Western Alumni

Fair's fair

Alumnae lead Ontario’s Pay Equity Office at a critical point in its history

By Pat Morden, BA’77

Erin McCloskey, Kadie Ward and Ayumi Bailly

Erin McCloskey, Kadie Ward and Ayumi Bailly. (Photo by Frank Neufeld)

When Kadie Ward was a child, her mother and father were ministers at a church in northern Ontario. The church elders told her father it wasn’t appropriate for a woman to deliver a sermon. Ward’s mother responded by creating and delivering a six-part sermon series on women’s leadership in the Bible.

Although Ward, BA’05, MA’07, was too young to understand what was happening then, she certainly does now. As the Ontario government’s pay equity commissioner, she brings her commitment to feminism and her formidable skills and experience to ensure that women’s work is valued fairly. In that work, she is ably assisted by two fellow Western graduates, Erin McCloskey, BSc’05, and Ayumi Bailly, BA’88.

Ward arrived at Western with plans to become a doctor. Soon, though, she switched from biology to philosophy. “Philosophy opened so many doors,” she said. “It gave me an uncommon perspective on the world and a way of thinking about problems that has carried me through my career.”

She went on to complete a master’s in media studies at Western. During the program, she learned about the novel Creative Economy theory, and was drawn into the world of economic development. After working with municipalities in Ontario, she started her own company, consulting with more than 100 cities in 30 countries.

Eventually, Ward settled in Ukraine, where she worked on Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy, focusing on empowering women and girls to enhance peace and prosperity. She witnessed Ukraine’s Euromaidan revolution and the invasion of Crimea. “It was a challenging time,” she said. “Ukraine was experiencing a high percentage of internally displaced women, many of them single mothers, and put a big focus on supporting them and getting them into the economy.”

Ready to return to North America after five years abroad, Ward completed an MBA at the Kellogg School of Management in Illinois and started working in Ontario’s pay equity office in August 2020.

Like Ward, McCloskey has feminist roots reaching back into her family.

“I had some really strong examples, people who led by example and called out injustice where they saw it,” McCloskey said.

At Western, she served as vice-president of education with the University Students’ Council, president of the Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance and president of the Women’s Issues Network. After working in provincial and federal constituency offices and with the Ontario Association of Food Banks, she taught in South Korea and China for several years with her husband. When their first child was born, they returned to Canada and McCloskey began her career with the provincial government. She joined the pay equity office in January 2021.

Ayumi Bailly was inspired by a David Suzuki lecture to study for a BA in geography at Western, then went on to do a master’s in environmental studies at the University of Waterloo.

“My career has been driven by two things,” Bailly said. “I wanted to make a difference in the world around me, and I said ‘yes’ to every opportunity that came my way.”

A provincial public servant since 1995, she worked in areas as diverse as human rights, ethics, administrative law, regulatory enforcement, health and safety, and freedom of information before landing at the Pay Equity Office in 2019.

Pay equity, Ward explains, is about redressing the systemic devaluation of work historically or typically done by women. In 1987, Ontario became the first jurisdiction in the world to have an enforceable pay equity statute.

As McCloskey puts it: “The pay equity office works to deliver economic justice for women. It’s an issue of fairness and, as we all know, fairness is not necessarily a self-fulfilling concept.”

Since its founding, the Pay Equity Office has developed a complex methodology to analyze companies’ compensation data, identify equity gaps and, if necessary, mandate changes. Ward said that most companies, when faced with clear evidence of inequity, choose to redress the balance voluntarily. In the past 35 years, the gendered pay gap in Ontario has decreased from 22 percent to 12 percent. That means, of course, that women are still paid 88 cents for every dollar male workers receive.

As commissioner, Ward is at arm’s length from the legislative and compliance side of the issue, and focuses on outreach, often with other jurisdictions interested in learning from Ontario’s experience.

The office recently worked with the Czech Republic’s ministry of labour and social affairs, and has ongoing relationships with the International Labour Organization, the United Nations, and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, among others.

McCloskey focuses on outreach, public education, collaborations and partnerships in Ontario and beyond. Bailly is the administrative head of the office, implementing strategic directions set by the Commissioner.

They all agree this is a critical moment in the history of pay equity.

“We’re at a fork in the road,” Bailly said. “The pandemic has put a spotlight on many inequities and the #MeToo movement has also created momentum.”

The global pandemic has affected women disproportionately, with 1.5 million Canadian women losing their jobs in the first two months of the accompanying recession. Women’s labour market participation rates have fallen to the lowest since the 1980s.

“Until we take a very broad view of the social and economic drivers of wage inequity, we’re still going to have a long way to go. - Erin McCloskey

“Women may not see the value in staying in or returning to the workforce because they’re not compensated fairly,” said Ward. “And that’s dangerous because there’s ample evidence demonstrating that gender diversity is an important success factor in the marketplace.”

Ward noted that nearly two-thirds of the pay equity gap remains unexplained. “Some of it is due to factors like the gendered impact of child and elder care, total work experience and field of study,” she said. “But there are other factors – stereotyping, differences in wage expectations and negotiations, gendered roles in work – that clearly contribute.”

Calls for a just recovery from COVID-19 are creating new urgency around the issue. But justice is not the only argument.

“We’re trying to build awareness that pay equity is good for everybody,” said McCloskey.

Research shows that companies who work to achieve gender equity see gains in productivity and profit. There is also evidence to suggest that narrowing the gender wage gap tends to raise men’s incomes as well.

At the same time, the office is drawing attention to the supports that are vital to women’s participation in the workforce, such as access to training and child care.

“Until we take a very broad view of the social and economic drivers of wage inequity, we’re still going to have a long way to go,” said McCloskey.