The Gender Gap

September 16, 2013
Denise Mullen

This commentary has nothing to do with the environment, or maybe it does.

Despite making up 51% of the global population, women are under-represented in overall economic participation by 40% and by 80% in political participation. Canada ranks 21st out of 135 countries on all measures of gender equality and we fell by one position between 2011 and 2012. We are 20th out of 135 countries in the number of women compared to men who are in the labour force and a disappointing 35th in wage equality. Women still only earn 73% of what men do in Canada (adjusted for similar types of work).

In the political sphere, Canada ranks 31st, 37th and 38th in terms of women’s participation, female members of parliament and women in ministerial positions, respectively (The Global Gender Gap Report 2012, World Economic Forum (WEF)). Even worse, although we share this with all but a handful of countries, is the number and percent of women who have ever served as head of government. The count is zero because the measurement timeframe is in years but the percentage is 0.01, presumably because we did have one female head of government - former Prime Minister Kim Campbell who briefly held that office in in 1993. Of course the data does not capture the subnational-levels of government where over the past few years there has been a marked rise in the number of women in provincial political leadership positions: 6 of 13 provincial/territorial premiers were women as of mid-2013. Maybe that bodes well for the future.

In terms of what makes up the foundation of our economy – business activity - women hold less than 20% of FP500 senior officer positions and more than 1/3 of the companies in the FP500 have no women as senior officers. Large public companies fare no better than privately held firms. (Catalyst) Why is this important? The collective talk these days is about labour and skill shortages. Women are a resource that should not and cannot be ignored if we are to remain competitive.

The key for the future of any country and any institution is the capability to develop, retain and attract the best talent. Women make up one half of the world’s human capital. Empowering and educating girls and women and leveraging their talent and leadership fully in the global economy, politics and society are thus fundamental elements of succeeding and prospering in an ever more competitive world. (WEF)

The wealthiest Canadians are largely middle aged, married professional men of which there are 272,600 earning more than $191,000 per year (Globe and Mail, Sept 12, 2013). Single people, visible minorities, recent immigrants and single parents account for high proportions of those on the lower rungs of the income ladder. Single parent families with a female as head of household out-number male single parent families by 3.6 to 1 (Stats Can 2011 Census) and take care of almost four times as many children. If youth are the valuable human resources of the future, achieving greater income equality for women should be an important goal for business and government.

One welcome sign: overall in Canada the ratio of females to males in professional and technical jobs is now about 130%. Arguably, that’s a good thing for our society and for the environment. We need new and different thinking to solve the kinds of social, resource and environmental challenges our country is facing. Women often think and solve problems differently than men. More women in positions of influence that traditionally have been dominated by men would be a positive development for the planet and for British Columbia.

Girls and boys are born with equal potential, desires and drive. We just need to set the table so both can achieve and contribute equally. That is up to us now, not for someone else to do tomorrow.

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