Measuring Success

The most recent Statistics Canada figures show that women are still earning only 85 cents for every dollar paid to men in a comparison of full-time, permanent employment with “similar labour market experience”. That figure hasn’t changed much in over 10 years.

I don’t think this means, for instance, that a female vice-president of a bank is going to be making 15% less than a male vice-president of that same bank – all other things being equal. What it does mean, I believe, is that there are more women in lower paying jobs and more men in higher paying jobs.

A significant factor causing this ongoing discrepancy, they reckon, is that women are taking time off from work to have and raise children. This seems to hamper their career mobility.

 Is that reasonable or fair?

My employer has a very generous 5-year extended child-care leave program, which I took advantage of. I only got paid for one year of what’s called “parental leave”, but they held a position for me for 5 years. The 5 years are also still pensionable time which I had to buy back when I returned to work.

Of course, I went back to work at the same level at which I left. If I’d been at work during those 5 years of federal government plenty, I might have been able to move up 2 or even 3 levels during that time period.

Even when I was back at work, I was only there for my 7.5 hours a day. I wasn’t able or willing to work overtime or travel (both of which are written and unwritten requirements of many higher level positions). I stayed home when the kid was sick and re-arranged my schedule for PD days or other school holidays. On top of all that, I went back just when the whole staffing freeze roller-coaster began. So, all things considered, I haven’t experienced a whole lotta upward mobility in my career.

Many other women have similar career experiences to lesser or greater degrees and for the same sorts of reasons. Meanwhile, our male counterparts, who may have started their careers at the same time and at the same level have zoomed into middle and upper management positions.

Because they’ve been there. They’ve put in 60-80 hours a week; they’ve spent much of the last 15 years in meetings and hotel rooms; dealing with staffing headaches, prostrating themselves to their seniors; bringing stacks of work home every evening and weekend; not taking vacations.

To me, they’re more than welcome to that extra 15% in salary.

I have never for an instant regretted those first 5 years I was home with my daughter. Even now, I have no interest in climbing any corporate ladders. I don’t want to give up that much of my life or time with my family. 

I’m sure there are women who want it all and are somehow managing to get it all or at least most of whatever all is. But, I would hazard to guess that the majority of women have different priorities.  I suggest perhaps that’s why there are fewer women in politics or in the upper echelons of corporate power and that’s why the male-female salary gap continues to exist.

So, maybe those pay equity figures are misleading? Maybe they don’t represent inequality? Maybe they represent fundamental differences in how men and women perceive success in life?

 Or maybe I’m living in a happy government fantasy land and the Old Boys are still out there slapping women’s behinds and making sure they don’t get any ideas beyond that Glass Ceiling and we should all be outraged?


25 responses to “Measuring Success

  1. uh oh , no way would i want to do the work involved for that extra 15%. there are certain levels that don’t even get paid overtime (at the director level perhaps?) so even if you are getting a chunky pay cheque, you are basically glued to your blackberry and a slave to work. it seems equal parts men and women in the high up positions too. and to be honest, most of the women seem frazzled and miserable.
    i know will never be “that” person. work for me is 7.5 hours, while i enjoy it (mostly) it is not the most important part of my life.
    i would love to do the five year parental leave. at the risk of asking a too personal question, how did you manage this as a single mom?

  2. I don’t have children, but I have friends who do have kids and who also work and I often wonder how the hell they do it. Most of their jobs aren’t high level, but naturally they’re still pretty stressed out. So I couldn’t imagine being a VP/ADM/Director/Manager AND a mother! I’d like to move up a level or two during my career, but to have that much of a demanding job that it cuts severely into family time, no thanks!

  3. I know there are career-driven women, I know too there are men who choose not to pursue advancements at work that would jeopardize their family lives.

    My first job was with one of the “Big 8” ca firms. These firms are partnerships and it was definitely still a “Men’s World” in the early 70’s. The amazing thing to me as a junior apprentice was the mindset of my rather young partner. He simply could not understand that I was not “in it” to become a partner with the firm, and that therefore I was not willing to put the job before all else.

