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University addresses wage gap concerns through scientific research

Socio-economic factors, not institutional biases, help explain gender wage gaps
May 1, 2017

On April 25, 2017 Statistics Canada released data on the number and salaries of full-time teaching staff at Canadian universities. The survey data was collected for the 2016-17 academic year through the University and College Academic Staff System (UCASS). The release of information is preliminary data from 75 universities that reported to the survey.

The survey data highlighted the gender wage gap among academic staff at many Canadian universities. The University of Calgary was singled out as the institution with the widest gender wage gap, based on average salary among the universities surveyed. Average salary is a blunt tool and results in inappropriate conclusions. The University of Calgary has been proactive in dealing with the issue of differences in academic salaries by gender.

The university has conducted two scientific studies in co-ordination with TUCFA on the gender gap in academic salaries, the first in 2004 and the second in 2011. Data on all full-time academic employees (not sessional instructors) was obtained from Human Resources, following the appropriate confidentiality protocols. The first study was conducted by Dr. Jean Wallace and the second by Dr. Jenny Godley, both faculty members in the Department of Sociology.

The studies focused on three key questions:

  • Does a gender pay gap exist at U of C?
  • Can the gender gap in pay be explained by individual level factors?
  • Are there variations in the gender gap in pay across disciplines?

Additionally in 2011, we asked whether any identified gap had changed from 2004 to 2011.

While the studies found that a gender pay gap did exist at the University of Calgary both in 2004 and 2011, with full-time female faculty members earning less than men, most of the gap was explained by gender differences in rank, years of experience, and discipline. On average, men were more likely to be full professors, had more years of experience, and worked in disciplines with higher salaries, all of which led to higher male salaries overall. Once these individual-level factors were taken into account, the gender pay gap in 2004 was reduced 87 per cent (from $16,179 to $2,158) and the gender pay gap in 2011 was reduced 89 per cent (from $17,330 to $1,898).

Thus both studies confirmed that the overall gap in average salaries is largely explained by historical socio-economic factors including changes in gender roles (i.e., women entering the academy in large numbers more recently than men), and gender differences in discipline (i.e., the lower percentage of female academics in higher-paying disciplines such as engineering and business), not by any systemic institutional biases in salaries.

Although the studies did not include any measures of productivity in the models examining the salary gap, they did confirm that there were no significant differences in merit increments by gender within ranks in either time period.

“As sociologists, we know that a gender wage gap exists in many sectors of the economy. The university took action to examine their wage gap rigorously and scientifically. The results of our studies show that in this setting, most of the gender wage gap is explained by historical factors and societal gender biases, this does not mean that these things don't need to change,” says Godley, associate professor of sociology, Faculty of Arts. “The university has been at the forefront of such change since our 2012 study — there is now a higher number of women at the rank of full professor and there are now more women faculty members in traditionally male-dominated disciplines such as engineering.”

Historically, the university has been reviewing salary data since 1979, identifying gaps and problems areas, and implementing corrective actions. “We are aware of the gender gap that exists in academic salaries and take this issue very seriously,” says Dru Marshall, provost and vice-president (academic). “We are continuing to examine the most recent data, and will make adjustments where necessary.”

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