Pay Equity In Labor Force Movement sample essay
Debates about women’s rights at work and the gendered dimensions of employment inequality were notable and contested features of Canadian political discourse throughout the second half of the twentieth century. Concern about these issues took root during the 1940s, when women experienced dramatic shifts in their employment opportunities as a result of being drawn into and later jettisoned from the reserve army of wartime labor. Pressure to improve women’s employment conditions, particularly in the burgeoning public sector, recurred in the mid-1950s.
However, it was in the 1960s, once the second wave of feminism took root in Canada, that women began to develop a sustained critique of the employment inequalities they experienced and pressure their governments to address the problem through policy innovation and change. (Westhues, 45-58) From the outset of second-wave feminism, women advanced analyses of employment inequality that took account of their labor in both the public and domestic spheres.
As Brockman noted, activists “drew attention, as had never been done before, to the fundamental incompatibility between reproductive labor and child care, on the one hand, and paid work on the other, as well as to the profound consequences of this incompatibility. ” (Brockman, 78-93) While liberal, radical, and socialist feminists approached this issue from different ideological vantage points, they shared a common belief that the causes of gender inequality in employment were not rooted solely in the workplace.
Only, they claimed, if questions about women’s employment in the public sphere were addressed in tandem with questions about their labor in the domestic sphere would the gendered dimensions of employment inequality be fully understood. In particular, feminists thought that women’s maternal work had to be recognized in discussions about promoting gender equality in the workplace.
As Westhues, a well-known socialist feminist, once argued, “As long as women have the primary responsibility for maintenance of the home and for child care, we will be less than able to pursue job opportunities and our domestic commitments will be used to justify discriminatory employment practices. ” (Westhues, 45-58) Growing awareness of the need to link questions about production and reproduction in analyses of women’s economic position was by no means unique to Canadian feminism.
It was, for example, well established in the early writing of second-wave feminists in Britain and the United States. What did, however, distinguish Canadian feminists from their counterparts in these other liberal democracies was an ability to work together, despite ideological differences, in order to advance this double-edged critique of gender inequality in employment. Right from the start of the contemporary women’s movement, Canadian feminists engaged with the state, demanding policies that recognized the link between women’s employment opportunities and the provision of child care.
Canadian feminists lobbied both federal and provincial governments about the need to improve women’s employment opportunities and expand the provision of child care. It was in the federal arena, however, that women (outside Quebec) focused their demands for the development of policies that acknowledged the link between these two issues. In some respects, this federal focus was surprising. After all, only one-tenth of the Canadian labor force is regulated by the federal government, and even at the start of second-wave feminism both federal and provincial governments had been involved in employment opportunity and child care initiatives.
Moreover, even though the federal government has the constitutional capacity to use its spending power to underwrite the provision of state-subsidized child care, it is the provinces that retain constitutional control over the delivery of this service. The federal focus of women’s campaigns was encouraged by the fact that the renaissance of Canadian feminism occurred within the context of a broader social project to achieve universal welfare guarantees, assured by the Canadian state.
It was reinforced by the government of Canada’s decision to establish the 1967 Royal Commission on the Status of Women (RCSW) to inquire how best the federal government could ensure that women enjoyed “equal opportunities with men in all aspects of Canadian society. ” It has since been sustained by the work of activists in national organizations, in particular the National Action Committee on the Status of Women (NAC), founded in 1972, and the Canadian Day Care Advocacy Association (CDCAA), established in 1982 and renamed the Child Care Advocacy Association of Canada (CCAAC) in 1992.
However, despite a long history of feminist engagement with the federal state, women’s repeated campaigns for the development of policies to address the double-edged nature of gender inequality in employment, and the clear recognition of these demands in reports of royal commissions and task forces, the federal policy response has been uneven. Policies to eradicate sex discrimination at work and promote women’s employment opportunities have been developed and implemented in the federal policy sphere.
By contrast, the federal government has not developed policies to promote a publicly funded system of child care in order to enhance women’s employment opportunities, save as emergency measures during the Second World War or as an element of broader initiatives to get “welfare mothers” out to work. Instead it has treated child care as a fiscal issue for which parents can receive subsidies through federal taxation.