    I realized then how it was liberating in a way to be a woman. I could make choices and I didn’t care what idiotic reasons my male colleagues (they were all male that first year) came up with for my actions. I’m sure some of the men fighting for partnerships, and for promotion in other fields who would rather have been home playing with their kids or building boats or writing novels; but they were men and climbing through the ranks to some level of “success” was their lot. I think it was harder for them.

    Now there is more of an appreciation that people work for a living rather than live for their jobs. There will always be those who do define themselves by their jobs and good for them, presumably they are happy. I’m not one of them!

  4. I absolutely love this post! I like the way you work things out. By now, you’ve worked out that LoLa = Laura, right? I’m never sure who I’m logged in as. (I’ll bet there’s a pill for that.)

    Provocative today, XUP.

  5. If the lack of progress is because women chose different values that’s great.
    In my position at GM in the mid nineties we had a man retiring.
    Our particular job required no strength, but some smarts and was the highest paid of the non skilled trade jobs in the plant.
    Our boss went out of his way to ask several people to apply for the job, none of course were women. When a woman did apply he suddenly said there was a test to be performed to get the job. Not a single one of the nine men in the job had ever done a test to get there.
    When the woman aced the test it suddenly disapeared and once again seniority was king.
    This asshole took a much poorer candidate who proved to be next to useless simply because he wouldn’t or couldn’t take a woman.
    In her case she wasn’t worried about extra overtime or anything else but just was never given the chance to move up.
    IN government and business such idiot managers still exist and are usually content to promote someone exactly like they were. Same sex, nationality, race, age, you name it.
    In a lot of places the women are not choosing to stay in lower positions they are stuck there by idiots.

  6. Ah yes…this post strikes a chord. When I began work in my mid-20’s I was all set to move up and onward and make my mark in the workplace. I lived and breathed work, and frankly got far too stressed out about it. Work mattered a lot to me.

    After marriage and kids things changed…my perspective shifted. Work still matters, but it isn’t as central to how I feel about myself and my worth. I definitely am not willing to work the hours and hours of overtime I used to work.

    Here’s the funny thing, though. I find that feeling more distanced from work has probably made me a better worker. I spend fewer hours at work than I used to, but I’m more efficient and I am more able to sift through the crap to focus on the stuff that matters. And, interestingly enough, I feel I get more respect from managers and coworkers than I used to get back when I was working like a dog. So while mat leaves away from the office may have cost me some chances for advancement, I think the change in my attitude about work has put me in a good place to make up for that lost time.

    That said, I have experienced for myself working in a department where women were very obviously treated as second-class citizens on the team. Most of us found a way to leave that department (or the company) so that we wouldn’t be held back by our manager’s biases.

    So it’s not a cut&dried issue by any stretch of the imagination.

  7. Meanie – I’m with you. I’ll do my bit at work, but then I want to go home and live my life. And I can tell you all about my single mom financial management plan at breakfast on the 7th, okay?

    Hannah – I do think most women feel there are more important things in life than their job – that’s why they tend to retire earlier and have an easier time adjusting to retirement than men.

    Nancy – Me either, but I do still work with people whose job is almost everything – young and old – mostly male, but also some women. And this is government –repository of the unambitious for the most part. Guys who hang on into their 70s, still not able to bring themselves to retire.

    LoLa – Ya, I figured it out, no worries.

    Bandobras – Wouldn’t your union stick up for her? Is there no grievance procedure for something like that? What’s the point of a union if they aren’t able to monitor and act on discriminatory hiring practices? As I mentioned before, our staffing procedures have been so bound up with checks and double-checks to avoid stuff like this that it’s almost impossible to hire anyone anymore. And, yes, I’m sure there are still idiotic managers roaming around out there, but a few more years and they’ll be extinct as the younger, hopefully more enlightened guys take over.

