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It Pays to Be a Man Working in the BC Government

The NDP’s first salary transparency report reveals a significant gender wage gap.

Zak Vescera 3 Nov 2023The Tyee

Zak Vescera is The Tyee’s labour reporter. This reporting beat is made possible by the Local Journalism Initiative.

Men make more money than women in British Columbia government jobs and in some of the province’s largest Crown corporations, new reports confirm.

That’s a key finding from data released this week by the B.C. public service and the province’s six largest Crown corporations, the first test of new pay transparency legislation that aims to shine light on why British Columbia has one of largest gender pay gaps in Canada across all employers.

The B.C. government’s report found men, on average, earned eight per cent more than women in government jobs in 2022, even though more than 60 per cent of its employees are female.

Kelli Paddon, the government’s parliamentary secretary for gender equity and MLA for Chilliwack-Kent, said the gap is lower than the 17 per cent hourly pay gap across all sectors in the province.

But she says the divide is still too large.

“The numbers confirm a pay gap,” Paddon said. “I can’t say it’s good, but it’s good to know about.”

The seven reports are the first to be released under the province’s Pay Transparency Act, which will eventually compel thousands of employers to publicly disclose the hourly pay gap between male and female workers.

Paddon says the legislation will help government understand the disparity in pay and encourage companies to reflect on their compensation models.

But critics say the reports fail to shine light on the reasons why women are paid less than men, that the legislation lacks any force to make companies close the gap.

“Pay transparency does nothing by itself,” said Marjorie Griffin Cohen, a feminist economist and former Simon Fraser University professor. “It has no teeth. It doesn’t compel a change in the differential wages between males and females.”

Sylvia Fuller, a professor of sociology at the University of British Columbia, says the reports offer a big-picture look at where improvements can be made.

But she agrees with Cohen that the legislation doesn’t address a key issue, which is that many jobs mostly held by women pay less, even when they require similar levels of education or expertise.

“I think what we’re more likely to see in the public sector is questions of allocation,” Fuller said. “Who is getting access to the jobs that pay more, versus the jobs that pay less?”

The Pay Transparency Act gives new protections to workers, including banning employers from asking prospective employees about their previous salary and requiring job postings to include a salary range.

The bill also required employers to report on the hourly wage difference between men and women.

The first organizations affected were the B.C. public service and the Crown corporations BC Hydro, WorkSafeBC, the BC Lottery Corp., ICBC, BC Housing and BC Transit.

Those reports illustrate how big the wage gap can be, even in public sector jobs where most employees are unionized.

They also demonstrate the problems with gathering and interpreting the data.

At BC Transit, for example, the report found women made 15 per cent more than men.

But the Crown corporation said this was because men make up 87 per cent of employees in transit operator positions — the most common job.

BC Transit said a “high volume” of those workers resign within six months, while still at lower starting wages.

The BC Lottery Corp. found that its female employees were making slightly more than men, too.

But roughly half of that Crown corporation’s employees across all salary ranges did not disclose their gender, according to spokeswoman Andrea Fuoco.

A similar problem happened at ICBC, where spokesman Greg Harper said 45 per cent of employees did not fill out a survey inquiring about their gender.

That meant the Crown corporation could not confirm the gender of nearly half its staff, including 64 per cent of workers in its lowest paid quartile.

Paddon defended the surveys, saying government’s data gathering had to be based on consent.

In some cases short-term employees had left the organization or never provided their gender information.

Cohen was skeptical.

“If you have a large proportion of people not responding, it invalidates the response. It doesn’t mean anything,” Cohen said.

Employees at Crown corporations and the government were given the option of identifying as men, women, non-binary or declining to disclose.

At ICBC, 64 per cent of workers in the lowest pay quartile did not disclose their gender. At least 48 per cent of respondents in the three other quartiles also opted to not say.

Renee Merrifield, the opposition BC United party’s former gender equity critic, said she was surprised so many Crown employees had opted to not disclose their gender.

“I would say those are shocking percentages from what I had anticipated,” Merrifield said.

Fuller said the reports did contain useful data. They found, for example, that men collect more overtime pay than women at all of the surveyed institutions. Men generally were also more likely to collect bonus pay for the small segment of public sector jobs that offer it, and made more bonus pay than their female colleagues.

In some cases, the reports also highlight why a gender pay gap exists. At BC Hydro, for example, men reported an hourly wage that was 14 per cent higher than that of women.

But the Crown corporation says that is mostly because women are underrepresented in trades jobs with high salaries and overrepresented in administrative jobs with lower salaries.

For example, 98 per cent of power line technicians — the most common job at BC Hydro — are men. Those workers have a mean hourly wage that is 33 per cent higher than that of field service administrators, 94 per cent of whom are women.

Fuller said what the reports don’t have is an analysis on why that is the case.

She and Cohen say a major cause of the gender pay gap is that jobs where most workers are women are often paid less than those dominated by men. In some cases, those are jobs with similar educational or career requirements.

“You’re still going to have issues of people being sorted into different jobs that are not fairly valued,” Fuller said.

By 2026, the Pay Transparency Act will require every employer with at least 50 employees to create and publish such reports — starting with employers with more than 1,000 employees next year, more than 300 employees in 2025 and then 50 in 2026.

The act also allows the B.C. government to require employers to measure pay gaps along other demographic lines, which could include race, age or whether employees have a disability.

But most B.C. companies won’t have to produce such a report. In 2022, Statistics Canada found firms covered by the reporting requirements employ about 56 per cent of British Columbian workers.

‘Path towards full pay equity’

When B.C.’s government introduced pay transparency legislation in March, Fuller and Cohen were among experts who said the bill didn’t go far enough.

They say the ideal would be pay equity legislation, which would force employers to close wage gaps. Ontario, Quebec and four other provinces already have such legislation in place.

Paddon said she sees the Pay Transparency Act as “on that path towards full pay equity.” She believes compelling large employers to measure their pay gap will nudge them to address it themselves.

The bill does not penalize companies who fail to produce a report. Paddon said government wants to take an “educational approach” with employers, though she hinted penalties are “not beyond consideration.”

“We don’t want to make it so employers don’t want to be working with us. It’s not a threat,” Paddon said.

But Fuller and Cohen worry that gives room for companies to ignore the act.

“There’s not a lot of teeth and accountability,” Fuller said.

Some companies, she said, could publish their reports on a hidden web page or make it difficult for the public to access. “For a lot of people it’s business as usual,” she said.

Merrifield’s party tried on six separate occasions to introduce pay transparency legislation before the BC NDP government passed it this year.

Merrifield agrees the province should not proceed to pay equity legislation, saying “more granular data” is needed on the pay gap.

But she says she’s worried privacy and disclosure issues could make the data “a bunch of mush” that doesn’t offer insights into the problem.

“My greatest fear is that this legislation doesn’t have the desired effect... and then we stop altogether,” she said.

Cohen says the reason so many provinces have introduced pay equity legislation is because they recognized pay transparency on its own is not enough.

“Employers know they’re paying women less. It’s no surprise to them,” she said.  [Tyee]

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