Pay Inequity for Women of Colour

An article by Jessica Batres Villagran

The gender pay gap is a persistent problem in Canada despite the existence of the Pay Equity Act. The legislation has been in effect since 1987, but the gender pay gap has only mildly decreased since then. Currently, the gender pay gap in Canada is 13.3% (compared to 18.8% in 1998) and women are being paid 89 cents for every dollar men earn (Statistics Canada, 2019). This systemic issue created by patriarchy constantly devalues women’s work by reinforcing traditional gender roles, creating barriers for women to access work and puts women in vulnerable positions, which is also known as the feminization of poverty. 


Furthermore, racialized women have a greater gender pay gap. According to the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (2019) racialized women earned 59 cents for every dollar non-racialized men earned in 2015. There is also a gap of 87 cents between racialized and non-racialized women. Regardless of the so-called progress to dismantle white supremacy in Canada, racialized women are discriminated against by earning less than men and non-racialized women because of the colour of their skin, also called the double penalty (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 2019). Dr. Kimberlé Crenshaw coined the term intersectionality, which identifies the overlapping identities of individuals such as race, gender and class and creates different types of discrimination and privileges. For instance, the gender pay gap affects racialized women differently due to their intersectionality, the discrimination of their gender and race, and reflects a system that was built on white supremacy and patriarchy. It is imperative to understand the gender pay gap for women of colour as a historical issue due to the devaluation of women’s work, and use an intersectional lens to understand the double marginalization.


Additionally, women of colour are overrepresented in lower paying and precarious jobs, and their workplaces often do not match their education background as they are overqualified for the work they do (Kohout and Singh,2018). There are also subgroups to consider between women of colour such as immigrant women, racialized women born in Canada and Indigenous women among others. For instance, an immigrant woman will face different challenges than a racialized woman born in Canada, because the experience of an immigrant woman is often not considered when she searches for employment. ‘Canadian experience’ is often required to secure desirable employment. The same can be said about Indigenous women, falling behind with a gender pay gap of 46 cents for every dollar men earn (William, 2018). The effects of colonization are represented in the pay gap for Indigenous women. BIPOC communities cannot be compared to non-racialized women because the system affects them differently. 


Each group has their own unique struggles that have to be accounted for by using an intersectional lens to close the gender pay gap and create policies favourable to marginalized groups. For instance, the creation of a universal affordable daycare is imperative to support women returning to the workforce. A year after Quebec implemented universal affordable daycare, fifty percent of the women in social assistance returned to the workforce (Fortin et al., 2012). This policy could create opportunities for immigrant women by supporting them in their new country and allowing them to work or return to school for equivalences instead of having to make survival choices such as working or caring for their children. The lack of policies supporting universal childcare has created the feminization of poverty. When we compare the gender pay gap between Quebec and Ontario, the gap in Quebec is lower in great part due to affordable daycare. 


According to Kohout and Singh (2018) other types of discrimination can occur in the workplace such as language barriers, challenges in being hired, small number of job interview call-backs and more. It is clear that women of colour are not welcome in the workforce, which explains the pay inequity between genders and non-racialized women. Even when women of colour are hired other issues can arise, for instance, cultural challenges where women have shared that they had to assimilate into Canadian culture in order to be accepted by their peers, or not being considered when decisions in group meetings are made (Kohout and Singh, 2018). Even though Canada is widely known as a welcoming country systemic racism in the workplace is present and persistent in various ways. 


Although we are in the 21st century, our system still creates barriers for women to be fully independent from a male provider in order to fully access resources. The issues regarding pay inequity for women of colour are both sexist and racist. Further research on the topic is needed to support anti-racist and feminist policies. An intersectional lens is crucial to finding effective solutions. While non-racialized individuals can continue to acquire from their intergenerational wealth by purchasing investments such as real estate, economic inequalities for marginalized communities will continue to deepen in the country without appropriate intervention. 


Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. (December 2019). Canada’s colour coded income inequality.    

Fortin, P., Godbout, L., & St. Cerny, S. (2012). Impact of Quebec’s universal low fee childcare program on female labour force participation, domestic income, and government budgets. Working paper 2012/02, Université de Sherbrooke: Sherbrooke, Quebec.

Kohout, R., & Singh, P. (2018). Pay equity and marginalized women. Gender in Management: An International Journal, 33(2), 123–137. 

Statistics Canada. (2019, October 11). The Gender Wage Gap in Canada: 1998-2018. 

Williams, M. (2018, February 8). For women of colour, there’s a gap within the pay gap. Maclean’s.

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