Ontario Women in Retail Jobs Face Gender Gap

Women working in the retail sector of the economy face what a new report calls a “triple-disadvantage,” even though they form almost 60 per cent of the overall retail workforce.

“The Gender Wage Gap in Ontario’s Retail Sector: Devaluing Women’s Work and Women Workers” was funded by the Ontario Pay Equity Commission. Released in April, the report says retail is the biggest source of jobs in Canada, with over a million employees in Ontario alone. Across the country, StatsCan figures show that the sector employs 1,950,000 people, including just over 500,000 in food and beverage stores, the largest single category.

The new report was co-written by Kendra Coulter of Brock University, who told the Toronto Star that even after studying retail work for six years, she was still surprised and angered by the seriousness of the pay inequities in Ontario. “This is not about a few bad apples. There is a widespread devaluing of women workers across the sector.”

Almost 60 per cent of Ontario’s retail workforce are women, but men form the majority of higher-paid management positions. Men are also paid more than women in every single category of retail work, and are more likely than women to enjoy a full-time role. Many women are involuntarily stuck in part-time jobs. Around 65 per cent of male retail workers are in full-time jobs, compared to 57 per of women, who often still do most of the domestic labour at home.

As one retail worker told the Star, “we go to work, then maybe go to a second job and then go home and do the laundry, clean the house and make dinner. We’re doing it, but it’s not good. We don’t work to live anymore; we’re living to work.”

Using Statistics Canada data, the report shows that female workers are more likely to be concentrated in minimum wage jobs in Ontario’s retail sector. Of those earning $12/hour or less, 65 per cent are women.

The “triple disadvantage” works like this, according to Coulter: women are paid low wages overall, earn less than their male co-workers for the same work across occupational categories, and are assigned fewer hours.

Women make up 84% of cashiers in Ontario, but only 43% of retail managers. The average hourly wage for male cashiers is $12.34, compared to $11.84 for women. Male managers in the retail, food and accommodation sectors take home $30.79 per hour, compared to $25.06 for women. For salespeople and clerks, the average hourly pay is $15.51 for men, but just $13.10 for women.

The study also surveyed 400 front-line retail workers, mainly in the GTA and Niagara regions. It found that 43 per cent of workers felt the distribution of hours at their workplaces was uneven, making it difficult to have a steady income and schedule.

The Ontario government is currently reviewing its employment and labour laws, which workers’ rights advocates consider outdated and ineffective. Under Ontario law, employers are not obligated to provide work schedules in advance, and shifts can be cancelled or shortened without notice. There are no minimum hour guarantees, and part time and temp workers doing the same job as full-time employees can be paid less per hour.

As the report says, this lack of protection has an impact on take-home pay and on quality of life, especially for women employees.

Interestingly, the report states that low unionization rates in the retail sector are a factor in pay inequity and poor working conditions. Only 13 per cent of retail jobs are unionized, compared to the Canadian average of 30 per cent. Figures from 2014 show that Ontario women who are union members earn almost $8 an hour more than non-unionized women, and are closer to pay parity with men.

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