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January 20, 2020

Mind the Gap

Fostering Community

Is it quintessentially Canadian to curl up on the sofa with a blanket, a cup of tea, a stack of newspapers, books and an iPad when winter winds begin to howl and snow begins to fall? Canadian or not, it’s how I spent much of my Saturday. And as there was no point in shovelling my front walk until the snow stopped falling, I felt no guilt at being uncharacteristically sedentary for a few hours.

During this literary binge fest, two headlines grabbed my attention: “Pay gap for men and women starts right out of the gate for college, university grads” and “WNBA agrees to 53% pay raise, maternity benefits for players in new collective bargaining agreement.” Two messages that point to the same problem and remind us that, sadly, the playing field for men and women isn’t equal.

I applaud the WNBA for helping close the gap, but the reality is still a $130,000 USD base salary for female basketball players compared to an NBA starting salary just shy of $900,000 USD. I know the argument that gets made. Broadcast rights, national advertising and big audiences translate into big bucks, and it’s all about the money. So male athletes get paid more than female athletes because male sports brings in more revenue. That being said, the fact remains that inherent in both the above headlines is the message that women are valued less.

I am lucky to spend Monday to Friday and many weekends surrounded by intelligent, bright-eyed and hopeful young women in my job as Head of School. I spend my time encouraging girls to find their passion, to reach for the stars and to stand up for themselves, so I admit to feeling irked (to put it mildly) when I think about the roadblocks and inequity they may face throughout their careers.

I recently spent time with the daughter of a dear friend. She graduated from university two years ago with a degree in biotechnology engineering and finished near the top of her class. She quickly secured a job working in her chosen field, and while I don’t know all the details of what she does, I do know that she now requires a national security clearance. (I know this because I was her personal reference). I asked her what it was like to be one of only a handful of women engineers in her organization. Her comment was telling. She said, “I love what I do and I work incredibly hard. Everyone seems surprised that I’m actually really good at my job. I think they automatically underestimate me because I’m young and I’m female.”  I didn’t ask her if she knew whether she is paid the same as her male counterparts. Unfortunately, she likely isn’t.

Research published jointly this month by the Labour Market Information Council and the Education Policy Research Initiative of the University of Ottawa reveals that women earn, on average, $5,700 less than men only one year out from graduation. This pay gap holds across all industries and the salary gap only widens over time. At five years post-graduation, the differential in earnings between men and women is 25 per cent, with the biggest earnings gap in real dollars impacting women MBAs who earn, on average, $39,600 less than men after five years.

As an educator and a mother, I think a lot about how we can prepare girls for the reality of the workplace. I’m proud of the work we’re doing at Trafalgar Castle to encourage our girls to use their voice, to advocate for themselves and to recognize their value. When the time comes to negotiate a salary, we want them to be confident enough to fight for their value.

As part of our School’s new Strategic Plan, we’re working with a committed group of parents to develop Traf First, an innovative continuum of resources, supports, experiences and mentors to help each girl explore career options and understand the process that will get her to where she wants to go. Whether it’s resumé writing, interview skills, networking, business etiquette or asking for a raise, we want our girls to be prepared. We want them to have the knowledge and confidence they’ll need to compete. And if the playing field remains uneven, they’ll unfortunately have to work even harder to achieve what they rightly deserve.

Schools can do their part to prepare girls for the challenges ahead but more needs to be done to address the inequities that exist across all industries. I think parents can help by examining their own places of work. Are opportunities for women as plentiful as for men? Are there mentorship programs to support young women? Are there systemic roadblocks that limit the progression of women? Do those at the top champion equality in the workplace? If not, then ask questions. Be curious. Share the research and challenge the status quo. Model the same courageous confidence our daughters will need to show. And most importantly, mind the gap. Be bold enough to demand change today so that our daughters will have a fairer chance tomorrow.

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