Glad you asked: Why your justification for the pay gap is bunk -

Glad you asked: Why your justification for the pay gap is bunk

For too long, employers have gotten away with asinine justifications for paying women less


A still from the television show Black-ish. Tracee Ellis Ross (right) was paid less than her male co-star Anthony Anderson. (Ron Tom/Getty Images)

Tracee Ellis Ross has many things in her favour: a showbiz pedigree (she is the daughter of Diana), killer fashion sense and razor-sharp comedic timing. Her acting chops are well demonstrated by her Emmy-nominated portrayal of Dr. Rainbow Johnson on ABC’s hit sitcom Black-ish. She is, unquestionably, a star. She is also, unquestionably, paid less than Anthony Anderson, her arguably less-famous co-star on the show. Ross’s predicament became a case study for discussion during a meeting of Time’s Up, the anti-sexual-harassment and pro-equity movement started late last year by a coalition of powerful people—mostly women—in entertainment. According to an account in The Hollywood Reporter, the room was split: some thought Ross should pare back her appearances on Black-ish and use the time to pursue other gigs; others felt she should demand more cash. What was notable about the discussion was not the suggested strategies (all of which are pretty standard showbiz bargaining tactics) but the fact that these contemporaries were talking about money at all. “Until a few weeks ago,” wrote THR’s Tatiana Siegel, “this type of candid conversation would never have taken place outside an actress’s agency.”

It may be tempting to dismiss the pay grievances of wealthy celebrities as petty one-percenter whinging, but something powerful is at play here. The famous women championing Time’s Up are savvy enough to know that literally millions of people are following their efforts to negotiate fairer salaries, thanks to society’s voracious appetite for celebrity news. Witness the excitement when Ellen Pompeo, the star of Grey’s Anatomy, detailed in an interview her fight to “get what I deserve.” Thanks to these efforts, more and more women are talking—in restrooms, over coffees, via back-channel Slack exchanges—about that most taboo of topics: money. They’re comparing notes. They’re sharing tips. They’re getting angry. And it’s time for their bosses to pay attention.

For too long, it’s been too easy for employers—however well-intentioned—to shrug off the issue of inequity with asinine justifications:

Claim #1: “There aren’t enough qualified female candidates.”

Nonsense. In every developed nation in the world, women are now better educated than men, according to OECD data, which also shows that women earn on average 15 per cent less than men. It is often true that fewer women apply for jobs, but the quality of their resumés is generally better. A Hewlett Packard report, frequently cited in such bestsellers as Lean In and The Confidence Code, revealed a tendency among women to only compete for positions for which they feel completely qualified. Men, meanwhile, felt confident applying with little more than half the relevant skills.

Claim #2: “Women don’t ask for more money.”

Actually, we do—we just don’t tend to get it. A 2016 study of 4,500 workers debunked this long-held notion of female timidity. It found female employees requested raises just as frequently as men but were successful 25 per cent less often. Even if this notion was true, is “don’t ask, don’t get” a wise way to run a business?

Claim #3: “But . . . babies!”

Sigh. Yes. Women who choose to have children often leave the workforce for a period of time, and sometimes require modified work schedules upon their return. Accommodating these shifts can be disruptive to employers (it is also disruptive to working mothers, who balance career anxiety, a disproportionate level of familial responsibility and the fear that their boobs will leak during a meeting). Yet despite all this, the research shows that working mothers waste less time at work, multi-task better and get more done than their colleagues.

 Claim #4: “Women just gravitate toward lower-paid work.”

The truth here is a little more nuanced. Broadly, the fields in which women outnumber men—human resources, consumer services, retail, marketing—do tend to entail lower wages and less chance for promotion. But often that’s because those fields are less rife with old boys’ club cronyism and more accommodating of flexible work arrangements. It’s not that we choose the path with less money. It’s that we don’t generally have many other options.

These weak justifications will slide into irrelevance as more women step forward to refute them. In taking their salary battles public, the women of Time’s Up are offering an example of what can be accomplished when we stop tolerating the status quo.

