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03/29/2019 15:04 EDT | Updated 03/29/2019 15:04 EDT

3 Months And 9 Days Is Too Long To Wait For Equal Pay

There is no reason today why women on average should be making less money than men.

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Three months and nine days. For the average women in Canada, that is how far into this year they must work just to earn as much money as men did in 2018.

In other words, it takes 15.3 months for the average woman to make the equivalent of 12 months' pay for men.

Three month and nine days — April 9, to be exact — is one day better than last year, but that just amounts to very slow progress.

There is no reason today why women on average should be making less money than men. After all, most of us take it for granted that a man and a woman doing the same job should be paid the same, but that's not really the issue we're talking about here.

Inequity goes much deeper. It's about men and women ending up in different jobs because as a society we stream women toward different jobs than men. It's about paying jobs typically done by women, particularly in the care economy, lower than jobs typically done by men. It's about inequity in society that sees women taking a larger role in raising children.

These are systemic issues that run deep into our culture, and begin even with the toys we buy and the way they are marketed towards children — and then builds from there as they go to school, apply for jobs and navigate their way through the workforce and build their careers.

Toys today are more gendered than they were in previous generations, which is simply shocking, because toy companies' market research showed that the could sell more by segmenting the market into "boy and "girl" categories.

It's only the beginning.

In school, girls report not being taken as seriously as the boys, and more than half say they have experienced gender discrimination in school.

"I have felt that my opinions aren't often taken as seriously because I am not a boy," one girl said in a study of the issue.

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As infuriating as that is, what's worse is that students in that study were already internalizing gender biases, with one-quarter of boys and girls agreeing that boys are more capable of learning math and science and were naturally better athletes and leaders.

It's hardly surprising, then, that more boys end up in enhanced programs such as gifted education, according to research. Such programs also tend to favour white students over visible minorities, and children from wealthy families over those in poorer neighbourhoods — so you can imagine the added challenges facing racialized women from disadvantaged communities.

By the time they finish school, young women have been marketed to since they were young girls according to gender stereotypes, treated by their schools according to those stereotypes, and streamed into — or away from — academic programs based on those stereotypes.

It is hardly surprising, then that once they enter the workforce, they continue to be streamed into lower-paying jobs and that employers continue to tend to favour men over women when making their hiring decisions — particularly for better-paying jobs.

Once in the workplace, women are more likely to take time off when a baby is born, and to put their careers second to raising that child, often because of a lack of affordable childcare. Men are more likely to work long hours — and so more likely to get the lucrative promotions that further contribute to the equal pay gap we are marking on April 9.

These are systemic problems, rooted in sexist attitudes and borne out in practices that combine to keep average women's pay lower than that of men.

Don't forget that not all working women qualify for EI, and the increasing shift to a gig economy is making the situation even worse. Lower-income women and those under 25 are particularly hard hit, according to a recent study.

On the job, women can often find the equipment needed to do the job is inadequate. My own union, for example, has had to push for Kevlar vests and coveralls that fit our female members properly and safely. Women aren't just small men, as NASA found out recently when it realized it did not have enough spacesuits for its planned first-ever all-female spacewalk.

Even in retirement, women are held back because of inadequate provisions for women to exclude child-rearing years when their Canada Pension Plan benefits are calculated.

These are systemic problems, rooted in sexist attitudes and borne out in practices that combine to keep average women's pay lower than that of men. Changing attitudes is slow, but there are things that can be done now.

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We can and must fix some of the policy inequities, such as with parental leave and CPP, but we need not stop there.

We can do more to help more women directly by encouraging more to enter skilled trades — traditionally dominated by men and traditionally paying above average wages — and more unionization in female-dominated industries.

Unions are one of the best ways to close the gap between men and women, and yet too many governments, however, seem bent on making it harder for workers to join unions, particularly in Ontario at the moment. Unions can also negotiate enforceable anti-harassment language and job posting requirements to ensure fairness in hiring and promotions, and provide pay transparency for all jobs covered by the collective agreement.

The equal pay gap is real, but there are real solutions to begin addressing it. We need the will to do it.

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