‘The battle starts at the top’: How Canadian companies can close the gender pay gap
Last June, all full-time female-identifying faculty members at the University of Guelph received a raise after a salary audit found they were being paid less than their male colleagues; it amounted to a $2,050 pay bump for some 300 staff members.
In 2015, McMaster University conducted a similar audit and found a gap of more than $3,000 between male and female salaries. The school adjusted female salaries accordingly.
The University of British Columbia discovered a difference of roughly $3,000 between male and female employees after analyzing salaries in 2013. (Paycheques were bumped by two per cent for all tenure-stream female faculty.)
Such efforts are praised by men and women alike as Canada’s gender wage gap remains relatively unchanged from year to year.
“The notion of [patriarchy] is so pervasive throughout our values and culture, and it also shows up in policies, programs and laws… it’s not an easy thing to overcome and it will take a long time,” said Anil Verma, a professor of industrial relations and human resource management at the Rotman School of Business. “The good news is that we’re making progress.” Albeit slowly.
Today, Canadian women earn just 84 cents for every $1 earned by men. The gap is even wider for women who are Indigenous, living with a disability, racialized or newcomers to Canada.
On average, it will take a Canadian woman 15.5 months to make the same as what a man makes in 12 months, according to the Ontario Equal Pay Coalition.
The problem, say experts, is that there isn’t only an imbalance between men and women when it comes to pay — inequality extends to all other elements of work life, too.
“It’s a cultural shift that has to happen,” said Paulette Senior, president and CEO of the Canadian Women’s Foundation. “Pay is a very tangible outcome, but [we also need to] ensure that there isn’t a built-in resentment [towards minorities] within that work environment.”
According to Senior, companies need to focus on creating workplaces that are open and accepting. Here, experts share other steps senior leaders should take in the pursuit of gender parity.
Change starts at the top
The key to closing the gender pay gap is a commitment from leadership, said Verma.
“The battle starts at the top,” he notes. “The leader of the organization has to send a clear message through communication and through action to demonstrate that this is an ‘equal opportunity’ company.”
A perfect example of this is the promotion of a woman into a key position within the corporation.
“People can see that this CEO is not only saying that [women] should have equal opportunity,” Verma said. “He’s doing it.”
For Verma, actions are just as important as words — they go together and they complement one another.
“There needs to be a commitment from the top to wanting to make sure that discrimination based on gender is not accepted and it’s not excused,” Senior added.
Managers and other employees will only be open and welcoming of diversity if an example is set by those in leadership roles.
“[I’ve seen companies] where the values say one thing… but when there are vacancies at the top of the organization, it’s the same people being put in those roles,” she said. “There has to be a matching of values with practice.”
Leadership and human resources should work together every step of the way
Once leadership is on board, employers should speak with their employees on an individual level.
Through the use of a company-wide survey, for example, you can “get a pulse of what’s really happening [and of] what people value in terms of working within that environment,” said Senior.
From there, you can take the wants and needs of your employees to your human resources department and create new policy.
“By working with HR, you can ensure that employees are being treated and paid equally, as well as ensure that any potential unintentional discriminatory practices can be revealed and remedied,” Senior said.
The human resources department can be a “great ally and partner,” according to Verma.
“They’re engaged in recruitment, in hiring, in training, in performance appraisal, in compensation and rewards, and in providing leadership,” said Verma.
“In all of these key steps, the human resources department can… make sure that these [commitments] are not only words, but they’re also followed up by actions to level the playing field.”
There’s a difference between equality and equity
According to Verma, women should be treated differently than men because they have different expectations and difficulties in the workplace.
“Equity is the notion that you have opportunities that allow you to overcome your particular difficulties,” said Verma.
“If women are to bear children and need time off from the labour market, then they should have a separate treatment.”
For Senior, an intersectional lens is necessary in this conversation.
“Are there women who are more preferred or moving up the ladder more than other women? What is the gender pay gap for women with disabilities… or for racialized or Indigenous women?” Senior said.
These are the hard questions companies need to ask when trying to close the gender pay gap.
Manage your biases, and learn from organizations that are getting it right
For Charlotte Yates, provost and vice-president at the University of Guelph, a major barrier to closing the pay gap is that biases between men and women most often creep in incrementally, not explicitly.
“For example, the characteristics we think are successful, tend to also… be male characteristics. More aggressive, more assertive, more likely to say ‘I’m the right person for this.’ Women are less likely to do that,” said Yates.
Maternity leave can also contribute to the bias.
“Women’s career arcs are different because they have different family-societal obligations. Not all women, but you’d be surprised how that does creep in as a systemic bias,” Yates told Global News.
In Yates’ experience, the biases usually come from a lack of understanding about the extra demand of motherhood.
“It may slow you down, but it doesn’t mean you’re not excellent,” said Yates. “People’s attitudes over time will creep into a person’s pay and rank… You need to be vigilant on an ongoing basis.”
Yates and her team believed a salary audit was the best way to do so, but the school also uses several other tools to promote gender equality on a day-to-day basis.
“Diversity, equity and inclusion are a major priority for me personally and… for the institution,” Yates said. “The rest of the leadership team is very committed to this.”
When it comes to recruitment, the school is especially focused on recognizing the “double disadvantage” experienced by women of colour.
“We’re always trying to make sure… we’re recruiting women. We also do special recruitment around Indigenous peoples [and] around… racial minorities,” Yates said.
“We need to make sure the leadership at the university reflects both our goals but also where our student body is, and our student body is increasingly diverse, as is the population of Canada,” said Yates. “It’s important our university reflect that.”
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