Back in the dark ages when I graduated from law school, it was not uncommon to hear businesses proclaim that they did not hire women, or if they did, there was certainly no place for them at the table where “important” decisions were being made.
Four decades later, as Head of the Pay Equity Commission of Ontario, I still see discriminatory practices, and although they may not always be obvious, the results are the same. The gender pay gap remains unacceptably wide and there are far from enough women in leadership positions. These issues still exist, despite the fact that women have made enormous strides in education levels and demonstrate a continued commitment to the labor market.
So why is it that some businesses ignore the significant contributions that women make to the economy? My belief is that businesses do not want to be discriminatory. In fact, our experiences at the Pay Equity Office in Ontario suggest as much. When confronted with evidence that their human resource and compensation practices are discriminatory, most business owners are embarrassed and take immediate steps to correct their internal pay gap.
In Ontario we are lucky to have innovative legislation that provides businesses the tools they need to become leaders in gender diversity. This legislation, specifically the Pay Equity Act, helps these businesses gain the competitive advantage that having a diverse workforce can bring.
Last year alone, the Pay Equity Office worked with over 200 employers, helping them to improve their pay equity policies. The vast majority, over 80%, complied with the Pay Equity Act without an order being necessary. However, there is still work to be done; we want fewer companies that have pay equity issues.
What is promising is that change can happen—and can happen quickly—when businesses are willing to admit that a problem exists. If from here, they commit to analyzing their pay gap and taking the necessary steps to fix it, everyone wins. Discrimination has not disappeared, and it’s time to root it out! To paraphrase our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, “It’s 2015”—and counting.
Emanuela Heyninck is the head of the Pay Equity Commission for Ontario, an independent agency of the Ministry of Labour. Ms. Heyninck serves as a part-time adjudicator with Health Professions and Health Services Appeal and Review Boards, and she is the Immediate Past President of the Society of Adjudicators and Regulators. Before her appointment, she practiced civil, family, and administrative law in London, Ontario for 25 years.