The injustice in CEO pay versus that of the average worker in Canada has long been a thorn in the side of employees. CEO salaries, often exorbitant, tend to overshadow the more modest wages of those on the ground.
Why does the person at the helm rake in millions while the backbone of the company, the workers, see but a fraction?
In an age of inclusivity, such disparity feels out of place. You’d think we’d moved past the era when higher-ups luxuriated in wealth, leaving breadcrumbs for the rest. But here we are. At the end of the day, we’re all on this ship together. If it sinks, titles mean nothing. Who wants to be the CEO of a failed company?
There’s a belief that CEOs bear the brunt of a company’s pressure. And as the CEO of ClearwayLaw, I confirm that it often feels this way. I’m responsible for raising millions of dollars, keeping investors happy, and being right with my business decisions. The responsibility is vast.
But it doesn’t dwarf the daily grind that many employees face. Is the mother juggling her desk job with childcare? Is the developer pulling an all-nighter? They have stakes too. And often, their stakes are immediate and pressing: rent, groceries, and their children’s education.
It costs money to attract top leadership
Leadership requires compensation. If you want to attract a top CEO to work for your company, you need to think about opportunity costs. Why of all the companies should the CEO pick your company?
They might also be able to start a new company on their own and sell it for $50m. The point is that the compensation package has to be significant.
But does this mean that the CEO should get paid five times or even hundreds of times more than an average worker? That math doesn’t add up. A title should not equate to a jackpot. It should symbolize responsibility, accountability, and above all, humility. Not a license to earn disproportionately.
CEO Pay In Canada
When I speak to fellow CEOs, some shrug off this issue. “It’s the market,” they say. “Supply and demand.” But are we not the architects of this market? Can we not redefine what is essential and who is valuable? Are we so tethered to the norms of the past that we can’t charter a new path?
Take senior developers, for example. In our digital age, they’re not just employees; they’re magicians. They weave codes into products that propel companies forward. In my company, I strive for parity. Not because it’s trendy, but because it’s fair.
One might argue, “With great power comes great pay.” But let’s flip that: “With great pay should come great power.” If the scales tip so heavily in favour of the CEO, shouldn’t they be singularly responsible for every hiccup? Of course not. Because every team member, regardless of rank, plays their part in a company’s success or failure.
Those who are most valuable should get paid the most
To those who say, “Well, it’s the board of directors that sets the pay,” I say, “Nonsense.” A CEO’s voice carries weight. They can, and should, advocate for a more equitable distribution. It’s not just about numbers. It’s about the message sent. A CEO earning 300 times more than the average worker sends a clear signal: employees are not valuable.
The heart of any company isn’t its CEO. It’s the collective spirit and effort of all its people. It’s the company culture. When the bulk of resources flow upwards, it saps that spirit. It dampens motivation. It whispers to the worker, “You’re dispensable.”
Clearway pays its developers well. Not as a favour, but as a right. Because I see the late hours, the relentless drive, and the commitment they pour in. My title doesn’t entitle me to a thicker wallet at their expense. It reminds me every day of my duty to ensure that every team member feels valued and rewarded fairly.
For me, this isn’t just about pay scales or corporate norms. It’s about the kind of world we’re building. A world where we all row together, where titles are mere designations, not price tags. As a CEO, I challenge my peers to be the change. Redefine worth. Close the gap. Because when the tide rises, all boats should lift. Not just the yachts.
Do you think CEO pay is out of control in Canada?
Author: Alistair Vigier is the CEO of ClearwayLaw