MIND THE WAGE GAP

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By Laura Fraser

Male professors at Ryerson are pocketing, on average, nearly $6,000 a year more than their female counterparts.

The salary discrepancy was revealed in a study published by Statistics Canada earlier this year that compared the gender wage gap in universities across the country. Ryerson’s wage gap is less than the national average gap of $11,575, but that’s because programs such as nursing, early childhood education and fashion may skew the results of the study, said Margaret Malone, the chair of the equity issues committee for the Ryerson Faculty Association.

“It’s not that Ryerson actively sought out women (professors) to complement the men, but there are particular programs here that attract women,” she said. “And the fact that men still make $6,000 more is just not OK.” Since women traditionally balance work with family they are also more likely to work part-time, said Malone.

That means they get fewer benefits and start at the bottom of the salary scale. “I am way behind my male colleagues in terms of pension, because I didn’t have a chance to build that while working part time.” Meanwhile, the mandatory retirement policy that may be enforced next September could widen the gender wage gap, said Malone. Faculty members would be forced to retire at 65. Since women generally enter the academic world later than men, mandatory retirement would make it more difficult for women to reach the highest salary bracket. Malone completed her doctoral degree in her 50s and would be forced to retire in two years if mandatory retirement was enforced.

“I feel like I’m just getting started. I have all sorts of energy, I just got tenure and I’m going to be bumped out.” Mandatory retirement would potentially affect the financial situation of older women, who are already in a lower income level bracket. “Some women didn’t have access to a pension when they were younger,” said Malone, “and now, they’re not going to be able to keep increasing their salary.” The most likely way to get a salary increase is through promotion.

Full-time professors are divided into three categories — assistant professor, associate professor, and professor — with respective pay scales. In the academic environment promotions are usually given to professors who have published the most research, said sociology professor John Kervin. The emphasis on research, rather than teaching time, contributes to the gender wage gap, said the University of Toronto professor.

“The family responsibilities fall to women, as most men don’t share in them equally. There’s less time for research and writing, so there’s less of a chance to get a higher salary.” Statistically, female professors spend more time teaching, which means that promotions are awarded more often to their male colleagues who have published more research. “The bias in not in compensation,” said Kervin, “rather it is in (lack of) promotion.”

At Ryerson, only 33 per cent of the faculty and administration making over $100,000 are women, according to a provincial salary disclosure document. If the emphasis shifted from research to teaching it would be more likely female professors would reach the highest salary bracket. Although the pay scale at Ryerson is still weighted in the favour of male professors, Kervin said Ryerson’s gap might be smaller than average because it is a younger university.

McMaster University, which has a wage gap of more than $17,000, opened its doors 1890. Ryerson, on the other hand, became a full-fledged university in 1993. “Compensation decisions at Ryerson, being new, don’t have all that university cultural baggage and might give women more opportunities for promotion,” Kervin said. But since Ryerson has been around as a college since 1948, he said that explanation “might not wash.” To reduce the gender wage gap, the government regulate equity policy, said Malone. By law, the Ryerson Faculty Association and the employment equity office must give the board of governors an annual equity issues report.

Although the report offers suggestions for improvement to equity policy, they are not legally enforced. “If they brought in penalties for not paying attention to the equity plan, it would be more likely to lead to change,” says Malone. Currently, audits are the only type of enforcement, said Margaret Yap, Ryerson business professor. An audit would force the university to open its books and report on the wage difference, number of promotions per gender, and hiring and firing rates.

“That would be interesting because we can then learn all of the factors (that contribute to gender wage gap),” said Yap, who studies it in the private sector. “We all know there is a difference, but once you know why there is, you can look for a direct way to fix it.”

There is no simple answer to the wage gap issue, said Yap. The best way to minimize it would be to make people aware of the way gender can bias decisions in the workplace. “I would have expected (the gender wage gap) to be smaller at universities. We’re supposed to educate, and supposed to be educated, but somehow we can still, unconsciously, be biased.”

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