02/22/2016 12:12 EST | Updated 02/22/2017 05:12 EST

This Is Why We Are Still Talking About The Gender Wage Gap

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Pink and blue figures on different coin stacks. Concept for gender pay gap.

In 1916, women were finally recognized as electoral equals by acquiring the right to vote in the four western provinces of Canada. Ontario would wait another year before doing the same. One hundred years later, we are still not equal.

Pop culture continues to debate the usefulness of feminism and a whole new generation of young women are growing up in an era of pink taxes. Products geared towards women cost more than the same products for men, while women themselves earn less for performing the same jobs as men.

In 1986, Ontario's gender wage gap was 44.4 per cent. It is inexcusable that 30 years later, the gender wage gap persists at 31.5 per cent (for average annual earnings, based on Statistics Canada data. Despite high levels of educational achievement and workforce participation, women continue to be economically disadvantaged compared to their male colleagues.

Closing the gender wage gap isn't just the right thing to do. It's a total economic game changer.

While record numbers of women are entering maths, sciences and engineering, long-viewed as male-dominated studies, women remain excluded from some male-dominated industries. Those industries offer higher pay, more security, better benefits and pensions. Women are still finding themselves in underpaid and undervalued occupations.

For the brave, pioneering women who do work in male-dominated workplaces, they are typically at the bottom of organizational hierarchies, lacking opportunities for internal mobilization. While board diversification measures have pushed for the inclusion of women around the boardroom tables of blue chip companies, research conducted by Statistics Canada reveals that in 2011, only 38.4 per cent of management personnel were women. They still run their households, but not their offices.

Before you brush this off as a post-feminist movement driven by high-paid actresses like Jennifer Lawrence who blogged about her upset over learning she was paid dramatically less than her male co-stars, consider this: closing the gender wage gap is crucial for our economy.

Gendered pay inequality is more than just an injustice. It negatively impacts the health and welfare of Canadian families. It undermines the potential for growth and competitiveness in Ontario's economy by withholding financial resources from the very people who manage their household finances.

Women are powerful consumers and the primary target of marketers the world over. Whether it's the postal code they will live in or the brand of cereal they will stock in their pantries, Canadian women make the majority of the financial decisions of their households.

And it's not just what they spend. Canadian women are more likely to save money and invest prudently with their long-term future in mind. In this current economic climate, that fiscal mentality is more important than ever.

Previous efforts to close the gender wage gap, though valuable, have been insufficient. CLAC is calling on the Ontario Government to explore and implement creative solutions to level the playing field for working women today. CLAC recently offered four recommendations to the Ontario Government in order to stop gendered pay inequality once and for all.

First, professionalize traditionally female-dominated jobs. The development of training and accreditation processes, consistent standards of practice, and regulatory bodies will raise the status of 'female jobs' that tend to be undervalued and underpaid.

Second, provide greater supports to working caregivers, regardless of gender, including more opportunities for flexible scheduling and work arrangements to accommodate for family-care.

Third, provide education to employees and employers on recognizing gender-biases embedded within their workplaces' structures and practices.

And fourth, develop resources for employees and employers to respond to and eliminate gender-bias in the workplace. This could begin with soft-skills training, transparent hiring practices and gender-neutral job descriptions, but it can grow to include board and management diversity measures.

We have known about the power of investing in women for some time. International development experts around the world agree that when you educate women, empower them to vote, and allow them to borrow money, they dramatically change the well-being of their families, the fabric of their communities, and the economic future of their countries in a single generation.

Closing the gender wage gap isn't just the right thing to do. It's a total economic game changer. CLAC is confident that these strategies will support the Ontario Government's goal of closing the wage gap between men and women.

Hank Beekhuis is the Provincial Director (Ontario) for the independent labour union CLAC.

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