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The state of women in tech in Canada has worsened, even reversed when it comes to pay equity

A new report reveals the issue is companies not putting their money where their mouth is — rather than women not being qualified or negotiating

Progress for women in tech in Canada has moved backwards, with the gender pay gap nearly tripling.

Over the past 20 years, the percentage of women in tech has only increased by 3 per cent — which research shows isn’t because of their lack of interest or skills. Among the practical reasons women choose not to enter or stay in tech is not being appropriately paid. A new report shows that between 2016 and 2021, the average salary for a woman in the industry went from being $7,200 to about $20,000 less than her male counterpart.

Decision-makers are “letting women get paid less”

The study disproves most arguments heard justifying the gender pay gap in tech, said April Hicke, co-founder of Toast, an organization that focuses on increasing gender diversity in tech through its women’s collective and company partnerships.

Photo: April Hicke

“It’s not because of decreased participation, working fewer hours, or because women are changing jobs or having children,” said Hicke, noting that those data points were removed. “It shows that the decision-makers — the people in power controlling salary decisions — are letting women get paid less.”

Hicke added that when she and her co-founder, Marissa McNeelands, reviewed the research, they found that “the more educated a woman becomes, the greater the pay gap is for her.”

“We continuously tell women to become more technical, get a degree, and do all these things,” highlighted Hicke. “But the more education you have, the less paid you're going to be than your peers — which is one of the saddest statistics.”

According to the report, over the course of five years, women earning within the 60th to 80th percentile — including at senior levels — didn’t receive a salary increase, while men in the same range did.

Not experiencing any wage growth can lead to not only professional but personal setbacks, highlighted Jillian Climie, co-founder of The Thoughtful Co., a consultancy that helps women negotiate their compensation and advises employers on how to improve gender equity.

Photo: Jillian Climie

“It impacts overall confidence at work and how comfortable women feel working towards promotions and other career advancement,” shared Climie. “As you can imagine, this can translate into their personal lives as well.”

Companies aren’t structuring and measuring DEI efforts properly

Despite the attention paid to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) in recent years, companies’ efforts are failing because of how they’re approached and carried out, highlighted Sophie Warwick, co-founder of The Thoughtful Co.

Photo: Sophie Warwick

“Accountability is the first step because it highlights the severity of the gap and pushes the need for change,” said Warwick. “Next is the importance of an awareness of biases — if we don’t know they’re there then we can’t combat them [...] Once that foundation is set, there’s an opportunity to introduce objective practices into promotion, performance, and compensation decisions that leads to more equitable decision making.”

Warwick suggested companies ensure that pay equity policies and goals are integrated with corporate strategic initiatives.

“When we see DEI programs fail, it’s often when it’s tacked on as a separate initiative that isn’t properly integrated with broader company programs,” said Warwick. “Pay equity needs to be prioritized on a corporate level which stresses to leadership that this is also a priority on an individual level.”

Warwick added: “There also needs to be clearly defined goals. Corporate boards don’t set annual goals of ‘We need to make more money and get more clients and customers.’ They create specific revenue goals that correlate with individual actions on the number and types of products and projects they need to deliver. Pay equity is no different.”

Companies also need to make KPIs specific and tie them to performances rather than appearances, highlighted Hicke. As an example, Hicke shared a story of an organization that set a target for an executive to attend four DEI events a year. 

Hicke added: “There's nothing that will come of it to send a leader to DEI events. That just means that he's going to sit there on his phone [..] We need [companies] following the 50-30 challenge [...] If you have 50 per cent of the city identifying as a woman, then your candidate pool should look like that too.”

Companies need to be more transparent and work with expert organizations

In general, women are asking for what they deserve more than men, yet are still earning less — underscoring the need for more pay transparency.

For women currently navigating the job market, Hicke encourages asking companies what the salary range or band is and how they’re benchmarked.

“Get a range or a band in the first call with them,” suggested Hicke. “If they're asking what your salary expectations are, push back with ‘What’s the budget for this role?’ Otherwise, you could be really excited about making $100,000 now but not understand that everyone else is making $150,000.”

Hicke also believes it’s worthwhile to be open to discussing salaries with our counterparts, given that keeping them private only benefits employers.

“Men need to be sharing what they're making [and] we need to be talking about what we're making,” said Hicke. “We grew up in this era where our parents thought talking about money was taboo. If we want to close that gender pay gap and ensure people are actually making what they're worth, we need to talk about what our salaries are.”

Ultimately, it's on the companies to move the dial on pay equity. Hicke highlighted the need for them to work with expert organizations and noted there are many available. Along with Toast and The Thoughtful Co., other organizations across Canada that can help include Bloom, Cap Inclusive, and Kore Global.

“The thing that just continuously sticks out to me is that we cannot change a system from outside of the system,” added Hicke. “You have to be inside of the system to drive change from within. So, unfortunately, unless we increase gender diversity numbers within tech and we get more women into leadership positions, nothing's ever going to change — period and simple.”


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