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The pay gap — Women’s social subsidy

gender-wage-gapThe wage gap appears to be on the agenda. On October 8, Ontario Labour Minister announced that a Gender Wage Gap Steering Committee will commence public consultations across the province to examine the wage gap and how the role of women at work, at home and in the community are affected by the gender wage gap, as well as to “assess how government, business, labour, other organizations, and individual leaders can work together to resolve issues that may cause the wage gap.”

I encourage all stakeholders to get involved in the process. At least, it is an opportune time for all employers to follow McMaster University’s lead and study the wage gap that may exist in their own workplaces. In April of 2015, McMaster University announced that its study had determined that there was systemic bias which created an average annual wage gap of $3515 between men and women, even after adjusting for seniority, tenure, faculty and age. As a result of this study McMaster announced it would give a pay raise of $3515 to all of its female faculty.

Much has been written or said regarding what the cause of the wage gap is, often with the blame landing square on the shoulders of women who “choose” to have children and take time off from careers for maternity and parental leaves, or who don’t “lean in” and negotiate the same way a man would for a better remuneration package. And while I don’t doubt that these factors have an impact, I argue that they shouldn’t.

Employers should have job descriptions and pay scales in which negotiation is less a factor. And the choice that families make that women will be the ones to take the full parental leave is no real choice when women’s wages are consistently lower than men’s. With maximum weekly EI payments at $524.00, who can afford to give up the higher income which is almost always the man’s because of the wage gap? So we have the proverbial chicken and egg situation in which the wage gap creates the key cause of the wage gap.

Many jurisdictions have tried to even the playing field by implementing “family friendly” laws and policies geared to helping women enter, remain in and thrive in the work force. A New York Times article by Claire Cain Miller (May 26, 2015) “When Family Friendly Policies Backfire” explores how policies regarding employer-supported child care and reduced work hours in Chile and Spain appear to have had an overall negative impact on women’s employment and pay as employers appear to use the new legal responsibilities as reasons to not hire women or to decrease women’s pay.

The only way to end such systemic discrimination against women has to be making men of child-bearing age as much of a “liability” to employers as women of child-bearing age, with men just as likely to take parental leave as women (and to actually take it), with men just as likely to leave early to make day-care pick ups, or to miss work for doctor appointments or school functions.

Quebec has taken some steps toward this goal. The Quebec PIP offers benefits for maternity leave for child-bearing women, for parental leave to be shared between parents as they agree, and for paternity leave for fathers only. A 2013 Statistics Canada publication“Leave practices of parents after the birth or adoption of young children” (11-008-x) (based on a 2010-11 study) states that 76% of Quebec children had a father who took some leave compared with only 26% elsewhere in Canada.

We, as a society, acknowledge that having children benefits everyone, especially business. The next generation is a generation of tax payers necessary to pay into pensions, health care and social benefits (reducing the amounts required from employers), and they are the future consumers, customers and innovative employees. The current wage gap is evidence of women shouldering most of the costs of having children, in effect, subsidizing men and employers from having to absorb their fair share of the costs.

Employers should take this opportunity to not only review policies but honestly identify biases which creep into daily practice, including:

  • How do you respond to parental leave applications by men officially and unofficially?
  • Do you hesitate to hire women of a certain age?
  • Do you rely on negotiating savvy to pay a woman what the job is worth and feel good when money is left on the table?

Michele Glassford

President and Managing Editor at DRH and Lawyer at MacKinnon Law Associates
Michele Glassford, is a lawyer, researcher and policy analyst with a background in employment and labour law.In addition to a part-time law practice in Stoney Creek, Ontario, Michele has worked in the field of labour adjustment for the Health Sector Training and Adjustment Program and has been a Researcher for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Michele also holds the position of President and Managing Editor at D.R. Hancocks & Associates Inc., author of the Human Resources PolicyPros. Read more
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