In 1968 the slogan ‘you’ve come a long way baby’, was part of an ad campaign directed at women by a certain cigarette company. The phrase eventually made its way into popular culture to celebrate women’s success in attaining equality with men. But based on financial independence and being paid for work of equal value, how far have women really come since then? Based on findings in a report compiled by the Organization for Economic Co-Operation and Development, women are better off today than their mothers and grandmothers. For example, in 1947, female Canadian teachers were paid at a lower rate than their male counterparts. As recently as 1994 in Canada, women’s average earnings for full-time work was 30 percent less than men.
The same report stated that in 2021 the difference between the average earnings of men and women had dropped to 11 percent and while this seems like baby steps, the fact there is any progress at all can be attributed to a day set aside to celebrate women and their value in society.
March 8 is International Women’s Day, and its recognition did much to create awareness around pay for work of equal value regardless of gender. In fact, the day itself has its roots in a labour movement which begun in 1908. That year, 15,000 women marched in New York City asking for better pay, lower hours, and the right to vote. In 1910 at the International Conference of Working Women in Copenhagen, Clara Zetkin, a German feminist proposed that a day be set aside to recognize the importance and need for gender equality. In 1945, the Charter of the United Nations became the first international organization to affirm the principle of equality between women and men and in 1975 the United Nations proclaimed the first official International Women’s Day.
While progress has been made since the first International Women’s Day, the World Economic Forum’s 2021 report on Gender Equity, shows there is still a long way to go before pay equity is achieved. Due to numerous factors including the impact of Covid 19, the organization predicts it will take almost 137 years, or another generation or two, to truly achieve wage parity.
Caroline Parker, a Senior Investment Advisor at RBC Dominion Securities* remains optimistic despite the above report. “While I do not think we are quite there yet; we have come a long way,” she says. “There are more women in management positions and the prevalence of social media is giving women a platform to air grievances on unfair labour practices. Women are now less afraid to speak up,” she explains. Canada like the rest of the world is experiencing a tough labour market and Parker feels this has contributed to women being paid more fairly as well. “In this tight labour market, if employers want to hire and retain good employees, they are going to have to pay what the employee is worth. I really do not believe there is any room right now for wage inequity,” she adds.
Reports have shown that while women continue to be paid less despite having a college degree, advanced education remains a factor in driving women’s equality in the workforce. Soroptimist International is a worldwide service club for women and Parker is a long-time member. The organization’s mandate is to improve lives of women and girls around the world by making a difference in local communities. The club has various programs designed to help women achieve higher education and the Langley club, among other community endeavours, participates in two of them. “Soroptimists International of the Langleys have two signature programs to help women attain a better financial status. One program called Live Your Dream™ provides scholarships to female single parents who are returning to school,” explains Parker. Another Soroptimist program highlights the options available for young women when choosing a career. Dream It – Be It™ invites speakers to address high school students about traditional and non-traditional career choices. “This way the girls hear directly from women who are actually in these roles,” Parker adds.
There are Soroptimist Clubs in 120 countries, and in addition Soroptimists International have a seat at the United Nations. “Here we are able to provide critical leadership and a voice to issues affecting women and girls on a global scale,” she says enthusiastically.
According to the 2021 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, Canada ranked 24th out of the 156 countries. While Parker acknowledges more progress must be made for women in the work force, she does see a bright future for her two granddaughters, a newborn and a toddler. “For my granddaughters I believe the world is wide open to them in North America. There are very few barriers to entry for women and girls and most employers just want to see someone with a strong work ethic. Is it a perfect situation yet? No, not yet but I hope that in my granddaughters’ lifetimes they will not have to be having these types of discussions,” she concludes.
From a time when women were paid less based simply on their gender, economically women have indeed come a long way since 1968 and that is something to celebrate.
*RBC Dominion Securities Inc. and Royal Bank of Canada are separate corporate entities which are affiliated. *Member-Canadian Investor Protection Fund. RBC Dominion Securities Inc. is a member company of RBC Wealth Management, a business segment of Royal Bank of Canada. ® / ™ Trademark(s) of Royal Bank of Canada. Used under licence. © 2022 RBC Dominion Securities Inc. All rights reserved.