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Financial literacy consultant Robin Taub is chair of the CPA Canada's Women's Leadership Council which was instrumental in getting the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada to publish a study on gender pay differences.Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Just as the United States women's soccer team's "Equal Play, Equal Pay" campaign is symbolic of a more widespread gender pay gap issue in the United States, new research indicates that many women in Canada – even in the elite professions – have that T-shirt, too.

In the legal field, a 2016 survey of compensation paid to in-house counsel found that female lawyers who work as corporate counsel earn 15 per cent less than their male in-house counterparts.

"This wage gap cannot be fully explained away by the assertion that 'men have been in the workplace longer,' as men have fewer average years as both legal counsel and senior counsel and [yet] still earn a higher base salary," according to a report by the Canadian Corporate Counsel Association and The Counsel Network, a national legal recruitment firm. "For in-house counsel, the gender wage gap is real and it is not shrinking… In all sectors, except government, where woman have wage parity, men earn a higher salary than women."

(The average annual salary for all in-house counsel surveyed is $165,000.)

A 2015 survey conducted by Chartered Professional Accountants Canada uncovered similar results: "At the total level, female members have a median total compensation of $99,000 versus $120,000 among their male counterparts."

Some – but not all – of this is explained by the preponderance of men in more highly paid executive roles, said the CPA, which also provided a compensation breakdown by role and gender, based on 2014 pay stubs.

Examples: median annual compensation for male accountants in chief financial officer roles was $180,000, compared with $140,000 for females; $125,00 for male treasurers, compared with $98,000 for females; $133,000 for male professors, compared with $109,000 for females; $250,000 for male partners in accounting practices compared with $190,000 for females.

"It's a fairly recent thing that we have looked at the data and gone on the record with it. That's obviously good, because just recognizing that there is a problem can lead to change," Robin Taub, volunteer chair of the CPA Canada's women's leadership council, said in an interview.

The most recent in-house counsel compensation survey – the fourth such survey conducted since 2009 – "was shocking" in that the gender pay gap has not narrowed "and it's 2016," said Dal Bhathal, Toronto-based managing partner of The Counsel Network.

This time, however, perhaps because it is 2016, "I can tell you that, absolutely, in the in-house counsel community, it has definitely received attention," Ms. Bhathal said.

At a time when the federal government has its first-ever gender-balanced cabinet and securities regulators now require publicly traded companies to disclose the percentage of women on their boards of directors and in executive positions, the issue of gender equity is not only on the corporate radar, it's on the agenda.

The U.S. women's national soccer team is selling T-shirts with the "Equal Play, Equal Pay" message to raise awareness of their legal fight for equal compensation and playing conditions as their male counterparts. By extension, the soccer stars say, they are advocating for a level playing field for American women in all walks of working life.

In Canada, as in the U.S., the gender pay gap is a complex issue, with overall national averages skewed by a higher concentration of women in lower-paying occupations, at lower levels of the corporate hierarchy, or in part-time work.

But when women are working the same hours, producing at the same level, in the same roles as men, it becomes more difficult for employers to explain away the differences, pay equity advocates say. The differences are often non-existent or less pronounced in unionized workplaces covered by collective agreements or in public sector settings where job classifications and pay levels are clearly spelled out.

Colleen Moorehead, chief client officer at the law firm Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, said her firm's compensation committee has a fair and transparent process around the determination of partners' pay.

Through her work with The Judy Project – an executive leadership program for women operated in conjunction with the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management – Ms. Moorehead has seen growing commitment to gender equity from the leaders – male and female – of Canada's big law firms, accounting firms, banks and other corporate entities.

"I do feel there is a real wind of change," Ms. Moorehead said in an interview.

The regulators' requirement that corporations explain what they are doing to promote women to their boards and C-suites "has kind of created a top-of-the house framework for oversight, which I think is important in terms of pay equity.

"You can't pay a man director differently than a women, I mean, it's ludicrous to think so. And when you have a more diverse board talking about gender diversity and oversight on compensation and so many of the things [that affect the progress of women], they can ask those questions" about what's happening throughout the organization.

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