Saskatchewan gender, immigrant wage gaps among widest in Canada

April 6, 2017

By Alex Macpherson, Saskatoon Starphoenix |

Saskatchewan’s mining and nuclear industries have made strides toward hiring more women, but gender imbalance remains “the elephant in the room,” according to the vice-chair of a local organization that is determined to achieve parity in the sector.

“It is a reality that we’re facing, is that women just aren’t interested in coming to the industry,” said Nancy Komperdo, who has been involved with Women in Mining and Women in Nuclear Saskatchewan (WIM/WIN) for four years.

“So how do we change that?”

Komperdo, who works with the Anglo-Australian mining giant BHP Billiton in Saskatoon, said while companies — including her own, which is angling for gender parity by 2025 — have made progress, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Until that happens, a lack of diversity in the resource sector will likely to continue pressuring Saskatchewan’s 21.6 per cent gender wage gap, which is one of the country’s highest, according to a report released Wednesday by the Conference Board of Canada.

“I think it … comes back to the resource-based economy,” said Sheila Rao, a principal research associate with the Conference Board of Canada. “We have, probably, more men in the higher-paying professions and that will make a difference.”

Closing the gap — which is three points above the national average and, among the provinces, trails only Newfoundland and Labrador, Alberta and B.C. — will require transparency and accountability from Saskatchewan employers, Rao said.

“The only way to improve the situation is to bring light to it.”

Another solution is outreach and education, which work groups like WIM/WIN are already tackling, Komperdo said. It’s vital to drive home the point that women have potential in an industry that has historically been dominated by men, she added.

“This industry is great and there’s an amazing, talented group of individuals that are working there,” she said of WIM/WIN and other groups’ efforts to attract women to the sector. “And we want more to come to us.”

Women are not the only people in Saskatchewan facing a wage gap. According to the report, the province’s immigrant wage gap was 37.1 per cent in 2015 — second only to Manitoba, where the gap is 39.4 per cent, and about 17 points above the national average.

Rao said while an explanation for the gulf between what immigrants and non-immigrants earn is murkier, the availability of language skills training almost certainly plays a role.

Saskatchewan Intercultural Association executive director Jess Hamm takes a starker view, noting that bias — either conscious or unconscious — often makes it difficult for immigrants to advance beyond entry-level positions.

Read more