03/08/2014 10:42 EST | Updated 05/08/2014 05:59 EDT

Female CEOs Abound, So Why Are Women Still Earning Less?

It is a misconception in society today that we have turned the page on the dark chapter of discrimination against women in the workforce. Quebec's prime minister is a woman, our universities are filled with an increasing number of young women, and in certain faculties traditionally reserved for men such as medicine or law, women are now a majority.

In the world of business, women are emerging as leaders. More specifically in the tech space, known to be highly masculine, women are heading some of the top companies: Facebook's, Sheryl Sandberg, Yahoo!'s Marissa Mayer, Virginia Rometti, the CEO of IBM and others are proof that women can perform at the same level as male business leaders.

Upon entering the world of startups, I was shocked by the lack of women in the industry, a ratio around 90-10 males to females. The worst part of it all was not the incredibly low number of women, but the attitude of some males toward females in the industry. As a result, I've asked myself this question: Why are women still being treated differently in the workplace, and why do women oftentimes have lower salaries than men for similar jobs?

Quebec was one of the latest provinces to pass the Pay Equity Act in 1996. Implementation of the law is great, but actual conditions are still unfair. According to Statistics Canada, in 2012 men were making 10.8 per cent more than women for similar jobs. Furthermore, women went from representing 42 per cent of the workforce in 1976 to 58.3 per cent in 2009, for a total of 8.1-million women. Besides, in 2009, 34 per cent of women aged 25 to 34 had at least a bachelor degree, compared to 26 per cent of men.

Morrison, White and Van Velsor introduced the concept of the glass ceiling in 1987. The glass ceiling metaphor is used to illustrate an obstacle allowing women to glance at further professional progression, opening up perspective but restraining actual movement. It also represents the invisible discriminatory practices used toward women. For instance, the recruitment for executive level positions is often done by a closed inner circle, also known as the 'old boys club', and only a minority of women are able to infiltrate such circles, restraining their professional advancement.

When talking with other young women in the startup industry, almost all felt like they had to work harder than men to prove and establish themselves. They also revealed that at least once, they have felt discriminated or uncomfortable with a male colleague's behaviour. All the women I've spoken with divulged to me that in meetings with investors, or potential business partners, unethical conduct occurred. Seven out of 10 women I interviewed said they were asked on dates, or inappropriate comments about their physical appearance were made during, after, or before meetings. We want to do business, not be asked out on a date while at work!

Other discriminatory acts against women have occurred that may seem insignificant, but are actually just as harmful and wrong. For instance, during meetings, colleagues would instinctively rely on me to take notes. Lower ranked colleagues of mine would confirm every task I assigned them with my boss, as if my word was conditional to my male superior's approval.

That being said, I am glad that there are many men who believe in gender equality and apply this principle to the way they treat women in their work setting.

Although I've struck a pessimistic tone, being surrounded by many brilliant, ambitious, and determined young women gives me hope for the future, and implies that we, as a society, are on the right path. Furthermore, I am not saying that all men are evil misogynists who believe women should stay home, raise children, and cook dinner! Many men are actually behind this cause and are actively fighting for equality. I think it is simply instinctive for some of them to want to preserve their role as breadwinner and protector.

The image of a knight in bright shining armour rescuing a defenceless princess is empowering for men, and will most likely be perpetuated by our society for a very long time. However, I believe it is up to the princess to tell the knight to go back home -- we can fight our own battles, and stand up for ourselves!


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