Skip to main content

Even as the pay gap narrows, employed women are less likely to feel their employer offers opportunities for career growth, yet they’re also less likely to look for a new job, largely out of fear of losing flexible work perks.

Those are the findings of a recent survey conducted by recruiting firm Robert Half Canada. It found 56 per cent of employed women feel their employer provides ample opportunity for career growth, compared to 72 per cent of men. At the same time, 35 per cent of women are considering a job change, compared to half of the men surveyed.

The primary factor women cited for not seeking a new employer is fear of losing their current level of flexibility, with 44 per cent citing it as their top concern, compared to 30 per cent of men.

“Women today are happier than they’ve been in, maybe forever, because their No. 1 biggest priority is flexibility for their family, and they’re getting that more than ever,” says Robert Half Canada regional director Sandra Lavoy. “Flexibility, trumps almost everything – as long as you have equal pay.”

The value of that flexibility, says Ms. Lavoy, cannot be overstated. She says working Canadians with caregiving responsibilities have long fought for the ability to take care of simple personal needs during the workday.

Because of the pandemic and the widespread adoption of remote work, many now have explicit permission – and crucially, the cultural approval – to leave work to pick up their kids from school or take a parent to a medical appointment and make up those hours later. “You didn’t see that before [the pandemic],” Ms. Lavoy says.

Despite those gains, Canada’s working women are concerned about their economic standing in the face of rising costs and affordability challenges. According to the survey, three quarters are worried about the economy and 65 per cent are worried about inadequate compensation increases in the year ahead.

Employers should therefore ensure they offer adequate flexibility alongside fair compensation, as well as policies that ensure equal opportunity for career advancement, says Ms. Lavoy. “If they want to retain and attract women in the workforce, employers need to address advancement, flexibility and compensation.”

According to a recent report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, the gender pay gap in Canada is narrowing – down to 8.5 per cent in 2023, compared to about 12 per cent in 2017 – but there remains some alarming discrepancies. For example, the gap in the private sector is nearly double that of the public sector, which is down to 5 per cent.

“In terms of just workforce participation, we’re seeing that the employment rate is higher than ever for women, but there is that mixed reality,” says Andrea Gunraj, the vice-president of public engagement for the Canadian Women’s Foundation. “Women are still less likely to be in leadership positions and advancement is consistently lower for women who face multiple barriers, like indigenous and racialized women, women with disabilities, young women and single mothers.”

Closing those gaps, according to Ms. Gunraj, will require efforts by individuals, employers and policymakers. For example, studies show that women are more likely to be responsible for unpaid caregiving responsibilities, which can take a bite out of their earning potential, and she believes there is more that male partners, employers and governments can do to ease that burden.

Business leaders and governments can also make more of an effort to track, publish and improve employment diversity and fair compensation metrics, while Canadians can do their part by backing those who do, and calling out those who don’t.

“It’s kind of a whole of economy approach to gender equality, because we just know that we’re missing out on too much when we don’t [commit to] it,” Ms. Gunraj says. “That’s where the leadership competency, skills and vision need to go up a notch in Canada.”

Interact with The Globe