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Gender pay inequality most drastic in retail sector

Gender pay inequality most drastic in retail sector

Canada’s retail sector, the country’s number one employer, is rife with gender pay inequality according to a study released this week.

In Ontario, where half of the country’s nearly two million retail sector workers are employed, women workers earn 74 cents compared to every dollar earned by their male counterparts, says the report entitled The Gender Wage Gap in Ontario’s Retail Sector: Devaluing Women’s Work and Women Workers.

“This is not about a few bad apples: there is a widespread devaluing of women workers across the sector,” Kendra Coulter, Associate Professor at Brock University’s Centre for Labour Studies and lead author said in a release.

According to the report, which was helped along by a grant from the Ontario Pay Equity Commission, 65 per cent of retail workers making $12 or less an hour are women. Male cashiers 55 or older earn 32 per cent more than their female counterparts and 59 per cent of male salespeople are employed full-time compared with just 38 per cent of female salespeople.

Male managers in retail, food and accommodation earned $30.79 versus $25.06 earned by women and amongst salespeople and clerks, men were paid an average of $15.51 an hour compared to women at $13.10 and cashiers.

Sarah Kaplan, professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business, says the findings are troubling.

“Retail is of course incredibly important, being nearly 16 per cent of the economy in Canada,” says Kaplan. “I think what we’re seeing in the retail sector is a mirror of what we’re seeing more broadly in the economy.”

A report entitled Making Women Count released by Oxfam Canada and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in March, found the gap has widened since the global recession, with women earning on average 74.4 per cent of what men earned in 2009, 73.6 per cent in 2010 and 72 per cent in 2011 where it has more or less remained.

But choosing to look at retail specifically, a sector with low rates of unionization, can hammer out some of the specific dynamics influencing the wage gap.

The first, says Kaplan, is the study’s finding that men are more likely to be hired for full-time jobs in the sector.

“I don’t think anyone in any way is trying to do something discriminatory but we have these implicit biases and it leads managers to slot more men into full-time jobs,” notes Kaplan.

Another dynamic she points to is women are put in the lower paying jobs within the store, for instance given the role as a cashier rather than in a specialized section of a department store like the sports area or the auto shop.

“I think a third dynamic has to do with promotion opportunities in general, it seems men are given more opportunities to get promoted or are more likely to ask for promotions,” she says. “There’s a lot of rhetoric surrounding ‘well, women should ask more’ but unfortunately in our society when women do ask and do negotiate, their requests and negotiations are viewed much more negatively.”

While she admits educating employees about those unconscious or implicit biases through training is a step in the right direction, Kaplan champions overhauling the internal structure and incentives in the organization to ensure women candidates have been actively and thoroughly considered for roles.

“Part of the wage gap has to do with the fact that women don’t get into these leadership roles so they don’t get the higher wages that come with that,” she says.

Big data can also be useful, says the management expert, pointing to Facebook and Microsoft, which have recently announced they had “closed the wage gap.”

“This is a perfect use of big data inside an organization – do a study and examine what are the wage disparities and if there are any within the organization, then you simply go about equalizing them,” she says. “Don’t tolerate wage differentials.”