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The Gender Wage Gap: Division of Labour in the Charitable and Nonprofit Sector

Monday, April 23, 2018
Public Policy
Human Resources
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Budget 2018: Equality + Growth: A Strong Middle Class, released in February, has a heavy focus on women’s empowerment and gender equality. Included in the budget are a new Gender Results Framework, Women Entrepreneurship Strategy, pay equity legislation, and a Strategy to Prevent and Address Gender-Based Violence in the workplace. It also built in a strengthening of the Canada Child Benefit and Canada Workers Benefit, a new Feminist International Assistance Policy, and the Employment Insurance Parental Sharing Benefit.

Addressing the Wage Gap

The government has good reason to focus on gender equality. Women in Canada earn on average 31% less than men on an annual basis. Women are also under-represented as business owners and in politics. Fewer than one in six small and medium-sized businesses are run by women. Women represent barely one-third of senior managers in top corporate positions. In the political sphere, only one-third of elected officials are women.

The Nonprofit Trend

However, in the charitable and nonprofit sector, we see something a bit different. According to the 2017 Canadian nonprofit sector salary and benefits study, women represent 71% of leadership positions in the sector. In terms of salaries, women make 24% less than their male counterparts. In fact, women are paid less than men in the same roles in all levels of charitable organizations except in administrative support roles. While this trend in pay gap is less severe in the charitable and nonprofit sector, there is still a significant story of gender inequality.

Looking more closely, it may not be so surprising that women hold the majority of leadership positions in the sector given the fact that women make up approximately 75% of the charitable and nonprofit sector workforce. However, this points to deeper issues of occupational segregation rooted in traditional gender norms and biases, which heavily factor into the gender wage gap (i.e. the legacy of charitable work as originally unpaid work done by women not otherwise working outside the home).

The Ontario Nonprofit Network’s (ONN) recent literature review of women working in Ontario’s nonprofit sector, Decent Work for Women, describes how charitable work tends to be categorized as ‘care work’, a gendered activity based on the belief that it is in women’s nature to be nurturing and have a desire to care. This bias creates an unequal view of how men and women’s work are valued. It also feeds into the ‘care penalty’ phenomenon, as “nonprofit sector wages are lower than other sectors…despite the fact the workforce is highly educated and experienced” (ONN). In a sector made up of mostly women in caregiving positions, it is evident that the traditional view of the charitable and nonprofit sector closely aligns with stereotypes about women. As ONN explains, “devaluation of women’s work and care work in society at large directly links to decent work barriers the sector faces, to the devaluation of the sector as a whole.”

Empowering Change

The Decent Work for Women literature review is part of a larger project being undertaken by ONN. Lead by Pamela Uppal, it aims to identify barriers to women’s economic empowerment in the nonprofit sector, and to develop solutions to address these barriers at the organizational, network, and policy levels. One key learning is in the existence and interconnectedness of a gendered and racialized division of labour, as women of colour are even less likely to hold leadership positions in the sector.

Another key learning is the impact of the recent rise of precarious work in the labour market. It is the fastest growing form of employment in Canada and tends to involve lower wages and instability. This form of employment is prevalent in the charitable and nonprofit sector and includes a high concentration of women, which also fuels the wage gap (ONN). The next phase of ONN’s project will focus on engaging women in the nonprofit sector through focus groups, interviews, and surveys to help come up with targeted solutions and strategies to address the barriers to decent work.

How can we use this knowledge to address gender inequality and eliminate the gender wage gap in the charitable and nonprofit sector? Pamela Uppal suggests organizations have conversations around the negotiation of pay, around how to better support women leaders in smaller organizations, and to talk to boards about how leaders are selected - all of which will feed into the bigger change we want to make.

What legislative mechanisms need to be in place to combat the gender wage gap in the charitable and nonprofit sector? As the government is prioritizing a pay equity regime, with pay transparency requirements in the federal public service and federally regulated workplaces, employers in the nonprofit sector may also want to look at adopting fair and transparent policies to set wages. Our sector has always been at the forefront of putting equity and social justice issues in the public eye. This is a real opportunity for us to demonstrate the kind of leadership the government, and our country, is looking for.

Stay connected to Imagine Canada to keep up-to-date on the critical public policy work we’re doing. 


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