It’s time to get serious about Pay Equity.

What you need to know about pay equity and how it impacts your community

For my whole working life, the federal government has been “tackling” pay inequity for women. That’s a long time to be thinking about how to do something and not really doing anything about it. When economies are booming, we’re asked to wait for something to trickle down, and in bust, well, we can’t afford it. Both claims obfuscate the roots of pay inequity, and completely fail to recognize the full economic importance of pay equity.

What is Pay Equity?

So, what is pay equity? Well, let’s start with what pay equity is not. Pay equity is not Bob and Sally having the same credentials and being hired for the same position with the same job description and being paid differently. That’s illegal. That better not be happening. Pay equity is a bit more subtle than that. It creeps up in every aspect of a woman’s life, and has far reaching impacts: from higher education costs to the shameful reality of 42% of our elderly women living in poverty.

Pay equity refers to situations where two people perform different tasks that are of comparable value but who receive different levels of pay. As such, pay equity is a question of values. At work, at home and in our communities.
Equality assumes a level playing field, such as in our Bob and Sally example. Whereas, equity assumes the game is rigged from the start. And the rigging of this game is a symptom of a much larger problem than simply receiving equally poor wages at Walmart or Tim Horton’s.

Pay Equity is good for the Economy

So, the short answer to questions around pay equity and the economy are simple: pay equity is good for the economy. No, I’m not kidding, and even the IMF, World Bank, OECD and ILO agree - hardly left wing radicals. In a recent OECD report to the G20, they tell us “G20 countries have much to gain from increased female labour force participation in terms of economic growth and increased welfare.” They also note that participation is not enough. We need to “ensure that gender gaps in economic empowerment are eliminated.” In particular, they suggest “women should be fully integrated in the labour force, not subjected to discriminatory gender wage gaps and not involuntarily confined to part-time employment and to the most low-paid, low productivity and vulnerable jobs.”

Dr. Beatrix Dart, professor and head of Rotman School of Management’s Initiative for Women in Business, also agrees. She says, “there have been many economic-impact studies that companies with more women in senior management positions and on boards, financially perform better. You want to have diversity of thinking, you want to have the best talent, you can’t afford to shut out 50 per cent of the population. You can’t be successful and not care about 50 per cent of the population. You have to be aware that having more women represented at every level is economically beneficial.”

We need to change the way we think about pay equity

But we need to shift our thinking – at work, at home, and in our community. The OECD report suggests, “Promoting a cultural shift to avoid gender stereotyping will help address differences in the choice of subject of study which limit gender equality in career opportunities and earnings progression.” Because “pervasive views about differential gender roles are one of the factors underlying the persistency of the female labour market disadvantage.”

In my hometown of Saskatoon, we have a number of important groups and networks of business women and women entrepreneurs. Each of these organizations play an important role in advocating for access to financing, upward mobility in the workplace, and the numerous other aspects of the business world in which women face barriers. Similarly, the University of Saskatchewan’s Edward’s Business School has what they call “Women’s Initiatives,” which supports and encourages leadership from women in business. We commend each of them on their efforts, and the government would do well to learn from their leadership.

We can't afford to ignore the facts

But the road is long and we have an uphill battle ahead of us. A 2011 National Household Survey indicates that out of 500 different occupations tracked, 31 of them are occupations where females make more than men. Kate McInturff from the Centre for Policy Alternatives claims, “Those women represent 2.7% of all women employed in full-time work. For the other 97.3% of women working full time, it still sucks to be you on payday.”

In our current economic climate, we simply cannot continue to ignore the facts. If we want to lift ourselves out of the mess we’ve been put in, it will take all hands on deck to get us out. We need a government with the strength of will and strategic intelligence to step up and do something about pay equity. Today. Not tomorrow. Because we can’t afford to wait another 30 years. My daughters and granddaughters deserve better. So, do yours. Together we can make sure our granddaughters are not writing the same editorial 60 years from now.