At this critical juncture, employers have a choice. They can continue making excuses for paying women less or they can admit there are serious systemic flaws, examine their own compensation policies and change how they recruit, retain and engage women employees at all levels of the organizational chart. One choice is easy. The other will put them on the right side of history.

Deborah Aarts is an editor-at-large at Canadian Business

WATCH: Canadian women on the gender pay gap, and how we can fix it


Glad you asked: Why your justification for the pay gap is bunk

  1. “There aren’t enough qualified female candidates.”
    Nonsense. In every developed nation in the world, women are now better educated than men, according to OECD data.”

    This has to be seen in tandem with #4, ““Women just gravitate toward lower-paid work.”

    Women may be “more educated” than men in that they have more university degrees, but they have them in different fields, e.g. in nursing, social work, early childhood education, literature, gender studies, etc., rather than in STEM fields, for example, which pay more.

    And that MAY be partly because the former fields are more accommodating of them as mothers, but then let’s discuss that issue rather than dismiss it as “gender discrimination”. But more likely it is because that reflects the different interests of men and women, in, yes, people and living organisms rather than things.

    And while there is lots of overlap on average, at the extremes, there is little, and it is at the extremes that people are ready to sacrifice to be able to do what they love.

  2. Women gravitate towards lower paying jobs?
    Interesting fact is that when women gravitate to jobs they become lower paying. Look at doctors – in particular the General Practitioner. It used to be mostly men. Now that particular specialty is mostly women. It’s now Family Medicine and it now pays LESS than other specialties.

    • Hi Julie. It’s not clear from your comment how jobs become lower-paying when women dominate them. Can you clarify? If you’re suggesting that employers simply simply pay women less for the same work that men do, then that’s prima facie illegal. But I can’t think of a single reason why women in those fields haven’t taken their employer (in your example, the provinces who pay doctors’ salaries) to court for such an obvious and flagrant breach of the law. Or are you suggesting that women don’t gravitate to lower-paying jobs, but that other factors such as individual choices (e.g., perhaps female doctors work few hours on average than male doctors) or societal changes (e.g, maybe an aging population is now seeking more specialized services in fields such as gerontology, thus giving family doctors fewer billing opportunities) explain the pay disparity? Could you clarify your position? Thank you.

  3. Claim #1: There aren’t enough qualified female candidates. To call this claim asinine, is in itself not only ignorant but completely and willfully biased. There are plenty of high paying fields where there are not enough female candidates. Think high risk, dirty, long shift, low flexibility jobs, firefighting, policing, military, mining, oil drilling, commercial fishing, chemical plant operating, construction (residential and commercial) heavy equipment operations, mechanics, should I keep going? Before one talks about a glass ceiling, let’s talk about the glass floor. All this dirty jobs that make up the foundation of the society, females are often willing to do, how about contribute your share of blood, sweat as well if you want to talk about gender equality? In addition, high paying but “nerdy” jobs are also severely lacking in female candidates, like software programming, engineering, robotics, mechatronics, etc. There may be some so called old boys club cronyism lingering in the industry but look at female enrollment in universities & colleges. That is a choice made by the female students, and at university level where there’s no old boys club cronyism. Yet females still avoid the high paying fields, no wonder there IS INDEED a lack of qualified female candidates for a lot of the high paying fields.

    Claim #3: “But… babies!” Yet despite all this, the research shows that working mothers waste less time at work, multi-task better and get more done than their colleagues. First of all, WHAT RESEARCH? Where’s the reference? Working mothers waste less time AT WORK (maybe it’s because they come in late and have to take off early due to day care hours?) Multi-task better, sure whatever that means. Again, where’s the proof? Research paper? Performance measurement matrix? Get more done than their colleagues. O so vague… but even if they do get more done, does that make up for lost time from late arrival and early departures and sudden your girls got into a fight calls? Does that make up for the lost opportunity to go on specific training that took place during pregnancy/labour/parental leave when everyone else went through training/team building exercises? Does that make up for the “no I can’t go to that social event because I have to pick up my boys for swimming lessons?” Babies are a HUGE factor, so to say that has NO impact on a worker’s knowledge, relevance, networking capacity is asinine. Why do I assume mothers get to do all that but not the fathers? Because if there’s a divorce (the rate hovers around 50% as far as I know), children are most likely to be given to mothers, so Canadian courts decided mothers are more suited as primary care givers, so much for gender equality… Here’s the proof: according Department of Justice 86.8% of the children live with mother only after a divorce/separation link here: This is called a reference, very useful for making a point.

