Laws preventing pay discrimination based on gender have been in place since the 1970s. Yet women still earn more than 10% less than men. Progress has been made, with that gap decreasing from about 20% at the turn of the century.
How to finally close the gap is of course notoriously hard. Women may be likely to work in more modestly paying jobs such as nursing or teaching, whereas men are more likely to work in very well paying jobs such as finance. Still, this is more of an aspect to correct than an excuse for the status quo. And this does nothing to explain pay inequities faced by ethnic minorities.
One thing that everyone agrees on is that there should be equal pay for equal work in the same type of position. Here, a powerful tool is forcing companies to disclose salary ranges for positions on job postings. This gives women a great assist in negotiating fair wages devoid of gender bias. In the U.S., New York City, Colorado, California and Washington State are all enacting such legislation. In Canada, many companies now list salary ranges on their job postings, although some decline to do so. Ontario passed a law to require companies to post wages towards the end of the last Liberal government, but it hasn’t been enforced.
Beyond similar pay for similar work, the other major part of the problem of pay inequity is ensuring that women and ethnic minorities are not disadvantaged for promotions. This is much harder to resolve. Affirmative action policies can help, but work is also sorely needed to address disadvantages in access to quality education often faced by ethnic minorities.
One disadvantage faced by women earlier in their careers is the unspoken perception that they may need to take maternity leave over the coming years. In Quebec, fathers only tend to take a bit more than 5 weeks of parental leave, and this falls to an anaemic 2 weeks in other provinces. Yet this can certainly make promoting a young man feel like the safer option for an employer than promoting a young woman who may take off 18 weeks or more.
Again, progress is being made. EI legislation was updated in 2019 to specifically include five weeks of paternity leave. This is certainly a step in the right direction, but employers may still see an advantage to having young men in higher roles given that EI provides for 18 weeks of maternity leave.
Countries that lead in terms of paternity leave uptake, such as Sweden and Norway, tend to have similar systems to Canada, only more generous. In the case of Sweden - 90 days of paternity leave. In order to reduce discrimination in promoting young women, increasing paternity leave would likely be quite effective. It would also need to be accompanied by legislation specifically barring discrimination against fathers who take their full leave. Reducing perceived disadvantages to promoting young women is critical, as missing promotions early on will likely have a ripple effect on their entire careers.