Government and business should do more to address the gender wage gap including expanding government training on pay equity issues/solutions and exposing young women to female role models from the STEM sectors according to Closing the Gender Wage Gap: A Review and Recommendations by the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).
While "equal pay for work of equal value" is enshrined in law under Ontario's Pay Equity Act, the gender wage gap is a serious issue. Statistics Canada data estimates the gap to be anywhere between 12 to 31.5 per cent and RBC estimates it is costing the Canadian economy $168 billion in lost income.
Submitted to the Ontario Ministry of Labour as part of its recent gender wage gap consultations, the HRPA report looks at factors (often the result of unconscious biases) associated with the gender wage gap at various stages of a woman's life, from childhood education to the workplace. They include education and choosing a career path; negotiating; getting hired; wage transparency; performance evaluations; and workplace flexibility.
For example, as high school students, many young women may avoid working towards higher paid (and male dominated) careers in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields because of a "stereotype threat" in math and science -- something that follows women who do choose STEM careers, with studies showing male faculty can have an unconscious bias that men are more competent and hireable than women.
In the workplace, one study examined in the report looked at gender differences when evaluating job applications and found interviewers rating male applicants higher even though the women had identical qualifications -- especially in male-dominated occupations.
And regarding workplace flexibility and balancing work and child or elder care (which is still primarily done by women), other research has shown that women with children may be penalized compared to those without. Biases may cause mothers to be seen as less competent, and offered lower starting salaries.
Business and government's role in closing the gap
The report says both business and government have individual and combined roles to play in reducing the gender wage gap and makes 20 recommendations, including:
To encourage more young women to enter the STEM and skilled trade sectors, the report recommends the Ontario government and HRPA partner to develop a pilot educational campaign featuring female STEM professional role models targeted at senior elementary school women, with the goal of educating them about career opportunities while combating stereotypes.
To improve women's negotiation skills, the report recommends government-sponsored negotiation training aimed at both high school students and women in higher education and professionals.
To increase managerial knowledge about the issue and solutions, the report recommends government expand its training on pay equity issues and solutions--similar to the mandatory Supervisor Awareness Training the Ministry of Labour requires for the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
To increase wage transparency, the report advises government introducing wage transparency rules and business standardizing salaries -- particularly for starting salaries.
And to avoid biases during the hiring process, the report recommends businesses implement gender blind initial reviews -- asking raters to evaluate an applicant's qualifications prior to knowing their gender.
Human Resource's role
According to the report, HR professionals can play an important role in helping to reduce the gender wage gap because they are uniquely positioned to identify the influence of potential stereotypes and biases in others, and also educate managers and supervisors about the issue and effective solutions.
Other ways HR Professionals can help close the wage gap include:
• Changing hiring practices to include group evaluations of job applicants (instead of just one manager making the decision)
• Reviewing language used in job postings and evaluations to ensure gender neutrality
• Educating management on the gender gap issue and techniques to avoid it
• Reminding managers annually about the issue before employee evaluations occur
• Creating policies and procedures to help shrink the gap
As regulated HR professionals, HRPA-designated Certified Human Resources Professionals, Certified Human Resources Leaders and Certified Human Resources Executives have a duty to protect the public and work to correct the gender wage gap by staying current on pay equity techniques and approaches and helping their organizations implement effective solutions.
By working together to help close the gender wage gap, government, business and HR professionals can correct an imbalance that's not only costing the Canadian economy but is inherently unfair for half of the population.
Duff McCutcheon is communications specialist with the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).
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Try to focus less on gender differences in general, Brown said. One way is to remove gendered speech from your language as much as you can. Constantly referring to people by their sex or gender labels it to children as something that matters very much, she said, and therefore tells them that it's an important part of who they are -- perhaps more important than factors like their personality or strengths. “I try to just make it not something that really comes up much,” she advised.
