Skip to main content
opinion

In the fall of 2018, The Globe and Mail set out to investigate pay gaps between women and men. The newspaper sought out the only data that was readily available: higher-end salaries in the public sector, collated on sunshine lists of people making more than $100,000.

To no one’s surprise, there was a clear pay gap. But something more troubling emerged. The data revealed what The Globe has dubbed the power gap. Put simply: Across the public sector, men are in charge.

Yes, a person does not need data to see that men, most of them white, have a tight grip on top positions in society, from premiers and prime minister to corporate CEOs. The data, however, showed a power gap between men and women in this country that runs much deeper. It exists through all the decision-making roles in the vast public sector that touches the daily lives of all Canadians.

In four major spheres – cities, provinces, universities and publicly owned companies – men have higher salaries, hold a strong majority of all jobs analyzed and, most important, a strong majority of the decision-making roles. Men especially dominate the list of the top 1 per cent of wage earners and top leadership jobs.

There’s something glaringly wrong. If Canadian society actually operates on merit, it is impossible to believe women would not be better represented. And while the situation is bad for women, it is notably worse for people of colour and other minorities.

In the private sector, the situation is the same, although there is far less data to work with. An analysis of the 223 companies in the S&P/TSX composite index shows that more than half have no women – zero – among their executives. Of more than 1,000 named executive officers, just 13 per cent are women. Of 223 CEOs, there are nine women (only one of whom is a woman of colour).

Put more starkly: There are more Michaels among Canada’s leading CEOs than women of any name.

It has been a half-century since the Royal Commission on the Status of Women, and not all that much has changed. The 1970 report found women held less than 1 per cent of top corporate jobs. “There is no doubt changes should be made,” the report declared. “Neither is there any doubt that the absence of women at the top means that the country is ignoring many first-class minds and abilities.”

One of the most worrisome findings in The Globe’s power gap data is that the careers of women who have cracked the $100,000 salary mark are stalling in middle management, well before they get to the top. There’s a glass ceiling, yes, but there’s another barrier well below it. At the lowest salary bands The Globe looked at, the gap was closer to parity. The power gap widened as people rose.

It’s not a mystery why women hit a wall. The Globe asked the many people it interviewed about the No. 1 change they would make if they had a magic wand. A national child-care program was the consensus.

The lack of such a program is symptomatic of a broader issue: Canada has not put in the work to change since 1970, nor has it set goals.

A chief problem is a lack of data in the private sector. New rules should help. Publicly traded companies governed by the Canada Business Corporations Act must now disclose whether they have diversity targets for their boards and executives, and how many people in those roles are women, people of colour, Indigenous, or people with disabilities.

Goals are essential, too, but few companies have set them. Last week, Ontario’s Capital Markets Modernization Taskforce issued its final report. It had originally contemplated compelling companies to reach legislated targets, but the Canadian Bankers Association and others were opposed. (Of the 25 named executive officers at the Big Five banks, only two are women.) The final report recommends a target, but companies can set whatever goal they like.

Research suggests diversity could lead to large financial gains. According to the consultancy McKinsey, Canada could add $150-billion to the national economy through more equitable hiring.

But the heart of the issue is not economic.

All Canadians should have equal opportunity to succeed – something that’s just not happening. A concerted effort will be necessary to fix that. And it should not take 50 more years to accomplish.