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Equitable compensation

Equitable compensation

Equity in compensation is critical to the realization of overall equity in employment. Associations must work to identify and eliminate discrimination in compensation in ways that go beyond simple comparisons of wages between men and women.

Equitable compensation includes salary and other forms of direct financial compensation such as pension and benefits, merit pay, extra pay for administrative duties and market differentials.  To ensure equitable compensation, however, means moving beyond direct financial compensation to include issues such as access to additional funds for travel and research, release time, time to tenure and promotion, workloads, and service commitments.

Employment status and the de-valuing of certain types of academic work are factors in unfair compensation in the sector. For example, contract academic staff and librarians are seeking pro-rata parity with tenure-track and tenured professors. As equity-deserving group members are over-represented within these jobs, equity advancements can be made by ensuring fairness for these groups.

This toolkit section focuses on achieving equitable compensation for equity-deserving group members, understood as including more than salary or stipends. 

Equal Pay Explained

Equal pay is the term used to compare the same jobs or those defined as the same. Biases can enter through how each job is defined or evaluated and through the creation of small job differences.

Equal pay for equal work was intended to address efforts that undermined equal pay by promoting the comparison of jobs that are similar rather than the same.

Both equal pay and equal pay for equal work are required by law in all Canadian jurisdictions and can help address pay inequities experienced by individuals if unions have both proactive and complaint-based means of applying these laws.

These laws have been used by unions and by various women’s organizations to move beyond equal pay and equal pay for equal work to establish the systemic nature of gender pay discrimination. The research demonstrated systemic segregation of women’s work that is combined with an undervaluing of that work.

Within post-secondary institutions such segregation and undervaluing is most evident in the relative value attached to women-dominated departments compared to men-dominated ones. The strategies of unions and women’s organizations employing this research resulted in legislation requiring equal pay for work of equal value in most jurisdictions.

Equal pay for work of equal value (or pay equity as it is frequently referred to in Canada) is intended to address the systemic segregation of women’s work that is combined with an undervaluing of that work, by comparing the skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions in jobs done primarily by women with those done by men.

Provinces, territories, and the federal government differ in whether they have specific pay equity legislation and the extent to which the legislation is proactive, what work is covered, how an employer is defined, how comparisons are to be developed, and what enforcement mechanisms are in place. All are focused primarily on women, because it is easier to document, and this is where in the 1990s unions and other groups focused their efforts.  All pay equity legislation has included compensation beyond pay to prevent other differences from creeping into the calculations.

Most pay equity legislation requires job evaluation that is free of gender-bias, based on the recognition that all kinds of value assumptions are embedded in such evaluations. It is common for pay equity legislation to focus on market wages – a consideration that ignores the discrimination built into markets even if we accept the assumption there are market wages. Value assumptions about race, disability, Indigeneity and other identities, are also often hidden in such evaluations.

Although pay equity legislation focuses on women, academic staff associations can  take action to promote equitable compensation for all. Human rights legislation as well as no discrimination clauses in collective agreements can be used to tackle all inequities in compensation.

Bargaining for equitable compensation

Unions and academic staff associations have identified key areas to strengthen agreements to assist in ensuring equitable compensation:

1.  Pay transparency

This includes securing access to data on self-identification linked to individual pay, including starting salaries, the range, the median and mean by employment status and rank. It is important to also find ways for the association to negotiate for the collection,  monitoring, and analysis of opportunities that impact pay, for example, research grants and chairs, tenure and promotion, alternative work arrangements, and leaves.  

For example, policies which limit salary increment entitlements during leaves will have a differential impact on women who experience more career interruptions due to maternity and parental leaves.

2.  Salary Structures

CAUT’s policy statement on salary structures recommends a single salary grid based on the full range of academic staff responsibilities (teaching/professional practice, research and service), with clearly defined floors, ceilings, and criteria for placement on appointment.

Criteria for placement on the grid and the process for determining individual placement must not result in discrimination against individuals from disadvantaged groups. Acadia University Faculty Association, for example, includes full-time parenting as relevant experience post first degree when placing a member on the grid.

Market rates need to be challenged as a justification for differences. There is little reason to assume that the skill, effort, responsibility and working conditions in engineering faculties are of higher value than those in nursing or the humanities, for example. See CAUT Bargaining Advisory on Market Differentials and Supplements for more information.

