Sharing salary information can narrow wage gaps — but studies show more equality can mean less pay – – DC Initiative on Racial Equity
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Pay transparency is the practice of making salary information more public in order to try and close wage gaps. But experts say it might not make compensation more equal without negotiating power such as unionization, and can actually lower your pay.

Advocates for open and honest salary information believe it will close the wage gap. But experts say it will only make pay more equal if other factors are taken into account. (Hyejin Kang/Shutterstock)

The idea of sharing her salary openly, and finding out what her colleagues made in return, wasn’t top of mind for Jen Aitchison when she went out for after-work drinks one night several years ago.

But it quickly became a priority for the Sutton, Ont., woman after she found out there was a significant discrepancy between what she was paid as an insurance broker versus her less-experienced male colleague.

“I found out that I was being paid 30 per cent less than he was, and so as you can imagine, I was not impressed with finding out this information,” Aitchison told CBC Radio’s The Cost of Living. She also said that while her colleague made more money than her, he actually brought in less revenue for the company, which CBC agreed not to name as she no longer works there.

Aitchison’s situation is a classic example of what proponents of “pay transparency” want to fight.

Advocates say openly sharing salary and compensation information can help narrow the gap in pay between women and men, or between white and non-white workers. But studies and academics point out that pay transparency, while effective at closing that gap, is not a panacea and can introduce other issues to the workplace.

Cultural ‘taboo’ hard to break

Aitchison felt the biggest barrier to talking about salaries was the culture.

“It’s been made taboo,” she said. “You don’t talk about certain things …  you don’t want to be seen as boasting or trying to make people feel bad or being arrogant or pretentious.”

Over drinks one night, Jen Aitchison found out she was being paid $30,000 less than her male counterpart — even though she brought more money in for her then-employer. (Submitted by Jen Aitchison)

Her experience may not be unique for many Canadians. Statistics Canada numbers show that in 2019, female employees between the ages of 25 and 54 earned 88 cents for every dollar a man earned, when looking at average hourly wages.

That represents a gap of more than 12 per cent, which widens further when looking at not just women, but other specific groups, such as Indigenous people, p

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