    Mary Lynn – No, it certainly isn’t cut & dried. As I said to Bandobras, I’m hoping these dinosaur managers who still see women as second-class citizens are on their way out. I hope they’re not the young up-and-coming guys, but rather the old boys, we’re talking about here? The ones who are retiring in the next few years?

  8. Well, I guess the real question (as always) is definitions. If you took five years off to raise a child, do you have “similar experience” as another person who didn’t?

    If you worked for 20 years of 37.5h weeks, do you have “similar experience” as someone who worked 60h weeks over the same period?

    I work 30 hours per week at my day job, and I’ve got a seasonal second job that I do because it’s hella fun even if it eats into my schedule a bit. As you said, everything else is my time to do as I please (which is mostly occupied by volunteer work that is at least as complex as my day job).

    I couldn’t imagine sacrificing 40 hours of my time each week (especially if they’re specific hours, like 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. sharp) to be an employee. It just doesn’t leave enough time for me. At my day job, if I wanted to work more than 30 hours a week here or there to pick up some extra cash, I am free to do so, but this happens only a couple of times per year.

    As Guy Lombardo said, “Enjoy Yourself, it’s later than you think!”

    – RG>

  9. I don’t have children but I’ve never wanted to be owned by my job — when I leave my workplace, I don’t want my work following me home unless I specifically invite it. That may limit my future prospects, but I’m OK with that.

  10. Count me in with Meanie. I was only heartbroken for a little bit when I found out I was not going to be considered for a management position I thought I wanted. I didn’t get the higher paycheque and visibility in the organization, but I also didn’t get the headaches, increased responsibility, and tasks that would eat into my evenings/weekends with my children.

    I’m pretty happy working 7.5 a day in a job I really like, and leaving it at the office when I head home to be with my girls.

  11. I’m very happy staying home with the kids for now. Someday I plan to go back to work, but I definitely want a job with very fixed hours, and I know my career will be taking a back seat to my job as Mommy for at least another 20 years or so.

    What I really wish is that there wasn’t an ageism factor in promotions at work. I can come roaring back into the workforce when my kids are all in university — say, when I’m about 55 — but no one would want to put me on the fast track for promotions then. Alas.

    It’s worth it, though, to have this time at home. When I’m 55, McDonalds is always hiring!

  12. I can’t comment on a whole lot of this, having worked in the same cloistered industry (broadcast journalist) for most of the last three decades.
    However, there is a lot to be said about satisfaction with your work and your life, and how that can have an impact on your earnings.
    I am in a mid-level job usually occupied by people much younger than I am, but I enjoy what I do, and succeed at not bringing the job home with me.
    I have been in management positions, running my own news department for over three years, and getting out partly to escape the frustrations and the brutal hours.
    I’ve also filled interim management positions. In fact, for a time, I was the interim boss to the man who is now a vice-president of our company with huge responsibilities, working out of the same building that I now work at. I was able to leave that interim position when he got it permanently. Now it’s not unusual to see him in the building until all hours of the night and on weekends (during my normal hours of work).
    I make a decent income and want for nothing. Would the six-figure salary be worth it? Not to me.

  13. I work in a private sector company that gives much better maternity benefits than parental leave. If my spouse and I worked at the same company, and she got preggers, she’d get her income topped up for 6 months to a year, while I would get the bare minimum mandated by the province.

    The solution I’ll take, if it’s available, is to drop down to working three or four days a week. It’s the worst of both worlds: paid less, high levels of work responsibility, and less time with my new family – but at least I’ll be able to get some time at home.

    I don’t think situation is uncommon for men:

    – A (male) friend in high tech dropped out of the private sector entirely so that he could avoid this situation: he took a lower salary in the public sector, with little or no chance of advancement, but with much more free time.

    – Another (male) friend working in PR was quietly informed that if he took any parental leave, he wouldn’t have a future with the company.

