By Julie Cafley, PhD and Kadie Ward

International Equal Pay Day, recognized by the United Nations and observed on September 18, acknowledges the crucial need for society to address ongoing efforts to achieve equal pay for equal work. This year, it comes on the heels of a blockbuster summer for women’s economic power in show business.

We saw women-centred entertainment drive record-breaking revenue at the box office and on the music charts. Whether it was the Barbie movie, Beyonce’s “Renaissance” tour, or Taylor Swift’s “Eras” tour, these most-talked-about women of the summer have all used their platforms to champion pay equity, too.

How does that translate to actual progress for everyday women?

We’ve heard many corporate leaders’ good intentions to address the issue for years. We’ve read the commitments to equity, diversity and inclusion, but things have not substantially changed despite these declarations.

According to Catalyst research, Canadian women face a gender pay gap by every measure.  Among all workers in 2021, women earned 88.7 per cent of what men earned based on average hourly wage rates. For racialized women, the pay gap is even wider. Canadian women of colour made only 59 per cent of what Canadian men earned who did not self-identify as people of colour.

As monetary policymakers look to curb inflation, the research reminds us that unlocking the economic benefits gained through pay equity measures is undeniable.

An often-cited report by McKinsey estimated that by 2026, Canada can potentially add $150 billion to its annual GDP by supporting women’s participation in the workforce. Transparency in salary ranges on job descriptions can shift the responsibility from candidates to organizations, promoting fairness and equality.

Another McKinsey study has documented the effect of including and excluding women in 1,000 organizations across 15 countries since 2015. It showed how gender-diverse and inclusive teams are more likely to innovate, radically helping their companies gain a competitive edge. In addition, companies with gender diversity on executive teams were 25 per cent more likely to experience above-average profitability than peer companies without it.

In short, gender equity is good for everyone and the bottom line.

One initiative helping address this imperative is Catalyst’s CEO Champions for Change, where leaders pledge to increase women’s representation in senior leadership and on boards and provide valuable data towards this goal.

Having diverse and representative leadership is essential to drive tangible change in culture. A critical aspect of this is the need to address not only gender but also other intersectional realities such as race, ethnicity, disability, and sexual orientation. According to the “critical mass theory” by Harvard professor Rosabeth Kanter, a group needs 30 per cent representation to impact culture significantly.

Equity issues should be at the forefront of strategic plans, balanced scorecards, and institutional metrics. A systematic and data-driven approach is needed to drive progress and create a better understanding of leadership selection and why workplace equity still eludes us.

By prioritizing concrete plans to close the wage gap and achieve equal pay, we can create a fair and inclusive society that benefits individuals and boosts the economy. Plus, it’s the right thing to do. Just ask Barbie, Beyonce, and Taylor Swift.

Julie Cafley, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of Catalyst Canada, a global non-profit that advances inclusive workplaces. Kadie Ward is Commissioner & Chief Administrative Officer, Pay Equity Commission of Ontario.