Improving the gender wage gap | Miana Plesca | Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics

Improving the gender wage gap | Miana Plesca

Posted on Tuesday, April 24th, 2018

male and female employees standing

Need to know:

Men still outnumber women on the public-sector "Sunshine List" 



A factor behind the wage gap in post-secondary institutions is that women quit before achieving tenure due to the impact of raising children

The gender wage gap could be further reduced by changing the perceptions of men’s and women’s roles in the workplace and household.


More women are earning their way onto Ontario’s Sunshine List, which records all public-sector employees who earn $100,000 or more, but men still outnumber women on the list, according to a study of gender-based wage differences by Prof. Miana Plesca, Department of Economics and Finance. As a labour economist, she studies how wages are determined and what factors influence wage differences.

“I didn’t know what to expect with the Sunshine List,” says Plesca of her study. “What really surprised me was the very small number of women on it. I knew that there still was a gender gap and I thought most of it was due to family reasons.” Having children has a bigger impact on women’s careers and their incomes because mothers typically take more time off for parental leave than fathers. Mothers may also need to work fewer hours when they return to work due to childcare responsibilities.


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When the Sunshine List was introduced in the late 1990s, men accounted for 80 per cent of public-sector employees on the list. Today, the ratio of men to women is two-thirds to one-third. Even though there are more women on the list, says Plesca, they are more likely to have recently entered the $100,000 income bracket, thus earning closer to $100,000, and typically earn less than men on the list. Only 20 per cent of women on the list made as much as men did.

The average wage gap between men and women on the Sunshine List is about five per cent, which is smaller compared to other sectors, she adds. The judicial and energy sectors have no gender wage gap, however, fewer women work in these sectors. The hospital and post-secondary education sectors have the largest wage gaps between genders. Women working in hospitals earn 75 to 80 per cent of what male employees make, whereas female university and college employees earn about 90 per cent of what male colleagues make.

In the hospital sector, registered nurses, who are often female, can earn as much as $100,000, but specialists, who are often male, can make as much as $300,000, says Plesca. Women on the Sunshine List also tend to fill middle management positions in human resources or administration, but higher-level positions such as CEOs are often filled by men.

“Why do we see a glass ceiling more prevalent in these sectors?” asks Plesca. “If you look at the whole labour force, you see it at both ends. You see it in the public sector — even though I was surprised — and in low-wage industries.”

One factor behind the gender wage gap in post-secondary institutions is what Plesca describes as a “leaky pipeline,” referring to women who quit before achieving tenure and becoming full professors. This may be due to the impact of raising children.

“Even after kids are born, women still have a bigger role in the household than men, even within the university sector,” says Plesca.

Regardless of the gender wage gap, she says Ontario is at the forefront of narrowing the gap and credits the Pay Equity Commission for its efforts to achieve equal pay for women. “But still you see the gap there,” she adds, pointing to the need for society to change its perceptions of men’s and women’s roles in the workplace and in the household.

Although parental leave can be split between mothers and fathers, far fewer men take the opportunity to stay home with their children. “If you look at the data, extremely few men take advantage of parental leave because they are worried that it might negatively affect their career, so it will take some time,” says Plesca.

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