Battle ‘Wages’ On: Women in the Workforce

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By Alex Nikotina

Despite high profile discussion on the topic, the fact still remains that, often, women  face an uphill struggle for workplace advancement. Together with Tamara Reid, a human resources coordinator at Ashton College, we look at some of the key problem areas and suggest tips to overcome them so that your organization can move towards gender equality.

The Wage Gap
It has been said that women make less money than men, and unfortunately, this statistic still persists. According to the Canadian government, women’s average income is $32,100, compared to $48,100 for men. Even after accounting for various gender differences in industry, age, occupation, education, and marital status, among others, women’s wages were still lower, amounting to 92 per cent of men’s, as of 2011.

There are two main factors of influence to consider when it comes to wages: the type of job being occupied by both men and women, and the number of hours being worked. For instance, women tend to work in a narrower range of occupations, the majority of which are in the areas of sales and services, office administration, or education. It is also interesting to note that, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, women are highly represented in the 20 lowest-paid occupations. This can partially explain the difference in wages.

The second element is the number of hours that women typically work. According to the Canadian government, more women than men choose a part-time or casual employment. This often results in less pay for women; not only do they work less hours, but they also are less likely to receive promotions or training when they are working part-time, according to the Canadian Women’s Foundation.

Leadership Roles
In the fast-paced environment of the modern workplace, entrepreneurial individuals realize that one of the ways to take back control over their time, as well as increasing their income, is to take the initiative and start up their own business. Indeed, men and women are not unique in their interest in self-employment and opening their own businesses. In fact, both self-employment and entrepreneurship have increased among Canadian women in the last 40 years.

Look more closely, though, and we can see that even though more women are starting up their own business, only a small percentage grows their business to any large extent. In 2011 in Canada, women held sole-ownership of 14 per cent of small businesses, but only 4 per cent of medium-size ones—with no mention of the large.

What about women in employment? In 2014, women represented 47.3 per cent of the labour force. Although women had a slightly lower unemployment rate (as of the same year), they also had a lower employment rate—57.3 per cent, compared to 65.5 per cent for men. On top of that, key executive positions seem harder to attain for women, especially when it comes to bigger companies. For instance, as of 2013, there were only 15.9 per cent of female directors in FP500 companies.

Of course, there are different factors that can stop women from pursuing higher-paying careers or more success in the entrepreneurial world. We have already mentioned the fact that more women than men work part-time. Additionally, some women may choose not to pursue promotion in order to maintain a balance between their work and family life. Perhaps most importantly, an attitude persists by which only a small minority of women believe that corner office positions are available to them.

Solutions
Does this mean that the battle for wage equality and leadership opportunities cannot be won? Not necessarily. A government report shows that the gap in hourly wages for men and women has been gradually declining since 1981, while the number of female leaders and entrepreneurs has been increasing. Progress can be made—and it can start in your organization.

Firstly, it is important to create an environment in which women are encouraged to pursue leadership roles and in which they feel there are no gender-based barriers. One tactic here is to encourage mentorship and sponsorship, where female entrepreneurs and workplace employees are chosen to be put on a course for career advancement. Women are more likely to strive towards success when they have a mentor or a sponsor; indeed, women’s belief in their own career success almost doubles in those with a sponsor.

Another option is to encourage and recognize individual progress and creativity in the workforce. According to Reid, “It is important that everyone in the organization is empowered to be the best they can be at their role, regardless of gender. When that happens I applaud them.” Receiving well-deserved praise can motivate people to be more ambitious and explore more opportunities.

Secondly, it is important to be able to provide women (and men, for that matter) with flexible work options. As discussed above, women more than men often choose to work part-time to maintain their work-life balance. More and more companies recognize this and offer different options to busy professionals. These include:

  • the opportunity to work from home if the role permits it;
  • the ability to work part of the day on site and then the rest of the day from home; and
  • reduced schedules or part-day work.

As we can see, working part-time does not necessarily need to be the only option for women (or men) taking care of a family. In fact, many women could benefit from having full-time employment opportunities, where they could do part of the work (if not the whole job) at home. If more options like this are available, we would be able to move faster towards breaching the gaps in gender workplace equality.

Alex Nikotina is an online marketing assistant at Ashton College in Vancouver, BC. Originally from Russia, Alex loves to travel and experience new countries, having previously spent time in Japan before moving to Canada.

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