Apparently, when women in Canada enter the workforce. A recent study conducted by Statistics Canada, and widely heralded in the mainstream media, indicates that women now outrank men in the workforce for the first time in history. Even during World War II, when women entered the workforce in unprecedented numbers, men outranked them.
While there may be some cause to celebrate this advancement of women in the world of work, there are also reasons to be cautious.
It is largely the economic crisis, which has forced many men into unemployment, that has led to women outnumbering men in the paid workforce. Traditionally “male” fields of employment such as manufacturing and the primary resource sector have been the hardest hit in the past year, whereas traditionally “female” fields such as health care, education, social services and hospitality have not been as badly affected.
Of course, many of the jobs that women continue to hold are notoriously low paid, temporary, part time and/or without benefits -- let us not forget that women make up 70 percent of part-time workers and 60 percent of minimum wage earners and that 40 percent of women work in jobs with no security or benefits.
Women in Canada who work fulltime in the permanent workforce continue to earn less than 72 cents for every dollar earned by men. This disparity widens considerably for Aboriginal women, immigrant and racialized women and women with disabilities.
It may come as a surprise to many that university-educated women fare worse when compared to university educated men than do women without post-secondary education compared to men without post-secondary education. Female university graduates earn just 68 cents for every dollar earned by male university graduates.
How can this be, when more women are entering and graduating from professional schools such as medicine, engineering and law? There are a few answers to this question.
Recent research conducted by the American Association of University Women found that when women move into fields that were previously male dominated, the rate of pay goes down. In other words, once women can do something, it is valued less. Only in fields where women make up less than 20 percent of the workforce does the pay remain comparatively high.
While women enter professions in equal or slightly higher numbers when compared to men, they do not move into positions of power in equal numbers, which has an impact on their incomes. The reasons for this are many -- interruptions in the career path due to having children, insufficient child care and workplace cultures that range from subtly unsupportive to outright misogynist, to name just a few.
The Law Society of Upper Canada, the body that governs the delivery of legal services in Ontario, had conducted extensive research on the retention (or lack thereof) of women in private practice. Their report paints a bleak picture for women who enter private practice before moving on to identify best practices to attract, retain and advance women.
Pay equity is a human right protected by the Canadian Human Rights Code and is constitutionally protected by the equality provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It has also been recognized internationally as a fundamental human rights in a number of international covenants, including the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the International Convention on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights.
Nonetheless, my daughter faces the same wage gap that I faced when she was born 35 years ago.
That is when equality is not really equal and that is not okay.
(For more on policy and women's employment visit The ACTEW Blog. ACTEW also has excellent fact sheets on women's employment.)