The Canadian government has made it clear through various initiatives that equality in the workplace is a human right. But, are companies doing enough to create equitable environments? Capterra surveyed nearly 1,000 male and female professionals to learn more about their experiences.

equality in the workplace canada study of men and women

Our country has a history of protecting equal rights in the workplace, with the Employment Equity Act of Canada being cemented into legislation in 1995. Providing equal access to the labour market for all Canadians is the goal, especially to those belonging to designated groups such as women, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, and members of visible minorities.

As a result, many companies assign their human resources departments the special task of establishing and maintaining equality in the workplace. Though many employers are taking steps to advance equality and diversity, the experiences of men and women in the workplace can be very different. 

To investigate how workplaces in Canada are doing in the promotion of gender equality, Capterra surveyed 982 full- and part-time employees. Similar sample sizes of male and female professionals were chosen to analyze differences in recruitment, wages, responsibilities, and career progression (for the full methodology, scroll to the end of this article).

Do Canadian employers treat men and women equally?

Seeing if employers treat women and men equally is not as simple as establishing whether they hire an equal number of employees from each group. To understand the barriers that inequality in the workplace may pose for women, we must look at aspects of their employment separately.

For this analysis, we’ve separated survey respondents into male and female groups to compare their lived experiences and opinions.

The recruitment process

If certain candidates have to fulfill more requirements or give more interviews than others from different backgrounds, it may indicate that employers are using biased hiring practices. However, the number of interviews required by male and female survey respondents did not show significant differences. 

Despite the near equality amongst men and women in terms of the number of interviews it took to get hired, a third of women surveyed (33%) agreed to some degree that they experienced bias or discrimination in recruitment. Improving diversity in the recruitment process could help combat perceptions of discriminatory hiring practices, which should also be disclosed to interviewing candidates.

recruitment process gender bias in canada
Tip for HR departments: While the government has put forth guidance on hiring strategies to advance gender equality in the workplace, blind biases can still exist. Using applicant tracking systems can help combat some of these biases, as some products allow recruiters to remove photos, gender identities, and names from the candidates being considered. 

Asking for and receiving promotions

A healthy, equitable workplace should offer the same opportunities for career advancement to all employees. It’s vital to create trust in the workplace, as a safe environment where free speech is encouraged is necessary for employees to advocate for themselves. 

Unfortunately, when it comes to asking for promotions, men and women seem to have different comfort levels. 41% of male employees surveyed say they feel ”mostly” or “totally” comfortable asking their manager for a promotion. Only a quarter of women surveyed (27%) are as comfortable on this topic.

These differing comfort levels could be leading to inequality in career advancement opportunities for men and women. 42% of women surveyed have never asked for or received a promotion, compared to 33% of men. They were also less likely to receive unsolicited promotions than men. Nearly a third (32%) of men got promoted without having to ask, while this only happened for 27% of female respondents.

Feeling valued in the workplace

Women were also less likely to be happy with their pay compared to men. While 45% of male respondents said they were satisfied with their current salary, only 37% of female respondents said the same. When we asked the women who weren’t highly satisfied with their pay to tell us why, they most frequently gave the following answers:

  • 43% feel they aren’t paid enough for the work they do
  • 42% say they aren’t paid enough to make a good living
  • 21% think that other people in the same position are paid more than they are

Although most employees surveyed felt their work was somewhat valued in the workplace, some still felt unvalued by their companies. 16% of women felt their work was not valued, which is slightly higher than the 13% of male respondents who felt the same. 

Tip for HR departments: Salary equity is a must for achieving equality in the workplace. Transparency around such initiatives can also help quell employee perceptions of inequality, as well as investing in employee recognition software to help your staff feel engaged and appreciated. 

Is pay equity respected in Canadian companies?

Employers in Canada are required by the Pay Equity Act to establish and maintain a pay equity plan. Such a plan should: 

  • Determine job classes in their organization 
  • Identify whether they’re predominantly male- or female-dominated 
  • Evaluate the value of work produced by each job class and calculate compensation
  • Compare the compensation between job classes doing work that is of equal (or near equal) value

Closing pay gaps is a directive from the government, and 80% of all survey-takers think pay equity is being respected in their companies. However, perceptions of equitable pay significantly differ between genders: more than a quarter of women surveyed (27%) believe their company is paying female employees less than their male counterparts, while only 9% of male respondents share this opinion. 

pay or salary equity of men and women in canada

For many, it’s unclear whether pay equity measures are being taken in their workplaces. The majority of respondents (41%) were unsure whether their company adjusted salaries to pay men and women the same amount. Calculating pay equity is necessary for equality in the workplace, but transparency around these measures is equally important in building a fair environment for all workers. 

Tip for HR departments: Transparency around salaries doesn’t have to mean publishing each employee’s individual salary. Being upfront with salary ranges for certain roles (both internally and on job boards), explaining how they’re calculated, and letting employees know how they can reach the next pay level (perhaps via a performance management platform) are all ways to provide clarity without singling anyone out.

Do men and women have equal representation in the workplace?

Another aspect of inequality in the workplace for women is their representation within it. Most respondents (32%) reported a 50/50 split between men and women on their teams; teams with less balanced team structures were also present, but quite evenly represented.

representation of women and men in the workplace

Leadership roles, however, are a different story. The majority of respondents to our survey (46%) said there are “a few” women in senior leadership roles in their company, which is less than equal representation. Though 41% reported having “many” female leaders at their job, 10% also report that there are no women in leadership positions in their company. 

The seniority levels of survey respondents showed some clear gender bias in executive and upper management roles. Male employees were more likely to hold managerial roles than female employees, while women were shown to hold mid- to junior positions at higher levels than men.

representation of male and female leaders in canada

The underrepresentation of women in leadership roles could be due to bad hiring practices, but may also be a result of an inequality in development opportunities within a company. For example, men are slightly more likely to be asked to work on important projects than women, evidenced by 15% of male respondents who were always asked compared to 11% of female respondents. 

Tip for HR departments: Filling job positions amidst the nationwide labour shortage is no easy task, so we’ve compiled a resource of HR hiring strategies to use in the current labour market. Providing employees with learning platforms and development opportunities is a great way to fill positions by building employees’ skills and promoting from within. 

Achieving equality in the workplace

To continue combating gender inequality in the workplace, efforts must be made by all employees and teams. These efforts must also be given high visibility so that employees understand that it’s a value of the company. 

Currently, almost a quarter of female respondents (24%) say their company organizes events, actions, or programs to promote gender equality. However, 48% say their company has no such programs in place. According to Gartner, businesses should consider building communities or resource groups to boost support by providing coaches and mentors.

It’s clear from our study that Canadian companies have been working to reduce inequality in the workplace for women. Continuing to offer opportunities, ensure equality, and increase transparency is essential in creating a more equitable workplace. In our second article on this survey, we will discuss how to offer equal support to women and parents in the workplace.

Looking for human resources software? Check our catalogue! 


Survey methodology:

To collect the data for this study, Capterra conducted a survey in January 2023. To do this, a sample of 982 people was selected and the survey was distributed equally between males and females. To match with the census ratio of the Canadian population, 481 men and 501 women were interviewed. The selection criteria of the participants are:

  • Between 18 and 65 years old
  • Full- or part-time employees