, people with disabilities, Aboriginal peoples, and visible minorities.  The Canadian Human Rights Act requires that four factors be taken into account when measuring the relative value of work: skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions. For pay equity purposes, a job evaluation tool must be gender-neutral.

Regarding the issue of fair pay, the solutions typically involve raising the minimum wage, promoting collective bargaining power and enforcing pay equity law.  On the other hand, barriers to good paying jobs have been illustrated as being primarily caused by disproportionate number of women working part time jobs (27%) versus men (12%).  Keep in mind that when it comes to the number of employed women Canada does pretty well with 69% of women being employed. This is 9% higher than the OECD average of 60%.  However, in 2009 the percentage of women on the boards of Canadian companies, big enough to be listed on the stock exchange, was just 6%. So the solution for eliminating the barriers to well paying jobs involve implementing employment equity law, investing in affordable accessible child care and enforcing compliance in all workplaces.

Armed with this knowledge, hopefully we can move the conversation from the question of whether or not the gender gap is real, with those who try to deny its very existence by wrongfully suggesting that the gender pay gap is simply a result of differing levels of education, or of life choices to one where we can acknowledge the gap is the product of historically rooted gender biases that still thrive today. Though many Canadians would claim otherwise, these data clearly show that the vast majority of us, regardless of gender, view men’s labor as more valuable than women’s. Oftentimes we may not be consciously aware that there might be a strongly biased perceptions of how we value work done by men versus work done by women. These often break down, as gendered binaries that directly favor men, like the idea that men are strong and women are weak, that men are rational while women are emotional, or that men are leaders and women are followers. It’s time to get real. Simply put, when evaluating gender wage gap it’s important to remember that this is about doing the right and fair thing. It is about treating people the way they deserve to be treated no matter their gender.


Kaha Haji-Mohamed

Picture titled "Lt. Governor Host Women's Minimum Wage Discussion" taken by Maryland GovPics on April 1, 2014, obtained through Creative Commons (