Merit pay is also problematic in that it can discriminate against equity-deserving members. Merit pay is commonly defined as “pay for performance”: salary increases based on quality of work. Performance indicators usually include teaching, research, and service, weighted in accordance with an institution’s mission. Performance metrics are fraught, as noted in CAUT’s Policy Statement on Performance Metrics: Performance metrics can especially disadvantage Aboriginal scholars, members of equity-deserving groups, those publishing or disseminating knowledge in languages other than English, those who are on non-traditional career paths, as well as those who conduct unconventional teaching, research, creative activities, service, professional practice, and/or research.

CAUT calls for the phasing out of merit pay and market differentials. In making progress towards this, associations have negotiated ways to guard against discrimination, through for example, allowing cumulative years to be considered, rather than only the year prior, in recognition of unequal distribution of parental leave, and teaching and service burdens and enhanced transparency and less discretion on criteria and award.

3. Salary anomaly funds and studies

Salary anomaly funds are common to address individual outliers and are often complaint-based. It is critical however, for proactive population studies to identify systemic discrimination. It is important for the association to bargain for:

  • at least equal representation on any all committees/decision making bodies.
  • agreed terms of a pay equity study as part of the collective agreement or memorandum of agreement – and include only gender but also race, ability, Aboriginality, sexual orientation, and gender identity and expression.
  • employer responsibility for paying wage adjustments (ideally without a cap). It is better to avoid negotiating a specific lump sum, but if not possible,  allow for increases in the fund if it is insufficient to meet all the identified wage gaps. 
  • an option to hire an independent third-party expert as a consultant for the study 
  • a mechanism for regular review. Maintaining equity means recognizing that one-time settlements of equity are not good enough. Equity requires constant vigilance and ongoing reviews should be negotiated.

See CAUT’s model clause on equitable compensation for recommended language.

4. Fairness for Contract Academic Staff and Librarians

Evidence suggests that equity-deserving academic staff are over-represented among academic staff employed part time or part year in academia. We also know through CAUT’s Librarian Salary Survey that although the vast majority of librarian academic staff are women, mean and median salaries are higher for male librarians. (Equity data beyond binary gender is not available for academic librarians nationally at this time).

It is critical for unions and academic staff associations to undertake equitable compensation studies within these groups, and to seek parity with regular, full-time faculty.

Equal pay studies of academic staff at Canadian institutions have focused on tenure stream appointments. Efforts are being made at Carleton and University of Toronto to seek reviews for librarians.  If you have information on equal pay efforts for contract academic staff or librarians, please email

Fairness for contract academic staff includes compensation such as access to leaves, benefits, pensions, professional development, research funds and support.   Academic status and participation in governance has been positively associated with improved salaries for librarians.

Associations can improve equitable association for these groups through bargaining on these areas.

Case study: University of Toronto Faculty Association files policy grievance to close salary gaps

The University of Toronto Faculty Association (UTFA) is pursuing a complaint under Ontario’s Pay Equity Act. This statute addresses the compensation of female-dominated job classes. Historically, Librarian and Tutor/Senior Tutor (early titles for teaching stream faculty) were considered female-dominated jobs. UTFA is dedicated to ensuring that the compensation for Librarian and Teaching Stream members continues to comply with the Act.

On June 4, 2019, UTFA filed an Association policy grievance, seeking redress for salary discrimination for faculty and librarians who identify as a woman or non-male and/or as members of other equity deserving groups. The Administration denied the grievance, and UTFA therefore referred the grievance for arbitration before the University’s Grievance Review Panel (GRP). UTFA won the right to have the grievance heard. Read this important decision here.

Further Resources and Reading

Edkins, T.. Methodological Review: Sex/Salary Studies at Post-Secondary Institutions. Joint University of Manitoba and University of Manitoba Faculty Association Committee on Gender-based Salary Differentials. 2017. 

CAUT. Bargaining Advisory on Market Differentials and Supplements. 2018: caut-bargaining-advisory-market-differentials-and-supplements_2018-10_0.pdf.

CAUT. Bargaining Advisory on the Provision of Information to the Association. 2016: caut-bargaining-advisory-provision-of-information-to-the-association-2016-03.pdf.

