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The Working Life Cycle

The gender wage gap tends to widen as women progress through their working life. We need to understand when and why that happens, and then identify solutions.

We know that young men and women are achieving similar education levels, but may make different career and job choices. Research shows that “feminine”, female-dominated careers are paid substantially less than “masculine”, male-dominated careers, even when the educational requirements are similar.

Even though many women may need to support themselves and their families, they may only be able to get part-time, temporary, casual or independent contract work. Some women may have to accept these jobs because of the division of labour in their home, but others, such as Aboriginal women, women with disabilities, immigrants, or racialized women may experience further discrimination, lack of credential recognition or other employment barriers that prevent them from obtaining employment that matches their skills.

Research confirms that women still do more caregiving than men, and spend more time doing it. Caregiving is the care of children, elderly or ill relatives or other dependents. Many families still rely on informal, unpaid caregiving done by women. Working women may find it difficult to juggle their job and family caregiving arrangements. It can be even harder for those earning low or minimum wages, or working shifts, odd or long hours. Lack of advance notice of work schedules makes it more difficult to plan.

The options available to families and the arrangements they make for caregiving can affect a woman’s career path and seniority. These decisions can affect her wages, access to health benefits and pensions derived from long-term or uninterrupted employment. The long term cost to women of lost or unrealized earnings (lost opportunity costs) may not be considered.

Given the high number of families with two working parents, more men now are involved in caregiving. However, workplace practices may make it difficult for parents to share caregiving activities. This can be due to inflexible work arrangements or to outdated perceptions about work and family. This could also be due to a tax system that may encourage women to leave work (temporarily or longer term) to take advantage of tax deductions or credits that assist in the short-term. Yet, the cost implications of leaving work can continue for many years.

Once in the workplace, human resources practices and pay systems also can affect women and men differently. Research shows that hidden biases and outdated societal and business norms prevent women from succeeding at the same pace as their male colleagues. This can cause less access to promotions, training and professional development opportunities, fewer bonuses, allowances and performance-related pay.

Pay structures can be biased in favour of the work typically done by men, leading to a gender wage gap within an establishment.

There is significant research that highlights the low numbers of women in leadership and decision-making positions within organizations. In addition, the gender wage gap is wider at higher levels in organizations.

Consultation Questions

  1. What encourages and what prevents women from pursuing employment in jobs that tend to be male-dominated (e.g. STEM – science, technology, engineering, math – or skilled trades)? And what encourages and what prevents men from pursuing employment in jobs that tend to be femaledominated (e.g., nursing, child care, social work)?
  2. What kinds of services and supports might help men and women to consider pursuing and succeeding in non-traditional careers? What can businesses, business organizations and sectors do to attract and retain both men and women in non-traditional careers?
  3. Do the current laws (pay equity, equal pay for equal work, human rights) protect women from gender-related workplace discrimination and harassment? If not, how can these laws be improved? Can the operation of these laws be improved from the perspective of employers?
  4. How could government, business, unions and individuals support caregiving responsibilities?
  5. What types of workplace programs and policies could address the barriers that prevent women from being hired, being promoted and achieving leadership positions?
  6. What actions could employers take to ensure that women receive equal opportunities for training and advancement?
  7. Some jurisdictions require workplaces to report on their progress on addressing workplace gender imbalances and gender wage gaps. What would the effect be if Ontario required this?
  8. Are some groups of women and men (e.g., Aboriginals, immigrants, those in low-income families, women with disabilities), more affected than others? In what way? How could these negative impacts be prevented?
  9. Societal attitudes can create barriers. Please give examples of how government, business, labour, advocacy groups, individual leaders or others could help change attitudes about women’s roles, value and contributions in the workplace.
  10. The gender wage gap will not be closed by a single solution. It will require a variety of approaches. What ideas or best practices can you share? (e.g., educational or awareness campaigns, economic incentives or penalties, income supports, social programs, partnership development, etc.)?
  11. Are there other issues or barriers, not included above, that contribute to the gender wage gap, or that prevent women from full participation in workplaces?

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