Tackling Canada’s gender pay gap

·National Affairs Contributor
Office workers walk through a green lit foyer of an office building in Melbourne May 5, 2009. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas/Files

Canada ranks 11th out of 17 of the world’s wealthiest countries when it comes to the gender income gap.

Women are less likely to ascend the career ladder and more likely to work part-time, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

“We’ve come a long way and it’s fantastic but there’s still a lot more work to be done,” says Jill Earthy, a successful entrepreneur, founder of the advocacy group WEB Alliance and co-author of an action plan released Wednesday on women in leadership.

The report, released at an economic forum organized by the alliance and the Vancouver Board of Trade, says the gender gap is persistent.

Despite making up 47 per cent of the Canadian labour force, females account for just 5.3 per cent of CEOs and hold just 20.8 per cent of board seats on the country’s 60 largest, publicly-traded companies. Forty per cent of companies have no women on their boards of directors.

But studies show there are economic benefits to a little more estrogen in the upper offices.

A review of Fortune 500 companies over four years by Catalyst, a global organization dedicated to promoting women in leadership, found that companies with more women outperformed those with fewer women in returns, equity and sales.

The business case is so clear. It is good for business to have more diversity,” Earthy tells Yahoo Canada News.

“We see this not as a gender issue but truly as an economic opportunity for everyone.”

The dearth of women in senior leadership is not due to a lack of supply or drive, says the report, Women as a Catalyst for Growth: A B.C. Action Plan.

But they drop out of the talent pipeline between middle and upper management, it found.

There are many reasons, including a lack of flexibility for family needs, lack of role models, exclusion from informal networking and mentoring opportunities.

There is also subtle discrimination and gender bias at play, as well as a “confidence gap” on the part of women, it says.

“Cultural and workplace norms have not evolved with the changing workforce demographics and increased diversity within the workforce,” the report says.

“This has resulted in a one-dimensional view of leadership that associates successful leadership with men and masculine characteristics and traits, such as more directive and driving approaches. This engrained culture harbours overt and unconscious discrimination towards women leaders.”

A report by the Conference Board of Canada says the gap in income between men and women in Canada is 19 per cent.

Data from Statistics Canada shows that the gender wage gap is wider among older workers and varies by occupation.

In 2010 - the last year the national census tracked such information - the worst disparity was in health care, where women earned 47 cents for every dollar earned by men. Women in natural and applied sciences earned 94 cents for every dollar. For the most highly educated, the different was “very small” within identical occupations.

The report by WEB Alliance makes several recommendations for government, industry and individuals.

Those include putting diversity policies in place along with a 30 per cent target for women in corporate executive and boards of directors.

In last month’s budget, the federal government announced changes to the Canada Business Corporations Act that will force publicly traded companies to put a gender diversity policy in place or explain why they have not.

Seven provinces and two territories had already adopted “comply-or-explain” policies. British Columbia, Alberta, Prince Edward Island and Yukon do not.

“That elevates the conversation, the fact that the government is talking about that and it’s making companies look at the diversity around the board room table and start to think about how they could do that better,” Earthy says.

The Vancouver Board of Trade’s Women’s Leadership Circle is launching a “leadership challenge” where organizations and businesses can commit to changes and be tracked for progress.

The board of trade and WEB Alliance plan another economic forum on women’s equity this fall.

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