  14. RealGrouchy – I agree. And, I did keep up with technology and stuff and I took a few course to stay current in my field. When I was off because when I left we were only using computers for wordprocessing and by the time I got back computers were being used for everything. There was a bit of a “catch-up” period when I first went back, but it really only took a month or so. Fortunately things move really, really slowly in government. But like I said, I don’t begrudge those people who moved ahead of me while I was off. Whatever it cost in terms of career advancement was totally worth it.

    Louise – Seems sensible. If I were the owner of a company or a senior manager, I’m not even sure I’d want someone working for me who had nothing beyond his job. He might be kind of scary to be around, don’t you think?

    Alison – Doesn’t it feel nice to walk out those doors at the end of the day and completely leave work behind? Ahhhhh, grunt work….there’s nothing better.

    Lynn – At 55 I don’t think you’ll be all that interested in fast-tracking your way into promotions anyway. By then you’ll have discovered so much more that you want to do in life that you’re happy to just put in your hours until you can retire.

    Mary Lynn – Oh. That’s really unfortunate. Little bastard.

    Bob – Yup. People sneer at those guys making piles of money, but I reckon they pay for it over and over and over. Maybe if you had a high-maintenance wife and 3 teenaged daughters at home, you’d be clawing your way into a 6-figure salary, too.

    Erigami – Interesting perspective. Because this definitely discriminating against males. In the federal government, men can take up to 9 months parental leave after the birth of or adoption of a child. Many have done just that. Of course they end up in the same situation then as women on maternity leave – they get their jobs back, but the time they’ve missed will cost them a bit in advancement. Of course I can see how private sector couldn’t afford to be keeping jobs open for employees for months and months – although it does happen in other countries.

  15. A good post XUP. Gives me something to think about – having been that 60-80 hr/week guy travelling, but not taking vacations… My wife and I decided it was best for our kids for her to stay home with them – and I know she has never regretted that. On the other hand, the past few months of not having to travel or do the 60-80 hr weeks has put me in a unique situation now of ‘enjoying’ both sides. I’m starting to think 15% doesn’t seem like enough now…
    I am with you – no longer interested in climbing the ladder, but still interested in making things happen and leading an exciting life.
    The balancing act is not so easy. Should be interesting.

  16. I work in one job that is ‘commission’ based, so pay varies depending on how many deliveries are in your area. It is disconcerting (read: bloody annoying) to find out that the ‘commission’ is variable and that some people have a much higher rate than others. I think it has more to do with the negotiating skills of certain people who simply make demands knowing that there is a certain desperation for more workers. The rest of us plod on in ignorance and when told the pay scale, accept (or reject) it.

    But, I have also done the bring your work home and add it to your 50 hour work week and will never do it again, not even for 15% more pay.

  17. I’m not sure what the stats can numbers were showing. Was it an average? Was it comparable work? (Couldn’t find the link to this.)

    There is a glass ceiling, sometimes you can see it shimmer. It’s not quite as obvious as it once was. But it’s definitely still there. You can see it in the way certain (usually older) men talk to women in meetings. (Even if they are their peers.) Salary wise this still happens too. (Salary disclosure is a good thing.)

    Certainly we make choices that affect our salaries long term. But more and more people (not just women) are making decisions that allow them to experience life in the way they choose. I think that’s how it should be.

  18. At least Canada has some form of leave worked into the plan for parents. Here in the US, it’s a different story.

    That being said, I’m lucky to be in a position where I could quit my job to focus on my daughter. My husband loves his job, and it affords us our lifestyle. The company where he works offers flex-time, work from home benefits, etc. But, he and I have different roles. He focuses on his work, and I focus on our daughter. That sounds much colder than it is, because in reality, without his work, my job would be harder. 😉

    When I had Claire, I was working an independent contractor job. If I didn’t work, I didn’t get paid. Period. So, I took 6-weeks off and then worked from home with Claire by my side (which was how the job was organized…no special arrangements were made for me.) I did that until I couldn’t do both well, and then I quit. Luckily, we were in a position where I could do that.

