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Salary gap between men and women is highest among Acadia faculty

Pay disparities have declined, but there remains a large gender gap among full professors at Canadian universities

3 min read
Snow covers Acadia University's main building
caption Acadia University is among six Nova Scotia universities included in Statistics Canada recent data collection on the number and salaries of full-time teaching staff at Canadian universities.
Miyu Inoue

Data from Statistics Canada shows full-time women professors at Acadia University earn 22 per cent less than men — the greatest such discrepancy in the province’s universities.

The figures for the 2022-23 academic year show women earning $103,025 while men earned $131,200. 

This data covers a range of variables, says Robin Whitaker, vice-president of the Canadian Association of University Teachers (CAUT), a national organization that represents faculty.

According to academic experts, there are many reasons for the gap and more data is needed to analyze why the gap persists.

“It can be complicated because if you just look at raw numbers, it looks bigger. If you start factoring in things like discipline, age of faculty members, those things, it shrinks,” says Whitaker.

The data doesn’t account for age or time spent at rank when displaying salaries among teaching staff. Whitaker says other factors that might explain the gap may include starting salary negotiations and how many people are employed at each institution in different disciplines.

The gender pay gap in for professors Canada has closed significantly over the last couple of decades, she says.

According to Statistics Canada, the pay gap throughout Canada fell to just under four per cent in 2022/2023 from seven per cent in 2002/2003.

Among faculty in the top earning 10 per cent at Acadia University, there remains only a small pay gap. Historic hiring practices favouring men at Acadia is a reason why we see the “ripple effects” on the average salaries today, says Erin Crandall, an associate professor in the department of politics at Acadia.

“It has a really long time lag, because the folks who got hired in the 1980s, will still kind of be there at the top,” says Crandall. “If you do have gender parity in terms of hiring in 2018, it’s going to take a long time before those folks make it all the way up to full professor.”

Canadian universities reached gender parity at the assistant professor rank in 2018. Men are still over-represented at the associate and full professor ranks.

In 2022/2023, women nearly doubled their representation among full professors to 32 per cent from 17 per cent over the previous 20 years. Still, the gender gap remains largest among full professors. 

In the 2021/2022 academic year more men were nearing retirement age. Crandall says over time, men who disproportionately fill the rank of full professor will retire. Over time women who achieve full professor will increase and so will their pay.

Job security: reaching tenure

The disparity in pay extends as well to reaching tenure. 

Tenure grants professors permanent employment and protects them from termination without cause at their university. Tenure protects free speech and acts as a safeguard to academic freedom. Attaining tenure reflects a professor’s strength and capability as a teacher, researcher and contributor to society. It also comes with a higher salary and pension.

Women only held one-third of tenured positions in Canadian universities as of 2020-2021. 

The growth in student numbers has not been matched by growth in full-time, tenured professor positions.

Whitaker says the number of university students in Canada has grown by about 18 per cent since the early 2000s while tenure stream or full-time permanent professors has increased by about six per cent.

In 2016/2017, around 54 per cent of academic appointments were short-term contracts of four to eight months or less, according to two 2018 reports by CAUT and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. 

In February 2022, Acadia University Faculty Association (AUFA) went on a four-week strike. AUFA called on the board of governors to invest in a “modest increase in full-time, tenure-stream faculty to meet student enrolment pressures and program needs,” among other demands. 

“There is what might be called a glass door issue there if the jobs aren’t there,” says Whitaker, referring to women who’ve earned PhDs but do not work in academia.

A glass door issue is a variation of the glass ceiling metaphor, referring to a pattern of informal barriers preventing women from entering the workforce.

Whitaker says this may explain some of the pay gap.

Underrepresentation among women who’ve earned PhDs but do not pursue academia can be a result of two key factors: the demands of motherhood and family responsibility mixed with the “inequity in the academic tenure-track system,” according to Statistics Canada. 

Not enough data 

“We don’t have nearly as good data on people who are not in those full-time positions,” says Whitaker.

“So you know, that is a problem and that’s something that CAUT has been calling for, is for the federal government to support better data collection so that we have a much better understanding of the whole landscape of employment on equity issues.” 

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About the author

Molly MacNaughton

Molly is originally from Digby, N.S. She's in her fourth year of the BJH program. She once covered a story about a murder; a murder of crows...

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