August 30, 2013 — We’re all familiar with the numbers.
Despite being among the best educated in the world, Canadian women have experienced a glacial rate of progress toward equal pay cheques. A recent Conference Board of Canada report placed Canada’s gender pay gap at nearly 20%—meaning that Canadian women earn nearly 20% less than men over the course of their careers. That’s worse than the already dismal OECD average, which ranks Canada in 11th place out of 17 peer countries.
How does this impact a woman and her family? It compromises her ability to save for education, provide better housing, or insulate against economic reverses such as job loss or extended illness.
And the impact is lifelong. In fact, women over 65 are almost twice as likely as men to be low income.
There are many reasons why women’s pay continues to be consistently lower than men’s. Catalyst's longitudinal project, The Promise of Future Leadership: A Research Program on Highly Talented Employees in the Pipeline, which follows the careers of graduates of leading business schools in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia, points to persistent inequality of opportunity. Young women are likely to start at lower positions and salaries than their male peers, from the very first job! And they are less likely to be offered the visible assignments that could lead to promotion.
It isn’t just women who lose out. Canada's economy suffers as well. A 2005 report by RBC Financial Group argues persuasively that continued strong economic performance in this country will require a focus on diversity, and recommends some actions to recognize and promote talented employees of all backgrounds.
Yet women, immigrants, and minority groups continue to be underrepresented at senior levels of business management and on corporate boards. As baby boomers prepare to leave the workforce in greater numbers, as global competition pushes us to be smarter and more agile, and as knowledge becomes the dominant currency of the workplace, Canadian businesses must find ways to include talent that has been traditionally overlooked.
There are some signs of progress. Thirteen of Canada’s largest corporations have signed on to the Catalyst Accord. The federal government has established a blue-ribbon advisory committee to recommend ways to improve the representation of women on corporate boards. The Ontario Securities Commission is considering action to promote women on boards.
We can’t close the pay gap without first eliminating the barriers in Canada’s workplaces, and these initiatives are good first steps. But success will come only with a change in attitude and culture among leaders in business, government, and labour, among shareholders and employees, and among citizens.
Isn’t it time Canada moved from mediocre to best in the equal pay class?