    Claim #4: “Women just gravitate toward lower-paid work.” Like the other comment had already mentioned, this one goes hand in hand with Claim #1. We all know what the high paying fields are, yet there’s still a lack of female participants in these fields, especially the dirty, nerdy, high risk, non-flexible ones. They are high paying because 1. high pay is required to keep people doing these job. And 2. it’s precisely females’ unwillingness to do these jobs that makes these jobs/fields high paying, their avoidance is basically halfing the labour pool compared to fields like office administration jobs. If there are more women in these fields they wouldn’t be as high paying because of economics 101. More supply of labour, same demand, lower price. But then women in fields such as designer, biology are already finding this out.

    In the end, what’s asinine is to write an article for a deeply ideologically based cause without having first thoroughly researched the topic. The complete lack of credible evidence and reliance on vague and baseless claims to garner emotional responses that is devoid of logic.

    I’m honestly appalled that Macleans would publish these articles so poorly researched and written. They are a disservice to gender equality advocates rather than support them.

    • Hmm. Not surprised men defend these arguments. As a woman, in mining, an engineer (whose graduating class was 40% female BTW), I speak with many women who are exhausted from confronting the sexism in the workplace. So are women dropping out of these sectors? Probably, because we’re confronted with such a thick glass ceiling that it seems unbreakable. I should note that there’s lots of support for young female engineers in junior positions, but the pushback increases as you try to move up the ladder.

      • Ah Moxie, the push back increases for everyone as they try to move up the ladder. I can’t help but marvel at the extreme arrogance of women like you. Perhaps the reason you are struggling to climb the ladder is because you think it should be easy.

      • so start your own engineering company

    • MarquoPolo, Add this to Claim #2. Women, by nature, are highly agreeable. They tend to be less confrontational. Therefore, when asking for a raise and told no, they agree and walk away. Men are typically more confrontational and will challenge the dominance hierarchy for a raise. This also leads into women not moving up the corporate ladder.

  4. I left jobs that I enjoyed because of the rampant sexism. Pictures left on my desk of naked women spreading their legs. Put-downs about my strength if I did the heavy lifting or weaknesses in other areas. To be told time and again that I did not belong in that job got a tad demoralizing. Looked into high tech, but realized that the sexism often came with online threats…”I hope you’re raped” being common. And I suppose commenters like Marquopolo will make that my fault.
    Women are discriminated against in the workplace. It is a fact. If men were treated the same way there would be deafening screams of rage at the unfairness. Women are tired of being treated poorly and tired of being blamed for the way they are treated. It is time for men to take responsibility and say “yes, it happens” and also to help find a way to make the situation better.

    • There are many, many laws on the books about the type of treatment you experienced at work. First and foremost is the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms that explicitly protect you from any form of harassment at work. It is your responsibility to take actions. Only you are responsible for yourself. Any legitimate complaint cannot be used against you in any way, such as discipline, pay cut, hours cut, layoff, etc. I use legitimate as there are some complaints that are vindictive or untrue in nature.

      It is time for men to step up and make this an equitable work place. It is also time for you to step up and demand better. You run instead of standing up. Your mode is to leave the situation instead of confront it. By leaving these positions, do you think you left it a better work place for the next woman to come along? Better to put your head in the sand and quit and run than to face the hard situations head on.

  5. women will also sleep with their employer to get ahead, while men wont.
    female prostitutes earn more than male prostitutes.

    • Female porn stars earn 10x their male counterparts. Where are the feminists on that issue?

  6. Is anyone actually buying this magazine anymore. I believe it has become the definition of fake news.

Leave a Reply to rosesarered Cancel reply

Sign in to comment.