The best thing that men can do in the workplace to help women is to advocate for them, according to a senior female manager working in Waterloo Region's tech sector. 

The region finished dead last among 25 major Canadian cities in a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that ranked the best and worst places for gender equality in Canada.

Part of the low ranking is due to a wide gap in men's and women's wages in the region, along with a male-dominated work force. 

"The highest-paying people in town are in tech, they're men and so the women are not in there and they're not getting those particular salaries," said Dinah Davis, a senior development manager at educational software company Desire2Learn, in an interview with Craig Norris on The Morning Edition Thursday.

"It's like a bit of a double-whammy on the salary difference because we have one male-dominated industry but that male-dominated industry tends to pay really high salaries."

Based on data from Statistics Canada's Labour Force Survey, the report said women in the region defined as Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge make 66 per cent of what men make. The report called this discrepancy "one of the larger wage gaps of the 25 cities measured."

"I think what it really comes down to a lot of the time is unconscious bias. Do I feel in my career that I've been really negatively affected by sexism? No. I don't. But does unconscious bias happen? Absolutely," said Davis, who has worked in tech in the area for almost 13 years. 

The mystery raise

She says that people in senior leadership roles, particularly women, need to ensure they're hiring more women.

"For myself, specifically, I feel like I should be a role model to other women, I should help other women get there. And I need to advocate for those women inside the company to all the senior leaders," she said. "If you're a man in those roles, the best possible thing you can do is advocate for women who you work with." 

Davis says she sees that men tend to be better at advocating for themselves and at self-promotion, so it's important to offer women support in their careers. 

"I've had a few fantastic guys who have really helped advocated for me and be that supporter inside the organization for me. Without those people it would have been a lot harder for me," she said. 

​Davis worked for BlackBerry when it was still known as Research in Motion, back in 2004. She said it was a male-dominated environment – she walked into a meeting one day and found herself in a room with about 60 men and just one other woman. 

Early in her career, Davis was happy just to be earning a salary for her work after completing her master's degree. But after a few years, a manager took her aside during a performance review and gave her a raise, because he said she was earning so much less than everyone else.

"Without him having done that, I wouldn't have known. And was that because I was a woman? I don't know," said Davis. "I honestly do not think that that's what happened, but maybe I didn't get the raises other people were getting, I don't know."

Davis says now she encourages anyone who feels they're not getting the compensation they deserve to ask for a raise.