(February 3, 2021) “Men still dramatically outnumber, outrank and out earn women.” These are the ultimate findings of the new Power Gap series, undertaken by Robyn Doolittle and Chen Wang for the Globe and Mail, which premiered on January 21.
Legislation requiring that men and women doing the same job receive equal pay has been the law of the land in Canada since 1951. Every few years more legislation is written, stipulating equity as opposed to equality, creating sexual harassment laws for federally regulated businesses, and to prevent gender discrimination in the workplace more generally.
The Power Gap series, which summarizes two and a half years of employment data and earnings from 2017, 2018, and 2019 in provincial and municipal governments, universities, and publicly owned corporations, demonstrates unequivocally that legislative efforts up to this point have failed.
And, since women’s unemployment has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is very likely that the disparities found in Doolittle and Wang’s research are even greater now than they were two years ago. Their research focuses on women’s experiences in the Canadian workforce along with the much more limited data about race.
Readers can click one of the four categories—publicly owned corporations, provincial or municipal governments or universities—and type in the name of the institution and its province. The immediate results provide a headcount of employees broken down by gender, the wage differential, and their representation at the highest, middle or lowest leadership level. Under publicly owned corporations, we entered the Royal Ontario Museum and found they have 45 people working there, 60% of whom are men, that men represent about 85% of the highest leadership level, and that overall women earned 21% of what their male counterparts did.
To provide this information, the Globe analyzed “common job title keywords – such as president, chief executive officer, and vice-president, as well as présidente, vice présidente, and directrice – and publicly-available organizational charts and executive team biographies.” And using this data, they “identified employees that held key decision-making roles at each company.” These are the executive “power positions,” the Globe says.
Despite variations between different sectors, provinces, and organizations, Doolittle and Wang found a “clear big-picture trend” in Canada.
Overall, men are still making more money than women for the same amount of work. But in all sectors studied, the gender disparity was considerably more striking when it came to representation in high level positions. And the higher the position, the greater the disparity.
Not content with simply aggregating data, Power Gap presents personal stories to clarify the narrative.
Stories about women suffering in the workforce as a result of having children will be familiar to many. Women are more harshly criticized than men for errors, but excellence can also be dangerous—many people are still suspicious of women in leadership roles, and both men and women are more likely to sketch a male figure when asked to draw a ‘leader.’ Despite legislation intended to cure the wage gap between men and women, women are often punished for requesting higher salaries when a discrepancy is discovered. Sometimes, this punishment can be pre-emptive.
Janelle Benjamin was hired as the director for a Canadian not-for-profit, but when she requested a 4% increase in her salary—still less than the original posted salary—she was abruptly told the job was no longer hers. Ms Benjamin, founder and current director of Equity for All, who is Black, described it as “the most painful experience,” and Doolittle and Wang rightly note that she has been “battling discrimination on two fronts” for her whole professional career.
It was at universities where the most dramatic iteration of the Power Gap trend was observed. Women tended to drop out of power positions as the data moved up the ladder at an accelerating rate. Canadian women “are concentrated in lower-level academic positions” and found much less in higher ones. Universities also paid women the least compared to their male colleagues, at 91 cents to a dollar.
Of the four sectors studied, publicly owned corporations, such as Crown corporations, or other government-owned companies that provide services like hydro and public transit, “had the worst gender divide of all the pillars, both in terms of representation and average salaries.”
These are the institutions that run regional transit; administer electrical utilities, control multibillion-dollar pension funds, develop housing, health care and daycare policy, regulate stock markets and investigate fraud, run the lottery, sell alcohol and cannabis; promote tourism; and help entrepreneurs boost innovation, Power Gap reports.
Employees and directors at public institutions are “responsible for educating the next generation and deciding which issues are worthy of tens of billions in research funding. And at these vital public institutions, women are outnumbered and outranked by almost every measure. This power gap – the gulf between where men and women stand in the workforce – extends well beyond wages. Women’s voices, especially those of racialized women, are largely absent from many of the decision-making tables that shape nearly every facet of Canadians’ lives.”
The study says that, “In every area examined by The Globe – municipal departments, provincial ministries, universities and publicly owned companies – there are more men earning six figures, more men on executive teams, more men running organizations and more men in the top one percentile of earners.”
This may end up being the main reason that Canadian legislation on the gender/power gap has not been enforced. When white male leadership dominates, there is little internal motivation to move over and give someone else the power—especially someone who doesn’t look, or act like them.
“Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless,” Martin Luther King, Jr. said.
But judicial degrees need to be enforced. The series takes pains to point out that to stop gender discrimination Canada has all the laws it needs but “the system enforcing them is broken.”
The highest wages for women were found in provincial governments, in which women actually made slightly more—a fraction of a cent more—than their male colleagues. In municipal governments, too, on average salaries were equal.
“It’s only when you dig into specific departments that the gender divide shows up,” the study reports. “Men dominated departments such as agriculture, energy, environment, finance, infrastructure and transportation. Women … did better in areas that are traditionally viewed as female-friendly sectors: education, health and culture.”
For both levels of government, men outnumbered women in the general population and in high-level positions by a factor of about 2 to 1, on average.
Prior to this study, the vast majority of statistics on gender in the workplace have come from the United States. In their extensive research summary, Doolittle and Cheng describe the various obstacles to the systematic collection of data on employment and salary statistics. Prioritizing privacy means that some potentially useful data is unavailable, and research must always take this into account.
On Twitter, however, Doolittle has been emphasizing that Canada has a unique problem with disclosure and transparency, saying, “whenever I have to report on an issue that involves the U.S., I am consistently gobsmacked at how much more open that country is—both in terms of providing records, and in terms of people feeling they won't get fired if they talk to a journalist.”
Both Wang and Doolittle have been highlighting another element of the gender gap on Twitter. When women seek justice for workplace discrimination, they usually meet with apathy or negative consequences.
The reporting states, “For employees, fighting a human-rights case is costly, risky and time-consuming. For their bosses, confidential settlements and small penalties make it easy to walk away from bad behaviour unscathed.”
Even by Canadian standards, the charity sector is unusually opaque.
Charities are not subject to the same reporting requirements as universities, governments, and publicly owned corporations. In July 2020, in a written submission to the Finance Committee on transparency in the nonprofit and charity sector, Mark Blumberg requested that the CRA be allowed to “disclose serious non-compliance with legal requirements by a registered charity”, as well as public information on charities’ financial records.
Doolittle provides one example of a charity fundraiser “who reported a male executive to human resources for ongoing bullying and harassment. The work environment was a ‘boys’ club,’ she said. The organization did nothing, but the boss froze her out after the complaint and her career has suffered since.”
The Globe’s data on race in relation to these disparities is incomplete, due to privacy concerns, but to the degree that they were able to communicate with their research subjects, Wang and Doolittle found only a tiny fraction of the (already small) number of women in power were women of colour. This is consistent with other available data on employment in Canada, and with representation in the charitable sector, in particular.
In terms of the seemingly intransigent gender and racial earning and leadership gaps, the news is not good. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, maybe. But, for those that need convincing, the information is here. And for those who want to take to the barricades, the reasons are clear.
The Power Gap project is ongoing. Detailed reporting on different facets of this problem will continue to be released over the coming weeks and months.