Ontario Sunshine List sharpens call for equal pay for women

Naureen Rizvi of Unifor says she was disappointed when only four women cracked the top 20 spots on Ontario’s annual Sunshine List, even as the province says it's "on track" to close the wage gap.

Province setting targets for getting women into top positions, hoping it will 'open doors'

Naureen Rizvi, who is a director with Unifor, says pay equity isn't happening 'fast enough.' Rizvi's union represents hundreds of thousands of employees and she says she sees wage gaps everywhere she looks. (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

Naureen Rizvi says she was disappointed when only four women cracked the top 20 spots on Ontario's annual Sunshine List, even as the province says it's "on track" to close the wage gap.

"I always feel it's not fast enough," Rizvi told CBC Toronto at a Ryerson University event focused on women's economic empowerment.

"I don't accept that it takes 90 years to get to parity."

At her job as the Ontario regional director with Unifor, Rizvi represents hundreds of thousands of unionized employees across a huge range of sectors, and she says there are wage gaps everywhere she looks.

We know that transparency is really important for achieving gender equity.- Sarah Kaplan, Director at Rotman's Institute for Gender and the Economy

A quick scan of the top of the Sunshine List merely confirms it. At universities, not one woman making a six-figure salary made as much as the top 20 men. At municipalities, only three women were among the best-paid.

Indira Naidoo-Harris, the province's minister for the status of women, says the province is well aware there's more work to do. Within the public service, she said, women make up some 55 per cent of the workforce, but take home about 12 per cent less money than their male counterparts. 
Indira Naidoo-Harris, Ontario's Minister for the Status of Women, says women should continue to call for pay equity, because it's 'the right thing to do.' (Sue Goodspeed/CBC)

The province has a strategy to deal with this, which includes setting targets for the number of women it wants at top levels.

"I think these are important targets because they really show that we are committed to really making sure that we're putting those women in those positions of leadership where they belong," Naidoo-Harris said.

"And that will absolutely open doors."

Province setting targets to get women in top jobs

While the province is hoping to lead by example, it's also asking companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange to alter their boards so they're made up of at least 30 per cent women by 2020 (internally, the government's target for women on boards is 40 per cent).

Naidoo-Harris also touted the government's recently announced investments in child care, and called on women in this province to demand equality.

Sarah Kaplan, the director of Rotman's Institute for Gender and the Economy, says the Sunshine List is a "small window" into the equity issue. But, she said, women should take advantage of any transparency when it comes to information about pay.

And Kaplan, who is on the list along with many of her colleagues, has done exactly that in the past.

"I said. 'Here are the people that were promoted at the same time I was promoted — why are they getting paid more than me?'".

It may not always work, Kaplan says, but it does lead to pointed questions.

"We know that transparency is really important for achieving gender equity," she said.

Income inequality tougher for women who make less money

Sheila Block, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says it's an "excellent idea" to use the list's information to bargain, and that people from racialized groups, or those with different levels of ability, could do the same.

Block said the information can also be revealing about the biases that exist at certain institutions — something either employees or the employers themselves can question.

While it's far from perfect, both Block and Kaplan note the public sector tends to be a fairer place for women.

"One of the things we're most concerned about is the income inequality at the bottom end of the income spectrum," Block said.

The Sunshine List itself doesn't track gender, and crunching those numbers can be difficult due to androgynous names like Erin or Kim.

Gender equity 'the right thing to do,' minister says

Gender pay gaps still exist at Queen's Park and in many public sector workplaces in Ontario. (Mike Crawley/CBC)

Helle Bank Jorgensen, President of the Global Compact Network, said while there's lots of research on wage equality, it never hurts to have another "black and white" example of the differences.

Here's how she explained it to this male reporter: "If you and I were doing exactly the same work and we got to be 65-years-old, I would still have to work 14 years more than you to make the same."

Naidoo-Harris, who noted it's been 30 years since Ontario passed the Pay Equity Act, says she's hoping there will be a "trickle-down" effect as more women continue to advance within the government.

But she also called on women not to be disappointed by the names on the Sunshine List. Instead, she said, they should double down on calls for equal pay. Citing the recent women's march that began at Queen's Park, she said she believes things are changing.

After all, she said, "it is the right thing to do." 


John Rieti

Senior producer

John started with CBC News in 2008 as a Peter Gzowski intern in Newfoundland, and holds a master of journalism degree from Toronto Metropolitan University. As a reporter, John has covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. He now leads a CBC Toronto digital team that has won multiple Radio Television Digital News Association awards for overall excellence in online reporting. You can reach him at