A University of Guelph professor studying salary discrepancies between women and men has received a grant from Ontario’s Pay Equity Office.

Miana Plesca, Department of Economics and Finance, received one of three inaugural awards from the new provincial Gender Wage Gap Grant Program. She will work with adjunct computer science professor Luiza Antonie and PhD student Jennifer Teng on the project.

They will analyze the male-female wage gap and, specifically, how education affects gender-based salary differences and whether highly educated women experience a “glass ceiling.”

By comparing wage gaps in Ontario and the rest of Canada, they will determine what policies would be most effective in addressing discrepancies.

“It is fabulous to have this opportunity,” Plesca said.

“As academics, we always hope that our work will determine real-life policy actions, and this opportunity to work for the Pay Equity Commission may result in that kind of policy-relevant impact.”

For example, she said, the gender wage gap might be mitigated and reduced by policies that encourage men to take paternity leave, that improve work-life balance and division of family responsibilities, or that allow women to return to work earlier after a career interruption.

“We believe, ultimately, that a large part of the wage gap is a story about attachment to work and careers,” Plesca said. “Fertility and career interruptions are unquestionably big factors in the gender wage gap.”

She hopes to help raise public awareness of these issues.

The researchers will compare the evolution of the gender wage gap in Ontario and in the rest of Canada.

“The gender wage gap has been smaller in Ontario, but in more recent years, the other provinces have been edging closer; their wage gaps have been narrowing, but not Ontario’s,” Plesca said.

“We are investigating which part of the wage distribution is responsible for this relative deterioration.”

In general, the gender wage gap narrows slightly as wages rise, Plesca said.

High school dropouts show the largest gender wage gap, which can be as high as 40 per cent (women making roughly 60 per cent of what men make).

“This is consistent with the natural resource focus of the Canadian economy, where men with little education can still find decent-paying jobs in mining or forestry or in the oil industry, but this is not the case for uneducated women who are stuck in very low-paying jobs,” she said.

For men and women with high school or community college education, the gap is constant at all levels of income, Plesca said. Women workers in this middle education group make between 75 and 80 per cent of what men earn.

Educated women experience a smaller wage gap, except for the highest income earners. “Here we can document a glass ceiling effect: top women fall behind when compared to top men.” This gap cannot be explained by differences in job skill requirements, she said.

The researchers will use Canadian census data to determine whether the glass ceiling phenomenon is stronger in Ontario than elsewhere in Canada. They will also use information available under Ontario’s Public Sector Salary Disclosure Act, passed in 1996. The so-called “sunshine list” is an annual report of public sector employees who earn $100,000 or more.

They plan to examine whether there is a link between the deterioration of Ontario’s smaller gender gap to the introduction of the sunshine list.

“There is some evidence that the public information in the sunshine list is being used by workers to negotiate higher wages,” Plesca said.

“Since men tend to negotiate harder than women do, this could reinforce the ‘glass ceiling’ experienced by high-earner women.”

The Pay Equity Office is one of two bodies that make up Ontario’s Pay Equity Commission; the other is the Pay Equity Hearings Tribunal. The Gender Wage Gap Grant Program was begun last November to help promote gender equality through grants worth up to $50,000.