This paper examines why a double-edged interpretation of women’s employment inequality, which recognizes the public and domestic dimensions of women’s work, has not been fully absorbed into federal policies to promote gender equality in the sphere of employment. The analysis follows the development of debates about women’s rights at work from the period of reconstruction after the Second World War, when questions about eradicating employment discrimination against worker-citizens first emerged in Canadian political debate, through to the close of the twentieth century.
It examines federal policy developments under Liberal and Conservative governments, showing that even though the reports of federal royal commissions and task forces encoded feminist demands for a double-edged attack on employment inequality, questions about promoting women’s employment equality and child care were continually driven apart in the federal policy process.
Women’s Paid and Caring Work While this is by no means the first time that scholars have considered the relationship between Canadian women’s work inside and outside the home, it is noticeable how the link between these two aspects of women’s labor was explored by historians and sociologists before being addressed by analysts of public policy. In the late 1970s, members of the Women’s History Collective at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education and the Clio Collective in Montreal pioneered research in Canada on how women’s labor had shifted from the unpaid domestic sphere into the world of paid employment.
In the process, they unearthed textual and oral histories that demonstrated how, despite this transition, women still faced the double bind of a double-day in which they went out to work for pay and home to work for love. Their findings were reinforced in late 1970s and 1980s by sociological analyses of women’s work arguing that because women so often entered employment while maintaining primary responsibility for the care of their children, they frequently found themselves concentrated in low-paid, low-status employment.
Despite the fact that historians, sociologists, and feminist activists drew attention to the “double ghetto” of women’s working lives, discussions about policies to promote women’s employment opportunities and improve the provision of child care evolved as distinct scholarly debates. The literature on policies to promote Canadian women’s employment opportunities emerged within the context of broader discussions and debates about the development of policies to root out discrimination in the workplace.
By contrast, the literature on Canadian child care policy evolved around questions about the development, cost, and politics of implementing public policies to promote the welfare, education, care, and development of young children. In recent years, however, policy analysts have paid much greater attention to the link between women’s paid and caring work. Jacobs, 120-128) Nonetheless, no one has yet considered why Canadian government policies to promote women’s employment opportunities and improve the provision of child care have been developed at such different rates and, despite repeated calls to the contrary, not linked in the design of public policies to promote gender equality in federally regulated employment. This pattern of inquiry is understandable, given the discrete historical development of policies concerned with child care and those concerned with women’s employment.
However, it unduly limits our understanding of the gendered dimensions of employment inequality in Canada and fails to capture the empirical reality of many women’s working lives. Double-Edged Nature of Women’s Employment Inequality Why did women’s double-edged demand for equal employment opportunities and child care emerge in Canada in the 1960s and 1970s? After all, from the mid-1950s Canada experienced one of the fastest rates of labor force feminization in the Western industrialized world.
The decline of manufacturing industries and the concomitant growth of the tertiary sector in the 1950s and 1960s meant that while industries that had traditionally attracted men closed down, those demanding support skills that had long characterized women’s traditional domestic roles expanded. Moreover, in countries like Canada, where welfare states were being established, the growth in women’s employment intensified most quickly.
The much trumpeted rise in female labor force participation rates did not, however, mean that women engaged in paid employment on the same terms as men. The occupational segregation of Canadian men and women persisted in both horizontal and vertical forms. In fact, this process intensified with the increased participation of women in the paid labor force. As a result, the vast majority of women found themselves working in poorly paid occupations, situated in the lower echelons of private companies and public sector organizations.
Moreover, as Jacobs have noted, although the creation of welfare states meant that “women as a group had more employment opportunities open up for them than men” in the mid-twentieth century, the growth in women’s employment was in the part-time sector of the labor force, which was increasingly dominated by women in all OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries. Jacobs, 120-128) This simply intensified the inequalities of employment opportunity that women experienced because part-time work is concentrated in the least-skilled, lowest-paid, and most poorly organized sections of the labor force, where benefits are usually more limited than in the full-time sector.
