Women and Work: An analysis of the changing B.C. labour market

June 15, 2018
Denise Mullen

An analysis of the progress made advancing women in the workforce and areas where there is more to do to enable the full participation of women, particularly in light of shifting demographics and labour markets.

“It has been well‐documented that educated, income‐earning women are especially powerful catalysts for development because they tend to invest more of their money in their families’ health, education, and well‐being than their male counterparts around the world. The countries most successful in narrowing gender equality gaps consistently achieve the strongest economic performance. There is clear evidence of a critical link between women’s roles in the economy and economic prosperity at the local, national and global levels.”

World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report, 2014


It is clear that supporting women in the labour force is a strategic business issue - after all, women make up half of British Columbia’s potential labour force. Tapping into the available but unused capacity of women can help manage the challenges of a slow-growth world and lagging productivity. Making the most efficient use of the entire current and potential labour force is one factor that differentiates companies and countries that perform well versus those that do not.

Realizing the full labour market and broader economic potential of women in British Columbia can allow the province to make progress in three areas:

  • overall workforce participation;
  • women’s presence in high-productivity occupations such as oil, mining, and technology; and
  • full-time hours of work.

Finding avenues to get more women working, closing the participation rate gap, addressing gender segregation in certain occupations, reducing wage differentials, balancing responsibilities for unpaid work, and understanding the reasons why women sometimes opt out of the workforce can produce dividends for the economy, benefit employers and advance overall social well-being.

Women and Work: An Analysis of the Changing British Columbia Labour Market, authored by Denise Mullen, examines the progress made advancing women in the workforce and identifies areas where there is more to do to enable the full participation of women, particularly in light of shifting demographics and labour markets.

This report follows the six-part Women and Work in BC Blog Series presented in March 2018 highlighting the economic imperative of addressing gender equity issues across the full spectrum of market domains and organizational settings.

Report Highlights

  • Eliminating impediments to female participation and advancement in the workforce is good business for companies in BC and for countries like Canada. The potential GDP gains are significant, in part because women direct ~80% of consumer spending.
  • Labour Force Participation:
    • Women in Canada and BC have narrowed the labour force participation gap with men over the past century. The biggest changes occurred between 1961 and 1994, with the gap remaining stable since the mid-1990s at about 9 percentage points.
    • Since 1990, women aged 20 to 49 years have had stable labour force participation rates between 78% and 80%. Participation rates for women older than 65 have increased significantly.
  • Employment and Unemployment:
    • No country can claim fully equal gender employment rates.
    • Employment rates for women in BC are below the national average, with Metro Vancouver having among the largest gender gaps relative to the rest of Canada.
    • Generally, women in BC have lower unemployment rates than men across all age groups; however, immigrant women are more likely to be unemployed than Canadian-born women. This represents a missed opportunity, given that 73% of recent cohorts of immigrant women hold a post-secondary diploma, certificate, or university degree.
    • Women work fewer hours than men and are more likely to have part-time jobs. The higher incidence of part-time work partly reflects the fact that women are still responsible for most unpaid work related to child and elder care.
    • Women own and operate almost 40% of small businesses in BC, the highest percentage in Canada.
  • Wages:
    • On average across all occupations, women working full time make less per hour than men. In BC, the employment income gap is not fully explainable by fewer hours per week worked by women.
    • There has been some progress in closing gender-based wage gaps in sectors and occupations that are traditionally male dominated, such as utilities and construction. As well, women who work part-time in business, finance and administration occupations do well in comparison to their male peers.
    • Underrepresentation of women in top jobs accounts for a growing share of the remaining gender wage gap.
  • Education:
    • More women than men in Canada and BC now obtain some form of post-secondary education/training.
    • But women continue to lag men in educational fields such as mathematics, computer sciences, and engineering.
    • The number of women working in applied science occupations is increasing, slowly. They currently hold only 7% of jobs in this area.
    • Women are significantly underrepresented in the trades, making up 11% of all trades workers in British Columbia.
  • Policies that are good for women and men:
    • Increase the number of women in top positions across all types of occupations and on Boards of Directors. Role models matter.
    • Maternity and parental benefits — gender neutralize these.
    • Child care — expand access to affordable, quality services.
    • Implement family-friendly flexible work arrangements and schedule certainty.
    • Governments should be looking to establish active labour market programs aimed at addressing the challenges for women.
    • Provide supports for women entrepreneurs — including lending practices and facilitating scaling up of companies.

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