Gendered discrepancies in the workplace can take many forms and are both subtle and overt: diminished responsibilities, perceived suitability for roles, the glass ceiling, hiring bias, maternity leave, and sexual harassment are all persistent issues that are impacting women’s economic empowerment and sometimes even keeping them out of the workplace all together. Gendered inequalities in the workplace persist in Canada, and according to McKinsey & Company, these inequalities are costing Canada $150 billion annually.

You can also check out this report from Stats Canada.

A recognizable examples of workplace inequalities is the gender wage gap. This refers to the difference in earnings between women and men in the workplace. The gender wage gap exists in every country around the world, and is prominent in Canada.

What is the gender wage gap?

The gender wage gap has resulted from a long history of women’s exclusion from the workforce, outdated perceptions of gender roles, and persisting social barriers to employment. The gender wage gap can impact women differently, it arises from various factors depending on the lived experiences and barriers that different women face.


Gender wage gap:

The difference in earnings between women and men in the workplace.

  • Across Canada, women are consistently earning less money than men in the workplace
  • Canada has fallen from 19th to 39th in the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap ranking in just two years
  • At this rate, the pay gap won’t be closed for another 170 years
  • Difference in pay is compounded by differences in working hours, with women much more likely than men to work part-time
  • Income is affected by more than just gender: minority and Indigenous women face even larger wage gaps.
  • Important to look at pay inequality through an intersectional lens

Below are some general explanations as to why the gender wage gap still exists today:

Undervaluing of women’s work

  • Recent research at Cornell University shows that work that is perceived to be “women’s work” is considered to be less valuable than men’s labour
  • This is a result of unconscious gender bias, where perceptions of work and roles are determined by gender

Gendered perceptions of industries

  • Higher paying industries such as STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) and trades are traditionally male-dominated
  • Girls are less likely to be encouraged into these industries from a young age
  • There is an over-representation of women in lower paying industries such as retail and service jobs

Gendered perceptions of women in the workplace

  • Not only is there a social expectation about which jobs are suitable for women, but in the workplace social norms and gendered perceptions of behaviour can constrict how women behave
  • For example, when advocating for themselves or negotiating a salary, women are viewed negatively whereas this behaviour is reflected positively on men
  • Without the opportunity to advocate for higher wages, women are consistently paid less for equal work

Division of labour in domestic spheres

  • Disproportionate unpaid labour outside of the workplace and the perception of women’s roles as caretakers can limit their capacity to pursue educational and professional opportunities
  • This is one of the reasons why there is an over-representation of women working part-time

Why does it matter?

The gender pay gap can make women more vulnerable to economic disempowerment. The United Nations reports that women’s economic empowerment is directly tied to gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. Unequal financial resources make women more vulnerable to poverty, which becomes exacerbated in old age.

  • Earning power can also reduce their capacity to leave violent or dangerous domestic situations.
  • Three quarters of violence against women occur in the domestic sphere and are perpetrated by partners.
  • Decreases in the wage gap directly results in reductions of violence against women.
  • Income disparity can impact women’s capacity to participate in politics and policy
  • Lack of equal representation has significant impact on gender equality
  • Gender equality will not be achieved until we bridge the wage gap.

Social Barriers


Social Barriers

Barriers that are created by the dominant culture of the community. In the case of gender issues, barriers created and upheld by patriarchy.

The gender pay gap has its roots in societal gender perceptions and historical exclusion of women from the workforce. The pay gap can impact women differently, depending on their own positionality in society. It’s important to consider that the discussion above largely relates to women who are wage-earners, or are able to be employed. Social barriers can keep women out of the workplace completely, which also has  impact on gender equality and women’s economic empowerment.

Example of the social barriers:

  • Lack of affordable childcare
  • Unpaid work and domestic responsibilities
  • Urban planning – accessibility and affordability of transportation
  • Social perceptions of gendered jobs and their associated pay
  • Educational attainment
  • Gender bias in the workplace, promotion and hiring bias, stereotypes
  • Backlash for women negotiating employment terms
  • Physical accessibility of workplaces for women with disabilities
  • Lack of sexual harassment policy in the workplace
  • Maternity and parental leave policies

Who are the decision makers?

All levels of government are needed to address the gender pay gap; the table below provides a brief overview of who the government decision makers are related to this issue:

Other Key Players

While all levels of government are vital in addressing the pay gap, civil society, the public service, and private sectors are also important key players in this issue.

Below is a list of organizations and key players who can also be important stakeholders in addressing pay inequality:

  • Business boards are responsible for setting the overall direction and strategy of organizations
  • Upper management can directly address hiring bias and ensure there is inclusive gender policy in the workplace
  • Unions can advocate on behalf of their members and hold employers accountable
  • Lots of civil society organizations in Canada are actively working on addressing the gender pay gap. Some of these organizations include:
  • Canadian Women’s Foundation:
  • The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development:

Party Platforms and Positions:

New Democratic Party

  • In 2016, a parliamentary committee to study the issue of the gender wage gap was adopted after proposal from NDP MP and Status of Women
  • 2015 Platform

Liberal Party

Bloc Quebecois

  • Promised to reverse funding cuts to women’s groups and to enact federal pay equity policy

Green Party

Conservative Party

  • The 2015 Platform did not mention pay inequality, but did discuss tax breaks from women on EI, including mothers on leave, and financial investment for combating domestic violence

Provincial/Territorial Parties

What is being done now?

Almost all provinces and territories, as well as the federal government, have some form of pay equity legislation, though most apply only to the public sector.

  • Quebec and Ontario have legislation that includes the private sector and has a positive requirement for all companies over 10 people, to establish and maintain pay equity.
  • Alberta is the only jurisdiction with no pay equity legislation on the books and the province has a very significant gender wage gap, higher than any OECD country. Anti-discrimination legislation does require equal work for equal pay, but there is no legislation requiring pay equity.  

Special committee on Pay Equity:


Pay Equity

A means to eliminate sex and race discrimination in the wage-setting system.

Mandate: The Special Committee on Pay Equity is focused on closing the gap in wages between genders, recognize pay equity as a right, and to call on the House to implement recommendations made by the 2004 Pay Equity Task Force and restore the right to equal pay in the public service that was eliminated in 2009.

Progress can be read here in the June 9th, 2016 submitted report.

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