Seeing red, wearing red 

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I'm actually seeing red, never mind wearing red — and you should be too.

This week we celebrated International Women's Day (IWD), and next month we will recognize Equal Pay Day.

Both days came with a request for people to wear red. For IWD, the colour is linked to support of labour movements and the A Day Without Women event in the U.S., as well as the fact that it signifies "revolutionary love and sacrifice." It is also "the colour of energy and action associated with our will to survive. It signifies a pioneering spirit and leadership qualities, promoting ambition and determination," according to womensmarch.com.

On Equal Pay Day, red symbolizes that fact that women are constantly "in the red" when it comes to fair compensation globally.

On April 4, 2017, women in Canada will finally have earned the same amount their male colleagues did in 2016. In other words, it took women 15 months to earn what their males counterparts earned in 12.

Something to see red about, I would argue.

Of course, this is not the experience of every woman in Canada, but there is no escaping Statistics Canada data, which shows that in yearly earnings, women working full time in Canada still earned 74.2 cents for every dollar that full-time male workers made. Though men typically work more hours than women, the hourly wage rate shows women earned 87.9 cents on the dollar as of last year.

The latest World Economic Forum report shows that Canada has dropped to 35th in world rankings from 19th place just a couple of years ago. At the current rate of change, the global economic gender gap won't be closed for another 170 years, the Forum said.

That same report found that women work more than men, taking unpaid work into account. Worldwide, women work on average 39 more days per year than men, or almost six weeks more per year.

It's easy to just see these stats as Ivory Tower ones, but the picture they paint for the long term in Canada is a dark one.

Earning less also means there is less opportunity to save, and since women generally live longer than men, this has a domino effect on healthcare costs and so on. According to Catalyst, the world's leading monitor of the status of women in the workforce, women in Canada earn about $8,000 less a year.

Nearly half of companies listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange, Canada's principal stock exchange, do not have a single woman on their boards of directors. Are there reasonable explanations for this? Of course, the main one being women take breaks from their careers to have kids and often raise them.

We have come a long way with many fathers taking on much greater responsibility for raising their families, but the workplace is nowhere near parity on this.

It's disturbing that these inequalities continue to exist especially in the face of the economic powerhouse that is the female purchaser. Harvard Business School research suggests that women account for an estimated US$20 trillion in consumer spending and that was in 2009 — 85 per cent of vehicle purchases are done by women, for example.

Women globally are consistently over represented in the lowest–paying jobs, many in the service sector; in some cases, this is driven by the fact that they have the monopoly on reproduction.

Obviously, the wage gap is due to a variety of causes, such as differences in education choices, differences in preferred job and industry, differences in the types of positions held by men and women, differences in the type of jobs men typically go into as opposed to women (especially highly paid, high-risk jobs), differences in amount of work experience, difference in length of the work week, and breaks in employment. These factors resolve 60 to 75 per cent of the pay gap, depending on the source.

Various explanations for the remaining 25 to 40 per cent have been suggested, including women's lower willingness and ability to negotiate salaries and discrimination.

What may be getting lost in this narrative though is the incredible potential of women worldwide.

Considering we have to tackle not just this issue but climate change, caring for the growing number of elderly in our society, the need to get off fossil fuels, access to food and clean water and so many more pressing issues, I can't help but think that some of the answers lie in the untapped opportunity that women represent.

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