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What does the wage gap really mean?
Is it a serious problem?
Where do trans women and women of colour fit in?
Can we explain it easily, or is there something more at play?
Should we be doing more?
How do we deal with it? How do we fix it?
While the overall wage gap for Canadian women still hovers around 87 cents on the dollar compared to men, for some women – those from marginalized communities – the gap is more severe. And for transgender women, the problem often goes beyond issues of equal pay to gaining access to employment in the first place.
“Legislation says you get paid the same, doing the same work,” says Sarah-Dena Harnum, a transgender woman from the rural community of New Harbour, Newfoundland. “But if you're trans, oftentimes it's hard to get your foot in that door.”
Harnum considers herself fortunate. Since publicly transitioning in April 2018 she’s felt mostly supported by relatives, friends, her colleagues and supervisors at the Province of Newfoundland, and her 20-year-old son – who she says is her biggest cheerleader. But she knows that for many transgender women it’s a different story.
“For a lot of my friends, getting or maintaining work is difficult, especially if someone's non-binary – it can be a real challenge.”
Barriers to finding and maintaining employment can be tough to overcome for transgender individuals looking to join – or move within – the workforce. Employers can make things easier for current employees and potential hires by treating diversity as a priority. The first step is developing a formal inclusion policy.
“The policy piece is perhaps the most important because it doesn't cost anything to put together a plan,” says Colin Druhan, Executive Director of Pride at Work Canada. “We really encourage employers to have a guideline for staff to follow. You want everybody to feel like they're an important part of the team and that their safety and security at work matters.”
Pride at Work Canada is an Ontario-based national organization that helps empower businesses to build workplaces that celebrate employees of all gender expressions, identities, and sexual orientations. Currently, they work with over 100 national and regional partners – employers who support their mission – offering programming and events to advance diversity and inclusion in the Canadian workforce.
Among those local partners is Jazz Aviation, which was named one of Canada’s Best Diversity Employers in 2018 for the seventh consecutive year.
Over the last decade, Jazz has been intentional about embracing and celebrating diversity and practising inclusion in the workplace. According to Erica Fuhr, Diversity and Inclusion Manager, who has been in the role since it was created in 2009, a combination of formal policy, education, and community support is helping Jazz build a culture that prizes the richness of their people and welcomes talent from all communities.
“What we've noticed are signals of culture change. We've done a lot of communication and education over the last 10 years. I think the fact that we (currently) have an employee transitioning is a great indicator of our culture,” says Fuhr, “that this is a safe space.”
Companies have to take ownership. They have to realize that — sooner than later — they're going to be faced with this.
- Michelle Leard, Creative director, Saltwire Network
Creating cultural change takes effort and determination. At Jazz, they’ve developed the necessary formal policies – like their Diversity and Inclusion Blueprint and a guide to Gender Transition in the Workplace – that help guide employees through what is still new territory for many. Importantly, they back up those values with real-world support, providing diversity training to employees, promoting safe spaces at offices and worksites, creating opportunities for discussion (like their annual conference, Creating Inclusive Skies), working with suppliers to ensure they reflect Jazz’s commitment to diversity, and publicly celebrating that commitment in the communities where they work.
“In 2018 the president and CEO of our parent company, Chorus Aviation, joined the Halifax parade,” says Fuhr. “It was a really exciting moment for employees who put their time and effort in. It's great we have very active, visible support from the top.”
A shift in thinking
“Companies have to take ownership. They have to realize that, sooner than later, they're going to be faced with this,” says Michelle Leard, a transgender woman who, although she had some difficulty finding work after transitioning in 2013, found her way back into her career as Creative Director of SaltWire Network, Now Atlantic’s parent company.
Leard believes companies need to understand the way they thought 10 years ago isn't the same way people think today and isn't the way people will think a year from now, and that they need to make sure they're creating an inclusive environment. But she also believes organizations need the opportunity to learn, and trans folk should take some, though not equal, responsibility for where they – herself included – end up in the world.
“Trans people could be doing more. If we're having a hard time getting a job maybe we should be highlighting those people who are making it harder,” she says. “We also need to make ambassadors of the people who are successful. It doesn't matter if it's a big job or a little job, but if they found their rhythm. We don't do that enough.”
“The reality,” says Harnum, “is we're just people, and we have the same challenges, the same needs. We have the same hopes and fears. All the things cis people deal with in regards to finding and maintaining employment, we deal with too. But then we throw in the added wrinkle of a gendered lens.”
Harnum would like to see a future of acceptance and not just tolerance for transgender and non-binary communities, one where people get equal opportunities and equitable support.
“As corny as it is, it all comes down to love.”
- A person whose gender identity or expression differs from the sex assigned at birth
- A person whose gender identity or expression agrees with the sex assigned at birth
- A catch-all identifier for identities not exclusively masculine or feminine – those outside the gender binary of male and female
- Male-to-female, female-to-male
- Assigned female/male at birth
- Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer or Questioning, Two Spirit, Plus (all other identities)
The wage and employment gap
- Overall, women are paid 87 cents on the dollar, compared to men
- A 2011 Canadian Centre for Policy Initiatives report found racialized women earn 55.6 cents on the dollar as compared to non-racialized men and 88.2 cents for each dollar earned by non-racialized women.
- Aboriginal women’s pay comes in even lower, at 46 per cent of men’s.
- A 2014 study of Canadian workers found nearly 30 per cent of LGBT-identified Canadian workers experienced discrimination in the workplace, as opposed to 2.9 per cent of the general population.
- A study by Pride at Work Canada surveyed 225 Canadian LGBTQ2+ job seekers. It revealed 34 per cent were concerned they’d face discrimination based on multiple aspects of identity. It also found eight per cent avoid phone interviews due to worry they will be misgendered, while 66 per cent would feel more comfortable applying to organizations that publicize LGBTQ2+ policies.
“When you support women everyone rises together”
In honour of International Women’s Day and the 2019 theme of #BalanceforBetter our entire edition has been crafted by women, about women and for women in Atlantic Canada.
In the meantime, we’re also making a commitment to diversity and gender equality in this publication. Whether it’s through the writers we hire, the people we interview or artists we collaborate with, diversity and equality remains an integral part of the stories we tell and who gets to tell them.
As Gloria Steinem, world-renowned feminist, journalist and activist once explained, “The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights.”