Five decades on, gender pay gap in HE has hardly closed

A half-century after the pathbreaking report of the Royal Commission on the Status of Women showed that female professors earned CA$2,262 (CA$17,000 or US$13,000 in today’s money) less than their male colleagues, Statistics Canada has reported that the gap has hardly been closed.

This is despite the fact that each province has an Employment Equity or Pay Equity law and university collective agreements mandate equal pay.

The Statistics Canada report builds on a 2016 study that showed that, in 1970, (in constant dollars) male professors earned CA$91,648 while female professors earned CA$73,757, a gap of 20%.

Each university University World News contacted sent either a short statement underlining its commitment to equal pay or long reports detailing studies the university had commissioned and its efforts to address any pay gap identified.

Melissa Shaw, communications associate, media relations at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia told University World News that, in 2004, the gender gap was “approximately zero” but, by 2013, it had grown to more than CA$2,400, which led to a round of salary adjustments.

The gap, Shaw indicated, was caused by departments, such as those in the natural sciences, that “use salary supplements for recruitment”, where male faculty still predominate. In contrast, the Faculty of Education, where most professors are female, does not use salary supplements.

Teri Shearer, deputy provost (academic operations and inclusion) of Queen’s University in Ontario, told us, for example, that “to proactively prevent salary anomalies from arising, starting salaries of all new faculty are reviewed for alignment with the salaries of other faculty members in the same discipline group with equivalent years of experience”.

And yet, at Queen’s the average remuneration for female professors (excluding medical and dental) is CA$157,425 while their male counterparts earn CA$171,800.

The discrepancies at other schools are even larger. At Carleton University in Ottawa, female professors earn on average almost CA$6,000 less than the CA$150,325 their male colleagues receive, about the same differential that exists at Université du Québec à Montréal. According to Statistics Canada, the largest differential is CA$19,000 at the University of Calgary (Alberta), where male faculty take home CA$147,225 and female professors receive CA$124,425.

“The traditional explanation for this differential,” says Professor Ivy Bourgeault, chair of gender, diversity and the professions at University of Ottawa, “is the so-called ‘leaky pipeline’.”

According to this thesis, for a variety of reasons, including having children, gender or sexual harassment and being frozen out of the ‘old boy’s network’, female professors leave the profession. Even if they are replaced by new female professors, the leaky pipeline has the effect of preventing female professors from advancing to the top of the salary grid, which, in turn, affects this cohort’s average salary.

Female professors with young children, for example, are less likely to become department chairs, which means they do not receive the administrative increment that goes along with the position.

In the sciences, female professors are less likely to apply for research grants, and since tenure and promotion to full professor status is tied to publication of research papers, female professors are less likely to become full professors or be awarded prestigious research chairs.

Nor does the discrepancy vanish for those women who are promoted to senior administrative positions.

“Given the attention that has been paid to increasing gender parity in the highest echelons of academia at many universities, the fact that women are likely to experience the highest pay gap of their careers when they reach the dean level may indicate that, while universities are promoting women – perhaps for the sake of having women in senior faculty administration – they are failing to compensate them comparatively to men at the same level,” writes University of Waterloo Professor Bessma Momani in her recent study, “More Than A Pipeline Problem: Evaluating the gender pay gap in Canadian academia from 1996-2016”.

According to Bourgeault, while convenient, the ‘leaky pipeline’ is an insufficient explanation for the ongoing wage disparity.

“The imagery implies that women are passive and fall out of the pipeline as a result of gravity. The fact is that the problem is much more complex and systemic, and intersects with issues about racial diversity. It begins with recruitment. Who is being recruited for which position? What biases about gender and race do the interviewers have?”

The salary grids of every university in Canada are publicly available. But in very few cases does an applicant start at the bottom of the grid. Instead, each applicant negotiates her or his position on the grid using, for example, publications or post-doctoral work to argue for the highest position.

This process also disadvantages female candidates (as well as those who come from minority groups), says Bourgeault. Women are told to ‘lean in’ during their salary negotiations, but doing so can seem pushy, especially to older male faculty members and, thus, might be seen as counter-productive.

“The result is that female applicants tend to start lower down on the salary grid. The difference might not seem like much,” says Bourgeault, “maybe a couple of thousand dollars a year. But remember, this gap remains for the woman’s entire career. It affects not only yearly pay but, also, pensions” (which are usually calculated as 60% or 65% of the highest five years of pay).