OCUFA. Pay equity among faculty at Ontario universities. OCUFA’s Submission to the Ontario Wage Gap Committee. 2016:

CAUT. Persistent Gap - Understanding male-female salary differentials amongst Canadian academic staff. 2010: EquityReview5:Layout 1.qxd (

Haignere, Lois. Paychecks : A Guide to Conducting Salary-equity Studies for Higher Education Faculty. Washington, DC. American Association of University Professors, 2nd ed. 2002: Print ED476226.TIF (111 pages) (

Li, Yanli. Academic Status and Librarian Salary Differentials across Academic Institutions. 2019: 8A_Li_paper.pdf (

Warman, C., Woolley F. and Worswick, C.. The evolution of male-female earnings differentials in Canadian universities, 1970–2001. Canadian Journal of Economics 43 (1): 347–372. 2010: The Evolution of Male-Female Earnings Differentials in Canadian Universities, 1970-2001 on JSTOR.

Willsie, Jane. Pay Scales Tipped Against Female Professors. The Queen’s Journal, July 29, 2016: Pay scales tipped against female professors | The Journal (

Beyond Gender

Woodhams, C., Lupton, B. & Cowling, M.. The Snowballing Penalty Effect: Multiple Disadvantage and Pay. British Journal of Management. v26 n1: 63-77. January 2015: The Snowballing Penalty Effect: Multiple Disadvantage and Pay (Article, 2015) [].

Woodhams, C., Lupton B., Perkins G. & Cowling, M.. Multiple Disadvantage and Wage Growth: The Effect of Merit Pay on Pay Gaps. Human Resource Management, v54 n2: 283-301. 2015: Multiple Disadvantage and Wage Growth: The Effect of Merit Pay on Pay Gaps (Article, 2015) [].

Li D., Koedel C.. Representation and Salary Gaps by Race-Ethnicity and Gender at Selective Public Universities. Educational Researcher. 46(7):343-354. 2017: Representation and Salary Gaps by Race-Ethnicity and Gender at Selective Public Universities - Diyi Li, Cory Koedel, 2017 (

Conference Board of Canada. Racial Wage Gap. 2020:

Block, Sheila and Galabuzi, G-E.. Persistent Inequality - Ontario’s Colour-coded Labour Market. CCPA. 2018: Persistent Inequality | Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.

Association of University Teachers. The diverse academy – The pay and employment of academic and professional staff in UK higher education by gender and ethnicity. October 2005:

Equal Pay and Pay Equity

International Labour Organization. Promoting Equity: gender-neutral job evaluation for equal pay. A step-by-step guide. 2009: Guidelines: Promoting Equity: gender-neutral job evaluation for equal pay. A step-by-step guide (

Armstrong, P., Cornish, M. and Millar, E..  Pay Equity: Complexities and Contradictions in Legal and Social Processes. pp. 161-82. March 2003: Pay equity: Complexity and contradiction in legal rights and social processes | Request PDF (

Clement, Wallace and Vosko, Leah F.. Changing Canada: Political Economy as Transformation. McGill-Queen’s University Press. March 2003: Changing Canada | McGill-Queen’s University Press (

Baker, M., Halberstam Y., Kroft K., Mas A., and Messacar D.. Pay Transparency and the Gender Gap - Analytical Studies Branch Research Paper Series. September 2019: Pay Transparency and the Gender Gap (

Breza, E., Kaur, S., and Shamdasani, Y.. 2018. The morale effects of pay inequality. The Quarterly Journal of Economics 133 (2): 611–663. 2018: The Morale Effects of Pay Inequality (

Canada, House of Commons Special Committee on Pay Equity. It’s Time to Act Report of Special Committee on Pay Equity. 2016: Committee Report No. 1 - ESPE (42-1) - House of Commons of Canada (

Canada, Pay Equity: A New Approach to a Fundamental Right, Ottawa: Pay Equity Task Force Final Report 2004PETF_final_report_e.pdf (

Card, D., A. Mas, E. Moretti, and E. Saez. 2012. Inequality at work: The effect of peer salaries on job satisfaction. American Economic Review 102 (6): 2981–3003. October 2012: Inequality at Work: The Effect of Peer Salaries on Job Satisfaction on JSTOR.