July 17, 2017 7:00 am
Updated: July 17, 2017 11:41 am

Challenging the Wage Gap: Canadian women still earn less than men

WATCH: In the first part of her Wage Gap series, Dallas Flexhaug explores the most recent data on the discrepancy between men and women’s wages in Canada and explores one industry where the gap doesn’t apply.

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The gender pay gap in Canada has shrunk over the decades, but there are a number of reasons why it still exists:  the types of work women do, the number of work interruptions, how many hours women work, among other factors. Researchers also acknowledge an “unconscious gender bias” plays a role.

According to the latest numbers from Statistics Canada, Canadian women earn an average of $0.87 for every $1 a man earns.

Wage gap

The wage gap has always existed in Canada, but it has gotten smaller over the decades.

In 1981, women earned only $0.77 for every dollar a man earned. So it has inched 10 cents closer to parity since then.

Women have always worked, but the number of women shot up after the Second World War. Between 1950 and 2015, the number of women in the workforce went up 60 per cent.

In the early days, corporate culture was very different.

Wage Gap in Canada

Women faced open and obvious discrimination.

“Back in those days, jobs would be posted as ‘jobs wanted men’ and ‘jobs wanted women,'” said Dr. Rebecca Sullivan, the coordinator of the women’s studies program at the University of Calgary.

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“They would post that the salary for a man would be ‘X’ and the salary for a woman would be ‘Y’. There was no job protection, so if a woman got engaged, she could get fired; got pregnant, absolutely got fired. There wasn’t maternity leave, there wasn’t parental leave.”

A lot has changed since then: we have women CEOs and nobody is shocked to see a female firefighter or engineer.

But there are still mountains to climb in reaching true gender equality in the workplace.

READ MORE: Gender equality in Canada: Where do we stand today?

Research shows there are a number of factors that impact women’s wages. Women tend to work part-time more than men, which affects salary over time.

Women are also more likely to experience work interruptions,  like maternity leave. But then there’s another piece of the puzzle that researchers acknowledge but can’t quite explain; and that is why women, in some cases, are simply valued less than men.

“The Mad Men era of extreme and obvious discrimination, it doesn’t happen so much any more,” Sullivan said. “And that’s why we’ve got to do the research into unconscious bias and the gender perceptions and the little things that start to accumulate over a lifetime of work.”

The type of work women tend to do also plays a role in pay differences. The majority of women in the workforce are employed in the “five Cs”: caring, clerical, catering, cashiering and cleaning. That has not changed in the past 30 years.

Men make up well over half of the workers in the science, technology and engineering fields, according to Statistics Canada. Those jobs are higher paying, which contributes to the wage gap.

READ MORE: Canada’s best and worst cities to be a woman: report

One industry where women consistently make more money than men is the beauty industry.

“Girl power all the way,” said Kelly Streit, president and CEO of Mode Models International.

Streit represents a slew of models, including 15-year-old Shayna McNeill.

He says McNeill can charge $600 an hour for a modelling gig; significantly higher than her male model counterparts.

“It’s probably 30 to 40 per cent difference,” he said. “So whereas a guy might make $100 to 150 an hour, a girl could make $250 or $270. But on the international level, the guys would make $4,800 to $7,000 a day and the girls will make $15,000 to $20,000 a day.”

READ MORE: High school graduate tackles feminism, wage gap in viral yearbook quote

As to why female models make so much more than men?

“Women spend more money on clothes than men, that’s the bottom line,” Streit said.

McNeill, who was scouted in Grade 9 and has been modelling for over a year, knows what she wants to do when she’s older.

“I definitely want to go to university and get an education and possibly go into business.”

For now, McNeill is staying focused on her lucrative career as a model, but if she does end up in the corporate catwalk for her next career, she will likely face some challenges.

When it comes to gender perceptions and equal pay, Sullivan says real, concrete change won’t happen fast.

“It can’t come fast enough and yet it’s going to come slow.”

“We have certainly made progress and I think it would be really wrong to suggest we haven’t. But making progress and saying we are done are two different things.”

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