In the midst of a 'shecession,' we can close the gender pay gap

In honour of the inaugural International Equal Pay Day, Karen Jensen, Federal Pay Equity Commissioner, made the following comments in an opinion piece published in the Toronto Star on September 17, 2020.

We live in a time of turmoil and uncertainty. But, amidst the challenge, we have a great opportunity to rebuild the economy, strengthen businesses and promote worker well-being using tools that have been proven to work. Closing the gender wage gap is one of those tools.

Canadian women earn an average of 88 cents for every dollar earned by men. One way to address this gender wage gap is to require employers to analyze how they value and pay for work usually done by women and compare it to how they value and pay for work done primarily by men. This is known as pay equity.

Some may question whether now is the right time to push for pay equity, with the economy reeling from COVID-19. I believe it is our best option.

Economists are calling this the "she-cession" - a recession that particularly affects women, and which in turn will have a lasting impact on our economy, our society and our households.

Women have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. Many of the front-line workers who we rely on to serve and support our communities are women. Some are the poorest paid workers in the country. Many women have had to continue working while caring for children with little or no support. Others have had to leave the workforce to care for their families. Our economy and our society needs women back at work.

A plan that includes making sure that everyone receives equal pay for work of equal value is the right answer at the right time.

Pay equity is good for business, good for the economy and good for Canadians. A recent U.S. study of over 4,000 companies worldwide found that increasing gender equity in the workplace helped increase revenue.

As Canada's first pay equity commissioner, I'm looking forward to our new federal Pay Equity Act coming into force.

This law will require employers covered by the act to examine their compensation structures and practices to determine if people are being paid fairly according to the value they contribute to the organization, regardless of gender.

This can do so much to counteract the negative impact of the pandemic and resulting economic crisis on workers and businesses. Closing the pay gap would provide a significant boost to women's purchasing power, which would promote economic growth and help fuel our recovery.

What's more, doing the right thing - even in hard times - could inspire and motivate people to return to work and to do their best. As Friday marks the first International Equal Pay Day, let's focus on the best ways to help businesses and workers recover and prosper in these new circumstances.

Canada has an opportunity to design an approach to recovery that includes everyone - one that restores momentum in our efforts to bring about gender equality in Canada.

When women thrive, everyone thrives. Equal pay is a tool for economic recovery and prosperity. We need to embrace it, for the good of the economy, businesses and people.

Karen Jensen is Canada's first national pay equity commissioner. Friday marks the first International Equal Pay Day, established by the United Nations to promote the economic equality of women and girls.