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The Gender Gap and Canada: A Look at the latest Iteration of the World Economic Forum’s Report

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

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  • Photo Credit: World Economic Forum Facebook Page

    Photo Credit: World Economic Forum Facebook Page

Written by Noel Mano

Over the weekend, the World Economic Forum published the 9th incarnation of its Global Gender Gap report. In the Forum’s own words: “While no single measure can capture the complete situation, the Global Gender Gap Index… seeks to measure… the relative gaps between women and men across four key areas: health, education, economy and politics.”

Canada ranked 19 out of 142 countries, with a score of 0.746 (a score of 0.00 indicates complete inequality, and 1.00, complete equality). While the score is the highest since the index was first published (0.716 in 2006), one might make the case that relative to the rest of the world, we have been stagnating. For the most part, over the past nine years, Canada has remained mired in the mid-to-low teens.

In a number of important foundational metrics, Canada has achieved the coveted 1.00 complete equality standard. These include literacy rate and enrolment in primary and tertiary education. Elsewhere, the country has also achieved the score on the parity of professional and technical workers, and comes close on health and survival (0.969) and labor force participation (0.91).

The rest of the metrics are more mixed, but two in particular stand out. The first is the proportion of women in senior management roles, referred to in the report as ‘legislators, senior officials and managers’, and for which Canada’s score is 0.57. While it can be argued that the WEF’s system does reward countries which have legislated quotas for these positions in place, that argument misses the point. Many women would agree that there are overt and subtle pressures in Canadian workplaces that impose barriers to rising to such positions. In fact, for readers in the Guelph-Kitchener-Waterloo region, this hits close to home.

Over the summer, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives placed the Waterloo Region dead last among 25 major Canadian cities in terms of gender inequality in the country. The CBC followed up on the report by speaking to a number of Waterloo city councilors. These statements are telling: Karen Scian, former Ward 2 councilor, said the report’s findings align with her personal experiences, while Kelly Galloway-Sealock, Ward 5 councilor, pointed out that the provincial Municipal Act makes no mention of maternity leave. Since a councilor’s seat is deemed vacant if they are absent from their seat for more than three months, this is a significant question mark.

In short, if someone is looking at the report and wondering why Canada’s management parity score is what it is, it is because basic procedural elements that might encourage women to go into governance are not there.

The other thing that stands out is within Canada’s country profile: the percentage of tertiary-level STEM graduates (32% female, 68% male). Much has already been written about this, including an excellent piece here by the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology. Looking at the 2014 Gender Gap report again though, one thing stands out in particular: if women and men are enrolled in primary and tertiary education at complete parity, we know it’s not the educational basics that explain the STEM gap in Canada, as might be the case in other countries. Do we still socialize girls differently with respect to their interests, toys and hobbies? Do we continue to hide behind unclear and vague claims that men and women’s brains are somehow ‘wired differently’?

There is room, within the context of the WEF’s metrics, for near-term improvement. Canada’s new parliament has an all-time high of 88 women out of 338 total, for one. But a number of the country’s biggest problems are probably not reflected in any significant capacity in the Gender Gap Index, such as the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women, or the barriers faced by migrant women in finding their place in Canadian society. I want to emphasize again: we have the educational basics right, and that is important, but there is more to be done, whatever our WEF Gender Gap ranking. 

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