Choose one word that describes how you feel about the gender pay gap. Sad? Inconvenienced? Bored?
How about volcanic?
I get volcanic. Those words from Democratic Senator Barbara Mikulski on her frustration with the American gender pay gap. She's volcanic. On the brink of an eruption.
Articles of all stripes about the gender pay gap often begin with the lament that we've all seen the stats before. It almost feels like an apology for bringing up such an outdated topic.
In this way, the gender pay gap has become normalized. No need to be volcanic, the critics tell us, since the gender pay gap can be explained away by women's poor choices and lack of negotiation skills.
First of all, we need to agree to start from this understanding: nobody chooses to have their work undervalued and underpaid.
The 31 per cent gender pay gap in Ontario exists not just because some women are getting paid less for doing identical jobs as the men beside them (though this does still happen: this Stats Can table shows the imbalance in many jobs including elementary school teachers and transport truck drivers). The gap also exists because entire job classes thought as being "women's work" are undervalued and underpaid. One writer calls this patriarchy's magic trick, "It isn't that women choose jobs that are in lower-paid industries, it is that any industry that women dominate automatically becomes less respected and less well-paid."
We know that women are not going into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) careers nearly as much as their male counterparts. STEM work pays well because it's important, skilled work. Girls and women need to feel empowered to enter those fields. But, to paraphrase Uzma Shakir, we need to recognize women for the important, skilled work that they already do today.
Much of this involves caring work: 92 per cent of registered nurses and 96 per cent of early childhood educators are women. It has been convincingly argued that caring work is undervalued and underpaid because women performed it 'for free' in the home for many generations. Sociologist Pat Armstrong explains misconceptions of the skill of caring work, "...such work often involves complex, overlapping, multi-layered skills used in tasks that are frequently performed simultaneously...when so many tasks are done at the same time, it is difficult to see any particular task or to see the skill involved in juggling the tasks. It is much easier to see, and value, the garbage put on the truck than it is to see the food that is put into the child."
These attitudes affect men as well. This value system ensures that men who enter careers seen as "women's work" will be penalized whether through lower pay or other forms of discrimination. As Kate McInturff recently wrote: "men have not shifted into traditionally female dominated sectors in any number…This suggests that social attitudes about what constitutes appropriate work for men and women have not kept pace with changing attitudes about women's education."
The good news is that we know how to close the gender pay gap in Ontario. Chair of the Equal Pay Coalition, Mary Cornish has authored a Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report released today "Growing Concern: Ontario's Gender Pay Gap" which outlines ten ways to close Ontario's gender pay gap drawing on international best practices.
Pay equity is not about asking for special treatment. It is a human right. We need to stand behind groups like Community Living Guelph Wellington who were awarded pay equity adjustments from 2010 but have still not received them. Human rights are non-negotiable.
Are you sensing any seismic activity in your blood yet? Let's erupt together on Equal Pay Day, this Wednesday April 16.
For more information about the gender pay gap and Equal Pay Day please visit: equalpaycoalition.org, facebook.com/EqualPayON, @EqualPayON
Screenshot: Secrets of the gender pay gap revealed