Bridging the Pay Gap through Policy Action

SCWIST was honoured to host an esteemed panel of speakers who have been championing gender equality, diversity, and inclusion throughout their careers: Olivia Chow (Former Member of Parliament and Executive Director of Institute for Change Leaders), Dr. Sarah Saska (CEO of Feminuity), Vandana Juneja (Executive Director of Canada, Catalyst).

The panelists unpacked government and workplace policies that aim to reduce gender inequalities in the workplace. The topic of the pay gap led to further discussion about the impact of the Pay Equity Act, which our speakers agreed was two-fold.

Firstly, as we celebrate this recent legislation, we appreciate the cumulative and decades-long work of so many who have advocated for equal pay. Secondly, while it represents a significant milestone, it also serves as a reminder of how much work still lies ahead of us. Indeed, Olivia Chow drew attention to a range of other issues that still disproportionately affect women. From childcare to caregiving for ageing family members, she stressed the importance of continuing to be steadfast agents of change and encouraged attendees to persevere given how long it can sometimes take for change to come. In spite of how long it can take to develop, implement, and experience the direct impact of policies, Dr. Sarah Saska emphasized the effectiveness of using an iterative approach. She highlighted that diverse groups and populations require equally complex solutions that can be achieved when policy-makers (whether in government or industry) collaborate with stakeholders and engage in a continuous positive feedback loop.

“For companies the question is not, ‘can we afford to do this now’ (equity for women, BIPOC)…but more ‘can we afford not to change?”

 -Vandana Juneja (Executive Director of Catalyst, Canada)

In terms of narrowing the gender and pay gap and creating greater inclusion in the workplace, Vandana Juneja provided actionable takeaways for both companies and employees to help push the needle and accelerate this change ‘now’. Here were some of her great suggestions:

  • Companies looking to establish pay equity should consider 1) forming a pay equity committee to develop and adopt a pay equity plan, 2) adopting an established compensation plan & use market level salaries and 3) not ask about salary history during the hiring process (because it is hard to determine if an applicant was paid appropriately at their former place of employment)
  • Employers should engage men and ALL genders to create a ‘gender partnership’ for conversations around equity and mutual accountability, which would help foster an overall culture change in an organization
  • Employees should consider getting involved in a diversity leadership council or employee resource group which would serve as ‘safe spaces’ to engage in the dialogue about equity and inclusion 

SCWIST was so honoured to receive a letter of support from the newly appointed Minister for Women and Gender Equality and Youth (WAGE). The Honourable Minister Marci Ien extended a message of appreciation to SCWIST and its organizers:

“Thank you again for everything that you do to champion gender equality around you. You are role models for your peers, but also for the future generation of girls and boys looking up to you as you build a better society for all of them.”

-The Honourable Minister Marci Ien (Women and Gender Equality and Youth)

As SCWIST looks ahead to the future and sits at the precipice of a technological revolution, it’s hard not to be concerned about women or other underrepresented groups being left behind. As Dr. Sarah Saska pointed out: 

 “We are at a really critical moment in history where technology can either exacerbate existing inequity or make things a whole lot better…” 

– Dr. Sarah Saska (CEO of Feminuity)

Now more than ever, it becomes clear that governments, organizations, and communities have to continue to work together and rise to the challenge of ensuring that these gaps and inequities don’t further deepen.

Over the past 18 months members of SCWIST’s Policy & Impact team have been striving to better understand the needs of organizations across Canada with the aim of providing resources on how the 50/30 framework can be implemented and resources for other issues surrounding the under-representation of women in leadership roles, which is of course particularly true for women in STEM. With so many ongoing projects across the country, SCWIST is proud of its commitment to improving representation for women and girls.