Let’s debunk some common misconceptions about pay equity.
Pay equity is not a problem: women and men already earn the same pay for the same work.
Yes, they do. Or at least, they should since it is the law! But that is called pay equality or pay parity.
- Pay equity is equal pay for work of equal value. So, to achieve pay equity, the value of female-dominated jobs must be compared to the value of male-dominated jobs. If the value is the same, the pay should be equal.
- Employment equity is another related concept. It means having a representative workforce free of discrimination against groups such as aboriginal peoples, visible minorities, persons with disabilities, and women. Employment equity policies apply at the recruitment, hiring, and promotion stages.
How can you compare the value of different jobs? You can’t compare apples and oranges!
In fact, you can! You would compare the nutritional value of apples and oranges by looking at their vitamins, glucides or calories. Similarly, there are well-established, non-sexist job evaluation methods to compare different jobs. Questionnaires and grids help to evaluate jobs according to four factors: skills and qualifications, responsibilities, effort and working conditions.
Women’s jobs are paid less because they are easier and safer than male-dominated jobs.
Some female-dominated jobs are safer and easier, but so are some male-dominated ones. It depends on the job! In fact, we often undervalue aspects of female-dominated jobs:
- Fish plant workers need dexterity and are susceptible to injury because of repetitive movements.
- Nurses are exposed to viruses and bacteria.
- Community residence workers often have to deal with aggressive behavior due to the residents’ mental conditions and medication.
We need good job evaluation methods to highlight and compare all aspects of female- and male-dominated jobs.
Women are choosing low-paying jobs.
Women don’t choose to be underpaid. Research shows that wages tend to go down when more women enter a profession because there is a general tendency to devalue jobs that are mostly done by women. Yet, these jobs provide important services and should be paid fairly.
Women should enter better paid, male-dominated jobs.
Shouldn't we encourage men to choose female-dominated jobs too? Unfortunately, socialization influences people’s career choices along the lines of gender. Women and men should be able to choose the professions they want. That said, female-dominated jobs are important to businesses and to a functional society. If women leave these jobs, who will do them? Bottom line: these jobs need to be paid fairly.
Wages are determined by the laws of supply and demand.
Wages are determined by more factors than supply and demand only. Discrimination keeps wages down. For example, the wages of home support workers are very low in spite of acute staff shortages. That is because these jobs are mostly done by women and wrongfully perceived as easy. We need pay equity so that wages will reflect the value of work instead of old prejudices.
Businesses cannot afford pay equity and they may have to cut jobs and raise prices.
Well, the cost of pay equity for businesses is the cost of pay inequity for women! In Quebec, where there is pay equity legislation for the private sector, 70% of employers spent less than 1.5% of their total annual payroll on pay equity adjustments and most importantly, none closed their doors because of pay equity. Don’t forget, not all jobs are female-dominated and they are not all underpaid. But pay equity is a question of justice: women and men in female-dominated jobs don't get to pay less for products and services because they are underpaid.
Men’s wages will go down as a result of pay equity.
Pay equity legislation prohibits employers from reducing other employees’ wages in order to reach pay equity. Furthermore, there are men working in female-dominated jobs. They would benefit from pay equity just as much as women.
Employers will implement pay equity voluntarily.
Education alone wasn’t enough to reduce drinking and driving or smoking in public places or to ensure a minimum wage. It took legislation. The same goes for pay equity. The New Brunswick government encouraged voluntary measures through a five-year plan in 2005-2010, but without tangible results. A 2006 Québec report showed that 82% of employers who implemented pay equity programs only did it because of the provincial Pay Equity Act.