She programs and develops computer software, but there are a few things about Serena Vandersteen’s job that don’t add up.
“I’ve had experiences where I’m trying to have a conversation with a guy who’s working as the other developer,” Vandersteen said. “I’ve asked questions like ‘why are we implementing it like this? That doesn’t make the most sense to me.’ And instead of a rational conversation about why he’s made this decision, he responds by saying, ‘because the way we’ve decided to do it is that way.’”
Vandersteen is a software developer for iQmetrix in Winnipeg. The 26-year-old says she’s always been a tomboy in a male-dominated industry, but some experiences she’s had as a newer employee don’t sit right with her.
“He could have said that to anybody, but to me it sounded like ‘do you not think I’m on your level to understand the decision you’ve made?’ or ‘do you not feel like it’s worth having a conversation with someone like me,’” she wonders.
In July 2015, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives published a report called, “The best and worst places to be a woman in Canada 2015: The gender gap in Canada’s 25 biggest cities.” The best place in Canada for women, according to the report, is Victoria, B.C. Winnipeg fell into the worst half, ranking 18 overall out of 25.
The report reveals there are 17 per cent fewer women working full time than men in Winnipeg. And, on average, women who work full time earn 76 per cent of what full-time male workers earn.
Read into the numbers
Ben Eisen, associate director of provincial prosperity studies at Fraser Institute, wrote in November about the background of the apparent gender wage gap. He references a report from Ontario’s Ministry of Labour that reveals women make, on average, 70 cents to every dollar a man makes in that province.
But there’s more to it than numbers, he writes. Men are more likely to enter higher paying industries like mechanical engineering. Women are more likely to enter lower-paying industries like education. So when you take that difference into account, people working similar jobs earn the same, and part of the wage gap disappears. But not entirely.
Eisen writes the gap that remains could be from “statistical discrimination,” meaning some employers will hire young men over young women.
“[This is] due to a woman’s greater likelihood (on average) of taking time off or leaving the workforce entirely due to pregnancy and/or child-rearing,” he writes. So rather than checking women’s bank balances, Winnipeggers should be balancing priorities.
Feminist mothering: growing up in the patriarchy
Dr. Fiona Green is a women and gender studies professor at the University of Winnipeg. She teaches and writes about “feminist mothering,” a practice of raising children who understand the world they grow up in, privileges those who identify as men.
She’s studied the wage gap at the University of Winnipeg and says while things might be improving, women do earn a lower baseline income than men. One factor for that lower baseline is mothering.
“While there’s support for maternity leave, they’re not earning an income as if they’re in the workplace,” Dr. Green says. “They’re not in the position to develop in the same way because they’re absent. And it’s common sense. It’s not that it’s sexist. That would happen to a man as well. But the fact is, socially, we expect women to stay home with children more than men.”
Dr. Green says employers need to recognize the value of family and the great amount of work parents put into theirs. From that, organizations would adjust how they compensate people because they would understand the work outside of the company. Universal childcare, she says, would help make things easier for mothers who are feeling the tug between family and work successes.
“I would say we live in a society that does not value children,” she says.
“Racism is healthy and unfortunately rampant in Winnipeg”
Things get worse if you’re not a white woman.
“It’s important to recognize the intersection of not only gender but ethnicity and race and abilities come into play, too,” she says. “If you’re an aboriginal woman working in Winnipeg, chances are you’re going to be [paid] even less than a Euro-Canadian woman working in Winnipeg — partly because I would say racism is healthy and unfortunately rampant in Winnipeg.”
The voluntary 2011 National Household Survey reveals the employment rate for aboriginal people across Canada is at 63 per cent. That’s 13 per cent lower than the non-aboriginal population’s 76 per cent.
Add in the gender gap, and Dr. Green says indigenous women have it the worst in this city.
“There’s a reluctance to hire indigenous women over non-indigenous women,” she says. “But the jobs aboriginal women are hired in are lower paying jobs to begin with. So they’re not necessarily high-level professional positions.”
Read The Winnipeg equation: Part 2 for a look into women in politics and a video of Winnipeg women talking about the gender gap.