We’re the best, but can we do better?

Canada is the best G20 country in which to be a woman, according to a recent poll conducted by TrustLaw, a legal news service run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation. Canada is followed by Germany, Britain, Australia, and France.  TrustLaw asked academics, health workers, and other professionals to evaluate the overall experience of women in G20 countries.

With high rankings in healthcare, education, and legislature, Canada has the most positive environment for women. Our country, however, is still far from flawless gender equality and has ample room for advancement.  Notably, we need increased women’s representation in the political sphere and the workforce.

With the poll noting that one third of all of Canada’s federally appointed judges are women, Canada has considerable female representation in the judicial system. However, the national average of female elected politicians in provincial and federal legislatures is only 20.1%. In some parts of the country, political gender parity is as low as 10.5%. In order for the interests of Canadian women to be more fully represented, greater gender parity within government is essential and an objective that should be pursued more vigorously.

Despite the fact that over half of Canada’s university graduates are women, there is a serious lack of female representation in leadership roles in Canada’s workforce.  In 2009, women comprised 37% of those holding management positions but were better represented at lower-level management positions than senior, positions. Overall women comprise only 31.6% of senior managers despite making up 42% of the workforce. Women in Canada also do a greater share of unpaid work – nearly double that of their male counterparts. Decreased job security means that women are at a greater risk for poverty than men, drastically limiting their ability to be valuable contributors to the Canadian economy.

Women are highly beneficial contributors to their economies.  Men and women often have different priorities when it comes to expenditure and consumption, with women tending to invest more in things like education and health care for their children. This tendency increases the human capital within the economy and has been shown to lead to greater economic growth.  While much of the research upon this subject focuses on women in developing countries, these principles are transferrable to Canadian society.

Providing funding for policy research and analysis is a crucial first step for the Canadian government to take order to determine why women remain underrepresented in the higher echelons of the Canadian economy. Canada must also work to create policy that encourages the promotion of more women to upper level positions would also increase the security of women in the workforce and would aid in the creation of a more stable and productive economy. Increased numbers of women in upper level positions would also increase the diversity of experience and talent within organizations, leading to enhanced creativity and productivity.

The Canadian government’s the Office for the Status of Women Canada is the primary body responsible for addressing women’s issues in the country. The Office focuses on women in leadership and works to advise other federal departments and agencies on issues and opportunities related to this topic.  The Office also collaborates with the non-profit, voluntary, academic, and private sectors to increase women’s participation in these areas.

Despite the largely positive atmosphere that Canada offers for women, it is dangerous to interpret Canada’s first place ranking in the TrustLaw poll as a sign that there is a diminishing need for the active pursuit of policies directed at narrowing the gender gap. Canada must make use of a variety of strategies to confront the issue of gender inequality. This will help ensure that Canada continues to be a place where women can thrive, making the best even better.

About Hanna Murray

Hanna Murray is a third year student in the Honours History with International Relations program at the University of British Columbia. As an Honours History major, her primary research interest is in the social, economic, and political implications of science and technology and the impact that these developments have upon relations between states. Hanna’s interest in international organizations has its origins in her involvement with Model United Nations in which she has participated since secondary school, most recently attending the National Model United Nations conference in New York.