Statistics Canada numbers show that in 2019, female employees between the ages of 25 and 54 earned 88 cents for every dollar a man earned, when looking at average hourly wages.
That represents a gap of more than 12 per cent, which widens further when looking at not just women, but other specific groups, such as Indigenous people, people of colour or those with disabilities.
The cultural inclination against speaking openly about salary can lead to tension in the workplace, according to Sarah Kaplan, a professor with the Rotman School of Management’s Institute for Gender and the Economy at the University of Toronto.
“The problem with the way the system is now, let’s say I brag about my wages and then everyone else around me is making less than me. Then it becomes very awkward,” said Kaplan, who pointed out employees can feel demotivated and deflated in these situations.
However, Kaplan pointed out this cultural barrier has strong advantages for corporate entities — in theory. According to Kaplan, a culture that silences discussions around salary is better for “a capitalist system,” because it reduces employee solidarity.
While breaking open cultural taboos around salaries can give marginalized groups more information, studies have shown it doesn’t always lead to more money.
Wage transparency has been the law for public servants in some Canadian provinces by virtue of the salary disclosures often called the “sunshine list.” This data was used as part of a comprehensive study, published in March 2021, looking at the wages of university faculty members in Canada.
It found pay transparency eventually narrowed the wage gap between women and men significantly – between 30 to 40 per cent after pay transparency was legislated for public sector wages above a certain threshold. In some provinces, such as British Columbia, Manitoba and Ontario, this began in 1996.
The researchers attributed the narrowed wage gap, at least in part, to higher female salaries being bargained as a result of salary disclosures.
However, these researchers also noted that pay transparency laws caused overall faculty salaries to go down by one to three percentage points, on average.