Performative gestures don't solve systemic issues.

On April 26, the University of Toronto announced a 1.3 per cent salary increase for all tenured or tenure-stream women faculty members across campus, to be implemented as of July 1. The University of Toronto’s number-one status in Canada stems largely from its reputation as a top research institution. However, the administration’s newest approach to addressing the gender pay gap on campus has once again proven its inability to fully research and assess systemic issues within the university itself.

It was stated that the decision was made on the basis of the Provostial Advisory Group on Faculty Gender Pay Equity’s findings on gender-based pay equity, and after a mediation process between university administration and the University of Toronto Faculty Association. In a statement, U of T President Meric Gertler, noted that the university is taking “immediate action to close the pay gap between men and women professors who are tenured or in the tenure stream.”

“The University of Toronto’s decision to distribute a uniform increase to all salaries attempts a “one size fits all” approach, reminiscent of first-wave feminism.”

Despite being well-intentioned, this approach is noticeably performative and unconducive to real change. Simply providing a 1.3 per cent increase to all women’s pay overlooks the systemic disadvantages women face in academic environments that hinder career growth. These challenges — commonly referred to as the “pipeline problem” — suggest that the gender wage gap in academia represents barriers women face everywhere that prevent integration into the larger economic fabric.

U of T’s decision disregards the intersectional systems of discrimination and disadvantages that women experience throughout their careers in academia. According to the Canadian Women’s Foundation, Indigenous women working full-time in all fields earn an average of 35 per cent less than non-Indigenous men. Furthermore, racialized women in general working full-time earn an average of 33 per cent less than non-racialized men.

The University of Toronto’s decision to distribute a uniform increase to all salaries attempts a “one size fits all” approach, reminiscent of first-wave feminism. Moreover, the policy fails to encourage meritocracy within the respective demographics. In order to adequately rectify this issue, the distinct ways in which wage disparities affect diverse women in the workplace must also be assessed. This is because dialogue about the gender wage gap is not complete without acknowledging both the gap between men and women, and the gap between minority groups and everyone else.

It is also worth noting that the wage increase will not apply to librarians, contractually limited term appointments, or part-time faculty. This emphasizes the extent to which the attempt to remedy wage-gap disparities at U of T exists merely as a band-aid solution to a complex problem. Through the implementation of this salary increase, U of T fails to comprehensively address pay disparities in a way that would benefit all working women.  

It is apparent that U of T is acknowledging the long-established gender pay gap issue within the institution. However, the university does not offer compensation for past years of underpayment. The simple acknowledgement followed by a blanket solution does not address past injustices.

The wage increase announcement speaks to U of T’s attempts to increase equity, diversity, and inclusion in higher education. The goal is especially relevant in the dialogue on how postsecondary institutions should actively ensure their ranking is reflective of their capacity to allow students and faculty members of different races, genders, and ethnicities to thrive on campus. Yet, in order for initiatives spearheaded by the administration to carry any weight, they must move beyond simply ticking a box. Acknowledging that a gender wage gap is a significant issue on campus is a step in the right direction. Nonetheless, a broad-strokes pay increase fails to address the complexities of the wage gap and U of T’s role in reinforcing institutionalized disparity.

The University of Toronto’s administration indirectly exacerbates social issues — such as wage disparities — by failing to address their root causes. U of T consistently commits itself to implementing change, yet fails to fully invest in understanding the lived experiences of individuals affected by the same structural barriers it seeks to tackle. Simply providing money will not fix the problem, and it is clear that these initiatives do little beyond satisfying administrative requirements. They are shortsighted and will result in the re-emergence of the issue.

Therefore, it is imperative that the University of Toronto moves beyond programs that are likely to make headlines. On the contrary, the administration should commit to understanding the root causes of issues, empowering marginalized communities, and ultimately dismantling systemic barriers to equity.

Lina Maragha is a third-year Political Science and Criminology and Sociolegal Studies student at University College. She is the University College Director at the University of Toronto Students’ Union.

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