Little has changed in the last 20 years for women in the province's workforce
The increase of women in the Canadian workforce in recent decades has been no doubt good for the economy, but there are still disturbingly vast gaps between the earnings of men and women. The greatest gap is in Alberta, with women making an average 57 per cent of what men make in this province.
According to the most recent numbers available from Statistics Canada, in 2011 there was an average wage gap of over $31,000 between men and women in Alberta specifically, with women making an average of $41,000 and men making an average of $73,300.
While the gender wage gap in other provinces such as Ontario and B.C. have gradually minimized over the last 20 years, the gap in Alberta has only shrunk by two per cent since 1991.
Mina Mawani, the president and CEO of the Canadian Women's Foundation, says part of the problem is that jobs that have been traditionally done by women pay less than traditional male jobs.
"Alberta's economy is one of the strongest in the country," she states in an email. "However, the labour market in Alberta is characterized by what is considered traditional male jobs, such as those found in the oil and gas and the construction industry."
By comparison, jobs that are considered 'women's work,' such as waitressing and retail positions, pay less.
The exclusion of women from certain industries and their lower earning power places women at a higher risk of poverty and restricts their access to goods and services. This makes it more difficult to access aid and assistance from various agencies, particularly when women are the primary earners for their family, Mawani states.
"Poverty can also be dangerous. Some women stay in an abusive relationship, despite the danger, because of a realistic fear of poverty. Living in an abusive relationship affects both a woman and her children. When a woman lives in poverty, her children also live in poverty."
Lou Arab, communications representative with Canadian Union of Public Employees, agrees with Mawani's position that women are at a disadvantage in a society where they are not seen as financial equals.
He suggests the Alberta government should mandate pay equity legislation and province-wide child care programs as solutions to help women stay in the workforce and succeed at a rate consistent with men in their chosen fields of employment, particularly since Alberta is also seeing an increase of babies being born each year.
For her part, Mawani suggests the there needs to be more programs that help women come out of poverty and learn skills to avoid it in the future.
"In the programs we fund, women learn to identify their strengths and skills and build upon them. This positive 'asset-based' approach avoids creating long-term dependency and builds self-confidence—an essential tool for starting the difficult journey out of poverty."
She also emphasizes the impact economic inclusion has for women and their families, giving the example of one woman who after struggling with part time and minimum wage jobs, participated in the Women in Trades program funded by the foundation.
"She now earns a wage considerably higher than her previous jobs and has entered a promising career path - successfully working in an industry that is traditionally considered male work," states Mawani.
"Women's full participation in the labour market makes sense not only for women in general, but for all of us in Canada. It makes good economic sense."
Photo credit: The thumbnail photo of Canadian currency is courtesy of Flickr user duckiemonster.
- By Devyn Ens