    Personally, I struggled with my “identity” and all kinds of issues that mothers (parents in general, or just moms?) face.

    I had friends in other fields who didn’t get fully-paid maternity leave, and they were only guaranteed “A job” not “THEIR job” after 6-weeks.

    It really depends on the company.

    But, back to your original question, I really think there is still a bias. There is still a difference, and although there are safeguards in place, women have to work that much harder.

    Right or wrong? I don’t know. It’s just the way I see it.

  19. Ian – Does an exciting life include work to you? Or is work just something that funds the exciting life?

    Violetsky – Go and demand equity with those other pushy people who are getting paid more than you. That doesn’t seem fair. I worked in an ad agency in Toronto when I was first out of university and boy, was that a FULL time job. I quickly escaped to a cushy government gig.

    Nat – I’ll see if I can find the actual summary again that mentioned the 85 cent thing. All it said was what I said above – similar labour market experience. Which is why I made the assumptions I did. It’s very disturbing to hear from so many people that women are still restricted in their careers for no other reason then they are women. I’m glad I did this post and I’m grateful for everyone’s input.

    CP – Those paltry and/or non-existent leaves are terrible. That’s not how a civilized country should operate. Who better to raise a child than its parents? That should be encouraged. And you should never have any doubts about your identity. It always saddens me that the job of “mother” isn’t considered to be quite important enough. Women fought for decades to be allowed to have options; to be anything they want to be. And yet women who choose to spend a few years at home with their children sometimes are treated like they’re doing other women a disservice because they’re “just housewives”. People who think like that are doing women a disservice. We should be allowed to choose the life we really want and be respected for it. I think you’ve got the best and most important job in the world right now. Be proud. Look at the legions of mommy bloggers out there — a force and a voice to be reckoned with!

  20. I love this post so much. It really hits home for me. I’m dealing with my own version of this first hand as I watch a very highly positioned and high stress job consume someone I love very much. (And “consuming” is quickly shifting over into “ruining.”) It scares me.

    I do agree it’s all about perspective: It’s tough, but from my perspective, I just don’t care enough about money or advancement or position or power to give up the things in life that I’d need to in order to gain that extra 15% in salary. I want to work hard when I’m here at the office and give it 1000% and take pride in a job well done. But then I want to GO HOME. And LIVE. I think it’s not only okay but also necessary that while prioritizing everything else in life, we also remember to prioritize ourselves.

  21. Lesley – My gosh!! This is the first time I’ve ever read anything you’ve written where you’ve been completely serious. This really must have struck a nerve with you. A job can’t consume you unless you allow it to, you know. People allow themselves to be consumed by their work for one of two reasons (in my humble opinion/experience): 1) They crave the excitement and rush of making lots of money and the sense of importance and power that comes with a high pressure, executive type position; or, 2) They’re using work to insulate themselves from life — whether it’s because they are social outcasts and have nothing else going on in life and don’t even want to try any more or their homelife is such a mess that they don’t like being there and so hide away at the office or, finally because they are more comfortable dealing with the pressures of work than they are with the pressures of making a life for themselves — coping with kids or a wife, love, familiy, “hobbies”, social responsibilities, giving of themselves in charitable or interpersonal ways. Oh ya, lots of people complain about how much they have to work and how they wish they didn’t “have” to and how it’s killing them, etc.etc, but they still go. They really don’t have to. They want to.

  22. XUP: You are EXACTLY right. Exactly, exactly. Can you say #2?? Nail right on the head. I seriously will not ever need a therapist. I have the ongoing wisdom of XUP!!

  23. i love the way you bring out specific points of things i haven’t thought of. women’s salaries are a big sore spot in our society, as always there is much work to be done.

    you seem to have your priorities in order, and that’s the important part 🙂