April 10 is Equal Pay Day

We should mind the gap

Women earn less than men. No news in that. But the gap between women’s pay and men’s pay is shrinking, right? Yep, if we keep shrinking the gap at the same rate as over the last decade[1], women will earn the same as men in, oh, just about a century.

Quite shocking isn’t it given all our talk about equality and ending discrimination?

Equal Pay Day, which is on April 10 this year, is meant to get us thinking – and doing – something about the gap in earnings between men and women. It’s an annual date symbolizing how far into this year women must work to earn the same amount men earned last year.

How big is the gap?

There are different ways of calculating the gap[2]:

  • Average annual earnings: Women comprise roughly half of the Canadian labour force, and yet the total average annual earnings for working women in Canada is 31% less than the total average earnings for working men. That gap goes up to 37.5% for women of colour and 54% for Indigenous women.
  • Average annual full-time earnings: Women working full-time in Canada earn 74 cents for every dollar that men working full-time earn. That’s a 26% gap. It goes up to 30% for women of colour.
  • Hourly wage: Women earn 13% less per hour than men.
  • Adjusted for differences: If gender differences in industry, occupation, education, age, job tenure, province, marital status, and union status are factored in, there is still an unexplained gap where women earn 8% less than men.

Let’s think about even that smallest number for a moment: 8% less per year times the number of years a person works adds up to a huge inequality in lifetime earnings for women. Let’s think about how that affects our families, our communities, and our economy.

Why is there a gap?

Some of the gap is explained depending on how it is calculated. For example, women work fewer hours (outside the home) than men, particularly if there are children in the household,[3] and that explains part of the gap if comparing overall average earnings between men and women.

But really, the cause of the gap is far more complex. Even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says so: “When we dig a little deeper, when we peel back that outer layer, we see that there are a whole host of barriers facing women in the workplace.”[4]

Yes, let’s dig a little deeper. Oxfam Canada provides a good summary:

The world over, women are over-represented in informal, vulnerable and precarious work. Despite having surpassed men in educational attainment, women are hampered by unequal distribution of unpaid care work, gender barriers in many fields of work, the undervaluing of jobs held by women, and the often unspoken social norms that offer men higher wages and rates of promotion. Too many women are working full-time and yet are stuck in poverty. Women are often forced into low paid and insecure jobs due to the difficulty of accessing social security. Women also take up many more temporary, contract or part-time jobs, which offer low wages and few benefits, due to their care responsibilities. These situations make it even more challenging for women to leave abusive relationships, including work relations.[5]

Discrimination and unconscious bias are a part of the reason for the gap.[6] “[S]tudy after study has shown that when women do things like lead meetings, ask for a raise, or ask for a promotion, they are perceived as aggressive and bossy. Men are perceived as having leadership qualities. Worse yet, research has shown that as the share of women in a job sector increases, rates of pay decline.”[7]

What is being done to close the gap?

There are some positive things happening that will help address income inequality:

  • The #MeToo movement is raising awareness of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination in our workplaces that act as barriers to women. Would it have been considered news a few years ago that the actor who plays Queen Elizabeth II in The Crown was paid less than the actor playing Prince Phillip?
  • Because more women are in minimum wage jobs than men[8], every increase to the minimum wage assists in addressing inequality.
  • Legislation in Ontario has recently come into effect requiring that casual, temporary, and part-time employees receive the same hourly pay as full-time employees when doing substantially the same work (although there are exceptions.)
  • Some workplaces are taking a closer look within. Female professors at McMaster University were given a raise after a study showed they earned an average of $3500 less than their male counterparts even after taking into account seniority, tenure, faculty and age.[9]

Even so, there is so much more that can be done.

We can do more

Both private- and public-sector employers, and their employees, can provide more transparency in the salaries paid. They can examine whether policies of commitment to pay equity, diversity, and harassment-free workplaces really play out in concrete terms. They could also look at the viability of a “supplier diversity program” that encourages obtaining supplies and services from women- and minority-owned businesses.[10]

Unions have a role to play too through both organizing and representation. In lower paid occupations where more women work than men (e.g. cleaners, clerks, food preparation), unionized workers are often better paid than non-unionized workers. [11]  In the unionized public sector, there is still a gender wage gap, but it is less of a gap than in the private sector.[12]Unions can also work to ensure members who are casual, temporary and part-time receive the same pay as full-time workers doing similar work.

On an individual level, being aware helps. Raising awareness and asking questions helps more.

Maybe one day, Equal Pay Day will be every day.

This article was written by Nancy Elliott, lawyer at Stockton Maxwell & Elliott in Halifax.


[1] McInturff, Kate, “Why the gender pay gap is everyone’s problem,” MacLean’s: 2018.02.08, online at: http://www.macleans.ca/opinion/why-the-gender-pay-gap-is-everyones-problem/, as accessed 2018.04.05.

[2] McIntyre, Catherine, “These are the key numbers that explain the wage gap for women”, MacLean’s: 2018.02.08, online at http://www.macleans.ca/society/pay-equity-statistics-canada/, as accessed 2018.04.05. See also, Moyser, Melissa, “Women in Canada: A Gender-based Statistical Report: Women and Paid Work,” Statistics Canada, 2017.03.08, online at: http://www.statcan.gc.ca/pub/89-503-x/2015001/article/14694-eng.htm, as accessed 2018.04.05, at p 26.

[3] Ibid, at p. 13-16.

[4] Speech delivered 2018.01.23 at World Economic Forum 2018, online at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/01/pm-keynote-remarks-for-world-economic-forum-2018/, as accessed 2018.04.05.

[5] Oxfam Canada, “Turning Feminist Promises into Progress: Feminist Scorecard 2018)”, Ottawa: March 2018, online at: https://www.oxfam.ca/sites/default/files/file_attachments/turning_feminist_promises_into_progress_report_0.pdf, as accessed 2018.04.05, at p. 27.

[6] See comments of Sarah Kaplan in Grant, Tavia, “Who is minding the gap?”, Globe and Mail, 2017.03.06, updated 2017.11.12, online at: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/gender-pay-gap-a-persistent-issue-in-canada/article34210790/, as accessed 2018.04.05.

[7] McInturff, supra, note 1.

[8] Hansen, Jacqueline, “Minimum wage is rising, but its purpose is still debated,” CBC News, 2018.01.25, online at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/minimum-wage-ontario-canada-1.4501940, as accessed 2018.04.06.

[9] Beach, Mary, “Gender pay gap in Canada more than twice global average, study shows,” Globe and Mail, 2015.05.05, updated 2017.03.25, online at: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/gender-pay-gap-in-canada-more-than-twice-global-average-study-shows/article24274586/, as accessed 2018.04.06.

[10] Verschuren, Annette; McGee, Laura, “One way to close the pay gap: More women-owned businesses”, MacLean’s, 2018.02.18, online at: http://www.macleans.ca/opinion/one-way-to-close-the-pay-gap-more-women-owned-businesses/, as accessed 2018.04.06.

[11] Sanger, Toby, “Battle of the Wages: Who gets paid more, public or private sector workers?” Canadian Union of Public Employees: Ottawa, 2011.12, online at: https://cupe.ca/sites/cupe/files/Battle_of_the_Wage_ENG_Final-0.pdf, at p. 26, as accessed 2018.04.06.

[12] Ibid.