Earlier this week Sarah Molyneaux joined Ryerson Professor Margaret Yap and author Michael Kaufman to discuss the gender wage gap following a recent reporting by RBC that women face losses in hourly wage rates for 5 years after the birth of a child.
As Sarah and her co-panelists explain, this would be bad enough- but numbers are likely worse for women. Since the RBC study only looked at hourly wage rates, it’s hard to assess how women’s overall income may be affected. Many women reduce their hours or move to part-time positions after the birth of a child. Others lose their jobs or opt out of the job market entirely for a variety of reasons. Still others move to self-employment or contract work which isn’t captured by the CRA data used in the RBC study. Calculating the true wage gap for women and mothers can be complicated.
Further, we know that women already face a gender wage gap – regardless of their parental status or the age of their children. According to
The Equal Pay Coalition women’s annual income is about 30% lower than men’s. Racialized, newcomer, Indigenous and disabled women face an even greater wage gap, while gender queer and trans workers are believed to face a significant wage gap (although data is poor on this issue) in addition to high rates of unemployment due to ongoing discrimination.
What Can We Do About it?
Workers, employers, unions and government all have a role to play in addressing the motherhood penalty and gender wage gap.
Unfortunately, recent measures like the cancellation of the Ontario minimum wage increase and the freezing of the Pay Transparency Act’s measures aren’t helping, since women are more likely to earn minimum wage than men- and since greater transparency can help us really fight back against wage discrimination.
On a brighter note, increases to the wages of Early Childhood Educators (a “pink collar” profession) through the
Wage Enhancement Grant are set to continue, and the Ontario Nurses just won
a historic victory against wage discrimination.
In lieu of legislative change or court challenges (or in addition to those fights), workers can organize. Unionized women face a significantly reduced wage gap as compared to their non-unionized peers. That’s not surprising, since women can gain power by standing together – and since bargaining usually forces an employer to share information about employee’s wages, bringing unfair practices to light. Plus, collective agreements typically impose a uniform wage rate for each job in the workplace, basing increases on more neutral factors like seniority and reducing employer discretion, which can be exercised unfairly.
Of course, there’s work to be done at home, too. Men see an increase in wages after becoming parents. One possible reason for this is stereotype: employers think fathers are responsible and reliable, which are great qualities in an employee but no less true about mothers. Another is that men are not carrying an equal burden for childcare in their homes. If we can spread the daycare pick-ups or days at home with a sick kid more equally, we may be able to reduce that wage gap, too.
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