“There's a lot of individual differences among children that don't follow gender lines,” Brown said. It's far more productive to focus on the things about our children that have nothing to do with sex or gender: their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and personality traits. “The reality is that gender is pretty irrelevant for predicting what kids are like,” she said. Moving away from a focus on what boys are like and what girls are like allows us to instead discover what is actually unique about our child.
“It's important to know the facts,” Brown said. “[Parents] should know that there's no differences whether they have boys or girls in terms of academic differences, personality, etc.” In fact, when studying infants and young children, the research shows very few inherent differences based on sex, she said. Boys tend to have a bit less inhibitory control at birth and girls tend to talk earlier, though this does even out as male and female children age. In general, Brown said, research tends to match what we know about development in general -- as in, differences that show up between boys and girls as they get older are related to how we treat male and female children differently, not due to any inherent differences between the sexes.
While studies show only slight differences based on sex, they do illustrate that a strong focus on gender norms can be harmful, Brown said. For girls, the negative effects can include poor body image due to the universal value placed on appearance, specifically, a very narrow definition of acceptable appearance for females. For example, Brown said, “By the time they're 12 years old more than 70 percent of girls aren't happy with how they look.” In addition, we've seen that girls stay away from careers in science and math (STEM careers) because they perceive themselves as weaker in those subjects, even when research shows that their actual abilities are the same as for boys.
But gender stereotypes can hurt boys too. “One of the most disturbing outcomes of stereotypes for boys is that we really tell boys that you shouldn't cry, and parents worry if they're son is very sensitive,” Brown said. Parents can focus too much on trying to avoid introversion and push assertiveness on boys who just don't fit that personality type. But studies don't show any differences between boys and girls tending towards being natural introverts, she said. At the same time as we could be preventing boys from expressing their feelings, we give them aggressive outlets like violent toys. “We shouldn't be surprised that boys grow up and don't know how to handle sadness and feelings well and show a lot more aggression,” she said.
Many new parents are surprised by how quickly the focus on gender begins. For example, have you ever tried to find a shirt with a cat on it for a boy? Somewhere along the line it was decided that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, and cats are for girls and dogs are for boys, and clothing and toys for even the youngest children often falls strictly on these arbitrary divisions. This can extend to our behaviour towards boy and girl children as well. Brown mentioned research that shows that people tend to read and speak more to female babies, using more complicated vocabulary, and other studies show that the number and quality of words young children hear can affect their educational success later.
Toys are not just fun for kids; they're also a learning tool. When selecting playthings for your child, break away from thinking in terms of gender or a particular section of the toy store. Instead, choose toys that foster traits you want to encourage in your children, or help them learn particular skills you value. Do you want your child to be nurturing and empathetic? Then provide baby dolls, for boys and girls. Lego and blocks help all children develop spatial skills, and ball play improves hand-eye coordination whether your child is male or female. “We want to make sure we teach the traits that are important,” Brown said, “not the toys that fit ‘their’ half of the toy store.”
Are you working on busting gender stereotypes in your own home only to feel undermined when grandma or grandpa says that dolls are only for little girls, or that all boys like to play rough? It can be tricky to get family members on board, but it's worth trying. This will ensure your children are hearing messages that matter to you and to make your family values clear. Brown said that a discussion can often avoid problems. Even if your parents or in-laws don't agree with your decision to keep your children from playing with guns or fashion dolls, they may still respect it. Barring that, she suggested, there's always the donation bin at your local thrift store. “I think it's alright to say ‘These are my kids, and I can decide what they have and how they dress,’” she said.
“Kids about three years old start to believe gender stereotypes,” Brown said. That's why it's important to consistently correct stereotypes about gender and sex when your child hears them or uses them, even if they seem harmless or silly. But it doesn't need to be a lecture or something that requires a deep discussion each time. For example, you can say things like, “Boys and girls both like to play with trucks. Your friend Jenny likes trucks a lot, doesn't she?” The key factor is making those corrections every time you hear a stereotype, Brown said, providing your children with the language they need to do it on their own when they're older and coming across stereotypes in the media or outside their homes.
Follow Duff McCutcheon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/damccutch