If you were looking for a reason why competent, educated women still struggle to break into prominent positions, you could look no further than the school board in Toronto that looks set to eliminate a male-dominated history by not supporting the pay of female staff. That’s a year-long pay freeze for male employees in exchange for raising the pay of women.
Rather than women of colour demanding equality, the school board offers a powerful example that forces people to admit their own biases and preconceptions about different genders and histories.
This affects young women in a way that’s hard to measure, but is clearly obvious to those who know the deep disparities that can exist between generations of talented women.
In high school, your teachers help shape you; they give you inspiration to become who you want to be. But while not enough girls and women are prepared to speak up about sexism or to ask for equal pay for equal work, for too many women teachers are subjected to it.
So while it’s hard to quantify exactly how many teachers are silenced in the classroom because of social identity, most school boards in Canada continue to turn a blind eye to this classroom discrimination that is implicit in the way they treat the work of staff.
Last week, Toronto’s school board announced that it will begin paying all staff, including teachers, more if they are earning more than their male counterparts. New hires will receive a pay freeze, but those who are rehired will get to maintain the pay freeze for two years for the year, or for a total of a five-year wage freeze.
If we really want to support successful women, let’s let them have more of a voice in who our future teachers are
In a statement, the board announced the decision to a room filled with angry parents, saying that “many” staff had come forward saying that the pay gap had caused “concerns” for their own employment.
What was never explained in this statement was how gender discrimination puts students at risk.
These parents – and thousands of others who have expressed their concerns on social media – wanted to know why a pay freeze for employees that was already more than 20 years old, in an era where the gender wage gap has been closed and where pay equality is now mainstream, is still necessary.
We’re told that teachers are uniquely vulnerable to pay discrimination because they are often paid less than other professionals in the same or related fields. Other studies, like the 2017 report that found that women earn 75 cents to every dollar a man earns, have undermined this theory.
And studies show that women are more likely to feel personally affected by discrimination than men.
If we really want to support successful women, let’s let them have more of a voice in who our future teachers are. This new school board policy would remove the legal requirement for Canadian government and school boards to ensure that equal pay provisions are met.
That means that in a landscape where there is only one uniform standard, inequality will increase, not decrease. On top of that, by unilaterally setting higher standards for potential hires, the school board is putting women in danger of being discriminated against in the future.
Why won’t the school board just partner with schools or non-profit organisations that have already led the way in paying more to students or teachers who are earning more than their male counterparts?
We call on school boards across Canada to follow the example of the Edmonton Catholic School board, whose policy, in terms of investment in professional development for women, is among the most progressive in the country.
There are 1,400 schools in Edmonton, and the policy calls for professional development for more than one million students across the district every year. Once the board has certified its teachers as talented and competent, there is an opportunity to be an impact agent for change in their lives.
It is hard to quantify the impact of professional development for teachers on school climate, student learning, staff development and the ability of young people to achieve success. But it is hard to ignore that each year the policy has resulted in a more diverse teaching force. And that is an outcome worth celebrating.
Learn more about the pay-equity framework for teachers provided by the Edmonton Catholic School board.