The rapid growth in women’s participation in part-time rather than fulltime employment reflects two other factors about the feminization of the Canadian labor force. On the one hand, it relates to the type of work that the service sector has generated and to the increasing flexibility demanded of its employees.
On the other hand, it reflects the fact that the greatest increase in female labor force participation rates since the 1960s has been among women with young children. In the early 1960s, most female employees in Canada would leave the workforce when their first child was born and return only when their youngest child had entered school. By the mid-1980s most women with young children went out to work. Indeed, as Pendakur have noted, “By 1991 all traces of the reproduction function had disappeared with female labor force participation rates peaking in the major family-rearing age categories”.
The double burden that women experience from juggling their employment while continuing to care for their children has been reinforced by the limited provision of subsidized child care spaces in Canada. In the late 1960s, when women began to pressure the federal government to address the minimal provision of child care for working women, federal subsidies for child care were limited to support for welfare mothers under the 1966 Canada Assistance Plan.
This pattern changed very little in the course of the twentieth century, although federal subsidies to support child care for low-income families became increasingly tied to efforts to get mothers receiving welfare out to work. Although recent federal publications on the status of day care in Canada boast “a twenty-five-fold increase” in child care spaces since the government first gathered these data in 1971, in fact the proportion of children of working mothers who have access to regulated child care remains very low.
As a result, most working parents remain highly dependent on informal, unregulated child care. Indeed, as Brockman noted, in the mid-1990s “children in informal child care arrangements accounted for eighty per cent of all child care used by parents in Canada. ” (Brockman, 78-93) The federal state in Canada has addressed questions about promoting equal employment opportunities for men and women in the public sphere with relative ease but has failed to recognize that this project cannot be achieved without addressing the questions of child care that affect so many women’s working lives.
While the reasons for this are complex, some insights from feminist theory may help us to begin this exploration. In recent years, a number of feminist theorists have discussed how the concept of worker-citizenship that took root as welfare states were developed in countries such as Canada did not take account of the different contexts in which women and men often assumed employment. (Pendakur, 111-120)
As a result, when questions about promoting equal employment opportunities for men and women began to emerge in the 1950s and ’60s, they were framed in terms of women achieving the same opportunities as men. Indeed, Canadian have tried to develop a more nuanced concept of worker citizenship that not only respects the objective of equality of opportunity but also takes workers’ particular circumstances into account and, in the case of women, enables them to integrate their paid and caring work better.
In the process, women have argued that a state that upholds the principle of gender equality must develop policies that take account of the interconnectedness of the public and domestic spheres and recognize the different contexts in which men and women often assume employment. Conclusion Nonetheless, although Canadian feminists have a long history of active engagement with the state, developed through a “visible and articulate women’s movement” that has successfully placed issues on the political agenda, the result, more often than not, has been that their demands have been contained within a limited set of reforms.
As a result, those aspects of gender discrimination in the workplace that concern practices within the public sphere have been acknowledged through the introduction of anti-discrimination and employment equity policies. By contrast, women have had more difficulty getting their proposals for policies that transcend the public/ private divide, by linking questions of equal employment opportunity with those of child care, acknowledged in the federal policy arena.
Despite their efforts to forge these links through two major royal commissions and other government inquiries, problems of gender inequality in employment are still primarily defined as issues located within the public sphere of employment. Without doubt, over the past thirty years there have been clear improvements in the position of women in the federally regulated section of the Canadian labor force. Nonetheless, women continue to cluster in the lower echelons of companies and organizations and remain under-represented in more senior positions.
While this persistent pattern of inequality has many causes, paper shows how it reflects a federal policy process that concentrates on ensuring the comparable treatment of male and female employees once they have entered the labor market, yet, for complex reasons, repeatedly stalls on developing a more expansive approach to child care. As a result, federal policies to promote gender equality in the sphere of employment neglect the inequalities of access and participation that many women experience as they continue or resume employment once they have dependent children.
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