‘Ottawa’ Despite Being Well Educated Many Women Still Fall Behind in Terms of Pay
Women still earn much less than men and it’s an issue that both the private sector and the government need to address, according to a recent report from the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).
Although women tend to be well educated, they work in a narrower range of occupations and have a higher representation than men in the 20 lowest-paid jobs, according to the report Closing the Gender Wage Gap.
“This gap is a real and substantial issue facing the national economy and it must be addressed,” said Scott Allinson, HRPA’s vice president of public affairs, who wrote the report based on a survey of 912 members done between Dec. 10-16 and other research. He noted that the Royal Bank of Canada estimates incomes in the country would rise $168 billion a year if the wage gap was closed.
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Statistics Canada estimates women earn between 12 and 31.5 per cent less than men. The HRPA report outlines the stages in a woman’s life and career when critical decisions can lead to wage disparities. These include choices about education, career path, hiring and salary negotiations and performance evaluations. The general lack of flexible workplace policies and information about competitive wages also contribute to the gap.
“The best steps that could be taken to encourage more young women to pursue employment in jobs that tend to be male dominated are a combination of improved labour market research, improved career guidance, and promotion of sectors targeted towards young women,” Allinson said.
Female students are still under-represented in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) – all of which can lead to higher-paying occupations. They also tend not to enter skilled trades – making up less than 10 per cent of that group.
University grads and the pay gap
Although 62 per cent of university undergraduate students are women, they don’t end up getting paid as well as men after graduation, the report said, citing research from the Canadian Women’s Foundation. In 2008, female university graduates earned about $62,800 annually, while men earned $91,800.
A large portion of the wage gap remains unexplained and is partly due to discrimination, according to the HRPA, the regulatory body and professional association of human resources professionals in Ontario, which represents more than 20,000 members. It estimated 10-15 per cent of the wage gap is attributed to gender-based wage discrimination, which is different than employment discrimination.
Ontario’s Pay Equity Act requires employers to ensure men and women receive “equal pay for work of equal value.” And the Employment Equity Act requires that employers remove workplace barriers for women, aboriginal people, members of visible minorities, and people with disabilities.
Still, systemic biases work against women during recruitment and performance evaluations, according to the report, released on April 12. Women tend to be less assertive during hiring and salary negotiations and employers may penalize women if they initiate negotiations, the HRPA said, citing research by Corbett and Hill.
One way to tackle the recruitment issue is for businesses to take out gender identifiers from applications prior to screening them, the HRPA said, adding companies should also focus on recruiting female students.
As well, businesses can establish clear performance criteria before doing assessments and implement group evaluations to try and reduce any potential for bias, the report recommended.
Government can help improve hiring and salary negotiation skills among women through training programs aimed at female students and working professionals, the report said.
Noting that negotiation is difficult without a firm base of knowledge, the government should consider introducing wage transparency rules, the HRPA recommended.
While many women pursue demanding careers and are very successful, top female CEOs usually make less than their male peers and have partners who take on a bigger share of domestic work and childcare, Allinson said, citing a Bloomberg article entitled Best-Paid Women in S&P 500 Settle for Less Remuneration.
However, about two-thirds of women are in teaching, nursing, health care, office and administrative work, and in sales and service industries, the report said. And about 70 per cent of part-time workers are women – a statistic that’s remained the same for 30 years. That’s often due to a lack of affordable childcare, care-giving demands and domestic responsibilities.
Overall, women between the ages of 25 and 54 made up 22 per cent of Canada’s minimum-wage earners in 2009, more than double the proportion of men, the HRPA said, citing research from the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
Other key recommendations in the report include: developing a pilot project with female role models in the STEM sectors; expanding training on pay equity issues and solutions; allowing flexible work hours; and investing in policies to support those with care-giving responsibilities.
Martin Birt is president of HRaskme.com and has been in the human resources consulting business for 30 years.