Women in the Workforce: Equal Opportunities

By Emma Bott


Equal employment opportunities and pay is a hotly-debated topic in the news today. We’ve all heard the stories of women who get paid less than their male coworkers who do the same job. Equal pay for equal work is gaining more and more recognition because of popular figures like Amy Schumer, Natalie Portman, Jennifer Lawrence and Debra Messing (to name a few). In Canada, white women earn 87 cents to men’s $1. In 1981, this pay gap was 77 cents to every $1. In 36 years, the only progress made is 10 cents. Black women make even less at 69 cents to every $1 earned by men. Indigenous women make 59 cents, and hispanic women make 54 cents. This is an upsetting reality, and it begs the question of why it is still an issue in 2018.


There are two concepts we need to understand in order to promote equal pay: equal pay for equal work, and equal pay for work of equal value. Equal pay for equal work is defined by Canadian Human Resources as “[t]he principle or policy of equal rates of pay for all employees in an establishment performing the same kind and amount of work, regardless of sex, race or other characteristics of individual workers not related to ability or performance.” Equal pay for work of equal value, on the other hand, is defined as “[t]he principle of equal pay for men and women in jobs with comparable content; based on criteria of skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions.” Equal pay for work of equal value is a crucial part of the Canadian Human Rights Act.


A barrier blocking women from succeeding is the invisible glass ceiling. The glass ceiling allows women to view higher level jobs that stay just beyond their reach. It is an obstacle in the way of female career advancement, especially at the top of large companies. In most large corporations, the existing top management are men.  Shared perspective is a major factor causing this preference. Another barrier is family. Women, who are still thought of as primary caregivers, are more prone to worry about the effects of their jobs on their families. Think about it: when you were a kid and were sick, what you did you want? Most of you probably wanted your mom to take care of you. There are a lack of proper support systems in place in most workplaces for new parents. What are some examples of systems that could be in place? One option is mentor moms, which pairs new moms with other working moms to learn how to juggle tasks. Alternatively, some companies help women phase back into work following maternity leave. The first week back, women only do 50% of their regular workload, the second week they do 75% and finally, the third week they are up to 100%.


Another reality is that women are more likely to opt for non-standard employment types. Some work part-time, telecommute, and have shift work. An issue with this type of employment is that nonstandard employees do not often get the promotions and benefits that full-time employees do. Women also tend to look at how their career choices affect their mental and physical health more than men. If a career choice is damaging to their physical or mental health, women are more likely to re-evaluate and change career paths. The last barrier is made up of stereotypes and behaviours. There is a recurring idea among many that women do not have what it takes to be leaders. The social role theory explains how people tend to picture the same characteristics when thinking of a leader, and these characteristics just happen to describe typical male behaviours. Although there are different approaches to management, typical female behaviour tends to undermine confidence in them as leaders. Right now, cultural and societal norms see men as protectors and women as nurturers. Part of the issue with these stereotypes are that they are subconscious and many people do not realize they even carry them. In Sheryl Sandberg book Lean In, she encourages women to ask for want they want in their careers and be more aggressive in order to be seen as leadership material. We are faced with a dilemma now, and that is whether it is people who should change or if stereotypes are what need to evolve.


In Canada, we have employment equity, and in the US, there is affirmative equity. Employment equity programs are defined by Canadian Human Resource Management as being “developed by employers to undo past employment discrimination or to ensure equal employment opportunity in the future.” The Employment Equity Act is a piece of legislation that works to remove barriers and promote equity. There are four groups that the act focuses on: women, people with disabilities, indigenous people, and visible minorities. According to Canadian Human Resources Management, there are seven major steps in establishing employment equity programs:


(1) Exhibit strong employer commitment

(2) Appoint a high-ranking director

(3) Publicize commitment internally and externally

(4) Survey the workforce for underutilization and concentration

(5) Develop goals and timetables

(6) Design remedial, active and preventive programs

(7) Establish control systems and reporting procedures


The argument against employment equity and affirmative action is that these programs are sometimes referred to as reverse racism. Often, these people prefer to deny that racism still exists and do not acknowledge that white privilege is a real phenomena. Most people also do not fully understand the programs that are in place. It is important to understand that being anti-racism is not being anti-white; reverse racism and sexism are not existing concepts as racism and sexism are simply the buildup of systems that repress the people under them. The system is unfair to people that are disadvantaged by it. It is worth noting that white women benefit the most from employment equity and affirmative action programs.


The good news is that, like the glass ceiling, these stereotypes are slowly being phased out. People are learning to understand female leadership. There is progress being made in equal pay. Progress has been made across the board, but inattention to these issues will delay further progress.

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