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How to solve the gender pay gap? Here’s an idea: Cut men’s wages Add to ...

The fight for gender pay equity won a small victory on Tuesday. McMaster University announced that, following a two-year study that revealed differences in pay between men and women, female faculty will be getting a raise. Or, in other words, the Hamilton university will finally be paying women what they should have been making all this time. Hooray! Sort of.

In 2012 and 2013, female faculty members took home on average $3,515 less than men on faculty, even after adjusting for age, seniority, faculty and tenure, according to the study.

The pay increase will kick in on July 1, the Canadian Press reports.

Will other Canadian universities follow McMaster’s example? Probably not. What about almost every workplace in Canada where the gender wage gap exists, meaning almost every workplace in Canada? Again, probably not, going by the history of pay equity.

The pace of change has been as slow as the problem is obvious. Study after study, report after report, commission after commission have all concluded that the gender wage gap is both real and needs to be closed. And yet it persists. And persists. We can’t count on business as usual. We shouldn’t count on karma.

If we want to rally the needed support to solve the problem, we should stop focusing on raising women’s pay, because clearly that hasn’t worked. There’s another way of closing the gap: We should make every man in this country take a 20-per-cent pay cut. Overnight, we’d go from the status quo to pitchforks in the street, all-out political fury.

Traditionally, there have been two arguments to close the gender pay gap. One is the straightforward appeal to moral fairness. Unfortunately, while “equal pay for equal work” makes complete sense, it has for the most part fallen on deaf ears since Dickens was roaming the streets of sooty London, pen in hand.

The other argument is based on the economic impact of the pay gap. For example, a report released by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2012 said that governments should close the gap to boost gross domestic product.

“Investment in gender equality yields the highest returns of all development investments,” the report said.

Many people, including Emanuela Heyninck, commissioner of Ontario’s Pay Equity Commission, have tried to put the emphasis on the second argument.

“For the most part, it has been treated and continues to be treated as a women’s issue or an equality issue, rather than an economic imperative,” Heyninck told The Globe and Mail in 2012.

Both arguments labour under the same assumption: The only way to close the gender pay gap is to raise women’s earnings. Men and our paycheques remain the unquestioned standard. But of course there is another way to close the gap.

I’m sure most men would agree that “equal pay for equal work” is a morally unimpeachable standard. And most men are aware that the pay gap hurts them economically, even if it is at a very abstract level.

“For families, it’s a real problem if we’re not paying women the same as men,” says Kate McInturff, a senior researcher at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. “Families clearly are depending on female incomes to be able to make ends meet.”

But that awareness hasn’t done anything to greatly accelerate the pace at which the pay gap is closing.

For every dollar earned by a university-educated male worker in Canada, a university-educated female in the public sector makes 82 cents, and a university-educated woman in the private sector makes 73 cents, according to a study released by the CCPA last year.

There are many factors that explain the gender wage gap. One is that women and men tend to work in different industries, and the sectors in which women work tend to pay less, as McInturff points out.

But studies have shown that at least 40 per cent of the pay gap can’t be explained by any measurable reason.

Possible explanations include “overt sexism” and “unintentional gender-based discrimination,” among others, according to the Center for American Progress. Do you think? Maybe? Possibly?

Even the men who agree still take home the same paycheque they always have. Slash that paycheque by 20 per cent and they will be up in arms.

Of course, a lot of men will probably be livid with such a proposal. The unfairness of it will gnaw at them. Feel that anger? That frustration at being punished so undeservedly? Now imagine having that with you every day of your working life.

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Follow on Twitter: @Dave_McGinn

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