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Are agrologist salaries on the money?

Salary survey also examined if a gender pay gap exists in agriculture

This past winter the Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists (SIA) released a salary survey that pegs the overall average salary of Sask­atchewan agrologists (not including bonus) at $84,629.

For the first time in agriculture, though, this survey separated out pay by gender, and showed a gap of up to $20,000 in certain age categories. The numbers are shocking enough to dig in a little deeper and try to understand why.

Not surprisingly, the salaries on the survey tended to increase with years of experience, number of staff supervised and education level, with the professional agrologist (PAg) designations connected to the highest average annual salary.

The salary averages for educational services had the highest annual pay followed by those in the oil and gas industry and those working in research. And pay levels depended on exactly what kind of jobs they were performing. For example, CEOs, general managers and executive directors earn the highest average annual salaries followed by agrologists who work as project or operations managers and those working in teaching and research.

On average, public-sector agrologists earn more than their counterparts in the private and not-for-profit sectors. This is likely because the Government of Saskatchewan has a classification plan that is used for all government positions, and increments are given based on years of service and economic adjustments as negotiated through the collective bargaining process.

“Agrologists are typically classified at SGEU (in-scope) levels 10 (regional agrologist) and 12 (provincial agrologist), which is a pay range of $62,058 to $94,101,” says Ray Deck, assistant chair of the Public Service Commission for Saskatchewan. “It is hard to compare based solely on salary and not consider other benefits employees may receive from their employer, such as company vehicle, vacation days.”

About 36 per cent of the 1,853 SIA members responded; 590 were employed full time, 72 part time and 94 were self-employed (either full time or part time) so the numbers are statistically valid.

Of the respondents only about eight per cent identified themselves as an international graduate, member of a visible minority, indigenous person or a person with a disability. Those who did earned a below-average salary of $79,389. But of course that doesn’t take into consideration the type of work, age, experience or gender.

More women agrologists

Notably this survey reflects a jump in gender diversity, with about 54.5 per cent of respondents being male and 45.5 per cent female. About 90 per cent of new agrologist applicants in the province are from the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Sask­atchewan.

Of the 233 graduates in spring 2017, 41 per cent were male, with 59 per cent female. “For several years now, we have had more female than male students,” says Fran Walley, the college’s associate dean.

As of the end of last year about 40 per cent of all agrologists employed by the province, which is the biggest employer of agrologists in Saskatchewan, were female. “While data is not available, we would agree anecdotally with the SIA that many of our new agrologists are women — especially in the rural regions,” says Deck.

Gender pay gap

On average, the surveyed men reported higher earnings than women, but male agrologists reported more years of experience than females on an aggregate level. Not surprisingly, more years of experience and the number of staff being supervised correlated to higher earnings. Furthermore, this average gender salary gap is similar to what’s happening with other professionals, such as with reports from the professional engineers of Saskatchewan and the annual reports on certified professional accountants.

This mirrors a general national disparity: Canadian women earn 31 per cent less than men on an annual basis and on average about 12 per cent less in the hourly wage paid for full-time work. In its 2018 budget the Government of Canada stated it was going to lead by example and that this fall it will put into place a proactive pay equity regime for businesses and organizations operating within the federally regulated sector.

Currently, SIA is doing more data mining to determine if the gender wage gap is wider or narrower in different employment sectors, such as private versus public.

A significant gender pay gap between new entrants is troubling. In fact, there was about $13,600 difference between agrologists with less than a year’s experience and about $20,000 between the genders with one to four years experience.

photo: Source: Saskatchewan Institute of Agrologists

One of the reasons often cited for this is the potential costs of maternity leave. In agriculture, it can be especially challenging to find temporary, qualified staff in very rural areas, and our industry has generally had a slow cultural acceptance of paternity leave.

Industry and government sources, however, are convinced that much more is at play.

“It’s definitely a complicated and multifaceted discussion without any simple solutions or guaranteed approaches,” says Trish Jordan, director of public and industry affairs with Monsanto Canada. “I know that we (Monsanto) have focused a lot on inclusion and diversity (of thought, experience, age, gender, etc.) in the past several years and have had a specific focus on tackling any impediments that may be impeding women’s advancement.”

Jordan says at Monsanto they try to counter any potential unconscious biases by having diverse hiring panels and by seeking diversity in applicants to be interviewed. “If we were hiring two agronomists fresh out of school and one happened to be a male and the other a female, they would be paid similar regardless of gender, unless one of the candidates had an undergrad degree and one had a master’s degree. In that case the master’s student (who has a bit more academic or likely field research experience) could be paid more.”

If over the course of their careers one of these two agronomists performed better or had gained more experience (by taking extra courses or tackling and completing a difficult project), their salaries may start to diverge slightly, Jordan says. “If you are a top performer and have significant years of experience you are naturally going to be paid at a higher end of a pay grade/scale than the mid to lower.”

Similarly the Government of Sask­atchewan has processes in place to ensure pay equality for all employees and a classification plan built following pay equity principles. The starting salary of any in-scope position in government is outlined in the collective bargaining agreement — it does not take gender into account, says Deck.

“If a new employee wishes to negotiate a starting salary higher than what is in the CBA, there is a process through the Public Service Commission, with the final approval being authorized by the chair of the Public Service Commission,” Deck adds. “This is to help ensure that the candidate has the experience that deserves a higher starting rate, and to ensure that increase is not provided for any other reason.”

But it raises a big question. If the agronomists hired by the province should have less or no gender gap, how much bigger does the spread in the private industry have to be to account for the survey results?

There may be another conflating factor too. Research into gender pay gaps has found males tend to ask for salary increases more than females. They may overvalue their expertise or performance whereas women tend to underplay their achievements.

“Based on the research, we have found women are more likely to let their performance and results speak for themselves,” says Jordan. “They tend to work hard and put their heads down and deliver and think someone will notice or someone will come and tell me that I am doing great and should get a raise or the next promotion. Males who may (or may not) achieve something and think they should get a raise.”

“We have also found that when women have males who advocate for them and their advancement, they do better and move up or get that next promotion or that pay raise,” she says.

IA is planning to do an agrologist salary survey every two years, with the next in the fall of 2019. The full survey can be found at www.sia.sk.ca/html/about/agrologist-salary-survey.

Agrologist vs. agronomist

“Agrologist” and “agronomist” are not interchangeable. Instead, agronomy is a sub-category of agrology.

Agronomists study elements of crop and soil science and apply scientific knowledge specifically to crop production and soil management. Those working within the specialty of agronomy and having a job title of “agronomist,” belong to the profession of agrology.

In Canada, over 10,000 agrologists practise in many areas of agriculture and through the food supply chain from research and teaching to providing advice to farmers. All 10 provincial institutes follow the same licensing criteria developed by Agrology Canada, and each province regulates this based on its own legislation. This means the practice of agrology is regulated as a profession, in the same manner as accountants, doctors, engineers and lawyers. Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Alberta also have a technical agrologist (TechAg) designation for those with a two-year diploma from a faculty of agriculture and food.

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