As the world prepares to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8th, I am thinking back on all of the important and influential women in my life. I have been blessed to have had strong, intelligent female role models on my journey; from family to mentors to colleagues and peers. Passionate, resilient, and compassionate are all qualities I have observed in these women and I have tried to emulate them in both my personal and professional life. My company’s creation, focus and direction has been shaped by the beliefs espoused by these women, as well as the struggles and in some cases, injustices experienced by them. Like all of us, I have made choices and life decisions based on the perspectives, beliefs, and stories of others who I have admired on the positive side and chosen to avoid on the other end of the spectrum.
All around the world, International Women’s Day represents an opportunity to celebrate the achievements of women while calling for greater equality. The theme of the 2015 global celebration is Make It Happen and brings with it an expectation and conviction that the time of true equality of women in all respects is right now. While International Women’s Day is a celebration of achievements, both past and present, it reminds us that despite advancements, there is still significant work to do and inequalities to address in the world as a whole. It is up to all of us to Make It Happen.
The issue of wage inequality for women remains at the forefront of focus and discussion in 2015, despite significant and varied strategies to rectify this injustice over many decades. History books document legislative attempts to compel wage equality with such laws as the U.S. Equal Pay Act of 1963 and Canada’s first pay equity legislation federally enacted in 1977. But as we have come to realize over the years, people’s actions are not always aligned with the required legislation in a country. How do we change beliefs that are deeply rooted in injustice and unconscious bias? My clients are constantly asking this question as it relates to all dimensions of diversity, not just gender equality issues and understand that while most people believe that such actions are not only the “right thing to do”, they are also the “smart thing to do”, that inequalities continue to exist in the world. The most important question is how will we finally bring about this change? And based on all of the research over the past several decades; is this even possible?
This leads me back to the women who have shaped my life and their personal experiences with inequality. My mother had a profound influence on who I am; my belief system in “walking the talk” and my passion for pursuing inclusion for all. She was ahead of her time and acted on her strong belief in doing what was right. In 1982, she spearheaded a law suit involving herself and four other women against her employer, the F.W. Woolworth Company and alleged discrimination on the basis of sex in contravention of the Ontario Human Rights Code. The complaint stemmed from the retailer’s decision regarding the implementation of an annual wage increase. ‘Wage increases in varying amounts were granted to the staff at the operation at that time with the exception of the five complainants and one other female employee. Instead of receiving wage increases as did their fellow workers, those six individuals had their wages frozen. The complainants allege that Woolworth’s decision to freeze only their wages had the effect of discriminating against them on the basis of their sex because only female employees had their wages frozen”.
Read the full archive of the case here: Newman v..F.W. Woolworth Limited, Board of Inquiry, January 17, 1986 BOI 232.
It took tremendous courage and conviction for my mother and these women to bring this suit against their employer, especially considering they still went to work every day for almost four years until the case came to trial. I still remember the discussion we had as a family when my mom told us what she wanted to do and asked for our support, which we gave her without hesitation. This was the family we grew up in, one that fought for what was right, even if it had a personal cost associated with it. In the end, the case was not successful. It was proven that the company “had treated the complainants differently from its other employees by denying them a raise in 1982. From a human standpoint, the way the respondent handled the matter at the time created a well justified feeling of unfairness and discrimination in the minds of the complainants. But, the complainants were unable to establish on the evidence that they were denied the raise “because of their sex”. The complainants were only able to show that they were treated differently and that they were all female.”
It is a sad, but true reality that the fight for wage equality for women continues to be necessary in the year 2015. For many companies, the actions taken in perpetuating wage inequality are still the same as my mother experienced in 1982. It is up to all of us, men and women alike, to finally figure out and enable the mechanisms to change this reality. After all, isn’t it about time to just Make It Happen?
“I did everything that was asked, in fact I did more… All those years, besides watching these young men work there and get raises… I felt, okay, I do my job and I’m getting my raises so I am satisfied. But when this came up, and now you see a person who has less seniority, less responsibility, less skills, less everything… He is getting a raise and I am not. So then I thought there has to be a principle somewhere here.”
Mrs. Olga Crouse (co-plantiff. Newman v..F.W. Woolworth Limited, Board of Inquiry, January 17, 1986 BOI 232)