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OP ED: The University of Toronto’s attempt to address the gender pay gap isn’t enough

The Globe and Mail by Lisa Kramer 29 April 2019

The University of Toronto undertook a bit of spring cleaning last week in announcing a 1.3-per-cent salary raise for female tenure-stream faculty members. But the effort doesn’t go nearly far enough in fixing the gender pay gap on campus.

Ensuring people are fairly paid according to their skills and job responsibilities is trickier than it may seem. Seeking to explain salary as a function of professional rank is natural. Associate professors ought to be paid more than assistant professors, indeed.

Unfortunately, there is a fly in the ointment that complicates the analysis. Outcomes such as academic rank, grant funding and publication success are themselves prone to gender discrimination. Women are granted tenure, achieve promotions and reach other significant career milestones at lower rates than men, even when the women are equally meritorious. Arguing, then, that salary differences are explained by these gender-influenced outcomes is like saying men earn higher salaries because they are paid more money.

This might explain why the University of Toronto’s approach to estimating the gender gap, which took into account academic rank, success in obtaining chairs or professorships and “other relevant factors,” reached a much lower estimate than others have found. Honestly I am surprised that, in applying such flawed logic, the university didn’t manage to find that men are systematically underpaid.

A peer-reviewed study by Bessma Momani, Emma Dreher and Kira Williams, published this month in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education, examined two decades of faculty members’ salary data from the Ontario Public Sector Salary Disclosure, also known as the sunshine list. The authors concluded that the salary wage gap is more extreme in some fields than some might realize, for example 34 per cent in psychiatry and around 10 per cent in both law and economics.

For the University of Toronto specifically, Prof. Momani and colleagues estimated the gender salary gap across all faculty members and all fields exceeds 3.5 per cent.

This makes the university’s 1.3-per-cent across-the-board adjustment look rather paltry.

Adding insult to injury, the University of Toronto plans to implement the raises for women effective this coming June, basically sweeping under the rug all the past years of underpayment. Any serious attempt to remedy the problem would have made the adjustment retroactive. And what about the other women among our ranks, including librarians, part-time faculty and teaching stream faculty, whose salaries remain unchanged?

Some pundits argue that raising salaries for women creates inequity for men. If that imbalance is a pressing problem, it has yet to show up in the data. The study by Prof. Momani and co-authors found no evidence that men are systematically paid less than women across the 30-plus academic disciplines they considered, spanning the sciences, humanities and social sciences. Furthermore, women often do more of the unpaid work around universities, such as serving on committees, leaving them relatively less time to devote to the research pursuits that are evaluated in allocating promotions, grants and, yes, salary raises.

My advice to junior female and minority colleagues, many of whom are under pressure from senior administrators to accept a disproportionate share of time-consuming committee assignments, is to get comfortable saying no at least some of the time.

As for the administration, in addition to my assignment that they rethink their flawed approach of explaining the gender pay gap by using outcomes that are themselves prone to gender bias, I also recommend they give some thought to addressing the “pipeline problem,” which is the gradual attrition of women along the long path from undergraduate studies through to the highest ranks of academia. Women abandon the academic career path with greater frequency than their male counterparts, which suggests different barriers to success exist depending on one’s gender. Any serious attempt to address gender disparity will also need to find ways to patch leaks in the pipeline.

I am a beneficiary of the University of Toronto salary bump, and I am certainly grateful for any raise at all. I am also thankful that from my sheltered perch as a tenured full professor, I can offer critical commentary without jeopardizing my job security. I speak up on behalf of those women – and other marginalized groups – who have yet to achieve the rewards they so richly deserve.

Lisa Kramer is a professor of finance at the University of Toronto.