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Neil Parmenter is the President and CEO of Canadian Bankers Association

The push toward achieving gender equity for women in the workplace has a deep history, thanks to tireless efforts over several decades. Today, this movement has gained unstoppable momentum.

Several factors have converged to bring us here. Successive generations have grown up in a world where it’s common to see women as heads of state, as athletes to admire and as leaders of major companies. Educators promote a healthy, inclusive view of gender and have encouraged girls and young women to enter STEM fields, where they’ve excelled. In the job market itself, businesses have learned that promoting gender diversity is not only the right thing to do, it also improves corporate performance.

Sadly, these gains have not translated into pay equity in many cases. We must combine the aspiration to becoming a fairer society with public policies that compel action.

This last point is key. Cultural shifts, voluntary standards and economic arguments have only gone so far in creating change. The pay-equity legislation now being prepared in Ottawa is therefore the right law, for the right reasons and at the right time. The Canadian Bankers Association applauds this move.

Gender equity is a matter of basic fairness. It also makes the workplace better. We speak from experience. Banks in Canada have committed to the principles of pay equity for more than 35 years. As we’ve found, not only is building a gender-balanced work force fair and just, it also broadens our ability to compete for top talent, understand our customers, harness different ways of thinking and respond to rapidly changing markets.

The law has been helpful in guiding this journey. Banks have crafted job-evaluation and compensation systems to ensure they are gender neutral and compliant with the Equal Wages Guidelines, which provide guidance on how to apply the pay-equity provisions in the Canadian Human Rights Act.

Employment statistics from the banking sector show the success of these efforts. As of 2016, women made up 59.5 per cent of the work force at Canada’s six largest banks, which is substantially more than any other federally-regulated sector. The banking industry exceeds the government’s benchmarks for representation of women at several levels, including executive and middle management levels, with women making up 36 per cent of all senior managers in banking in 2016. As of 2017, Canada’s six largest banks have on average 36 per cent women on their boards of directors.

Banks know there is still more to do in creating supportive career development paths for women, including sponsorship, mentoring and promotion. However, pay equity is an essential part of the equation. Banks have established internal plans to ensure compensation becomes gender neutral and implemented several measures to promote equitable compensation.

These include undertaking regular audits to identify pay differences, requiring gender-neutral factors for compensation decisions, conducting spot checks to eliminate biases in decisions about compensation and conducting pay-equity maintenance exercises to correct any salary gaps. Canada’s banks have put words into action on pay equity and will continue to lead.

We also know different companies across various federally regulated sectors in Canada will need an adjustment period to comply with the law. The banking industry will continue its practice of meeting with experts and stakeholders to share its experiences and to ensure new reforms have traction and result in meaningful improvement to pay equity for the long term.

The business world is in a period of enormous change. Disruptive forces in technology, global trade, demographics and consumer behaviour are challenging companies to think fast and adapt. We need the broadest possible level of participation in this economy to compete and win.

Diversity, inclusion and equality – particularly with respect to women in the work force – represent the brightest way forward for Canadian businesses and for making our country as a whole a better place. Federal pay-equity legislation is a welcome step in realizing this long-sought goal.

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