August 26 marks Women’s Equality Day, which is the anniversary of the day women won the right to vote in the United States in 1920. Though this happened in the US, Canadians and Americans come together to celebrate a momentous day for women.
But sadly, women’s equality work isn’t done here in Canada, or around the world. This is particularly true of the gender pay gap.
What is the gender pay gap?
The gender pay gap refers to “the difference in average earnings of people based on gender,” according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation. It exists across all industries and professional levels, from junior to executive to movie stars. Seriously, Jennifer Lawrence has been talking about the gender pay gap in Hollywood for years.
Canadian women make an average of 89 cents for every dollar that men make. If you’re a woman and have intersectionalities — for example, if you’re racialized, disabled, a newcomer and/or queer, amongst others — you make even less.
Though most of the gender pay gap research focuses on the salary differences between men and women, any gender other than cis males tend to be losing out. For instance, trans women in Canada experience a 30 per cent wage reduction after transitioning.
“However you slice or dice it into your calculations, the gender pay gap absolutely exists,” says Andrea Gunraj, Vice President of Public Engagement at the Canadian Women’s Foundation.
How does Canada still have a gender pay gap?
Though gender pay inequality is a reality in Canada, this land is not the only place with a gender pay gap. The World Economic Forum estimates that it will take 132 years to close the gender pay gap worldwide.
There are many historical and structural reasons for this. Gunraj believes that one of the biggest reasons for this is that we don’t value women’s work, both paid and unpaid.
“Women are really taken up with unpaid work, unpaid childcare responsibilities, eldercare and house-care responsibilities compared to men,” she says. “That interrupts their ability to keep an income and grow an income over the years.”
Even women’s paid work, which is often in industries like frontline healthcare or retail, is often paid less than work in more male-dominated industries, like construction or finance, Gunraj explains.
Think about nurses: 91 per cent of Canadian nurses are female. The Ontario government called them “heroes” during the pandemic. And yet, that same government is imposing a cap on their wages. Coincidence?
“We can’t forget the role of discrimination,” Gunraj says. “Gender-based discrimination still happens and sexism still happens.”
How can we close the gender pay gap?
Individuals can do things like openly discuss their salaries and negotiate for more money when offered a job. But ultimately, structures and systems need to change to close the gender pay gap, Gunraj says.
One of the biggest changes Gunraj wants to see is business leadership actively working to close the gender pay gap. That means diversifying leadership teams to be more gender diverse, as well as hiring executives with backgrounds in closing equity gaps.
“How often have you seen a job posting for a person at a high-level position that says, there’s going to be an edge if you know how to address equity issues?” Gunraj says. “If you have done great work in the past changing the way your organization works to make it more just, more safe, more fair?”
Another big area to lobby for change is within the political system. Gunraj recommends talking to your representatives at the city, provincial and federal level. Ask them about the work they’re doing for gender justice. If you don’t like the answer? Don’t vote for them.
But if talking to politicians isn’t your thing, you can also donate, volunteer and/or support organizations lobbying the government to close the gender pay gap, such as the Canadian Women’s Foundation or the Ontario Equal Pay Coalition.
To its credit, the federal government is trying to bridge the gender pay gap with a new online pay transparency tool. The online database of hourly wages in various sectors will be informed by salary and pay gap data from federally regulated private-sector employers with 100 employees or more.
“Are things getting better?” Gunraj says. “It’s pretty glacial. It’s happening super slow…ending it is going to take lots of different interventions and a lot of vision.”