To mark International Women’s Day, Before the Bell brought together a panel of women from business, politics, and civil society to discuss this year’s theme of #BalanceforBetter, and how they and their organizations are working to close the gender gaps that exist in their fields.
A recent report from the Canadian Pharmacists Association shows that within their field, in which 60 to 70 percent of pharmacists are women, they only make up thirty percent of owners, board members, and corporate leaders.
Joelle Walker, director of public affairs for the association, said that she hopes the report generates a conversation among members, and the association is hoping to spark change in its ranks leading up to a summit in June.
“We’re going to be hosting a number of different events over the next few months to get people to better understand how they can build up their careers within the pharmacy sector, whether that’s in associations or corporate structures, and to encourage a conversation around change, and how the structures around them need to change,” said Walker.
Host Susan Delacourt led off the discussion with Oksana Kishchuk, analyst with Abacus Data, who conducted a poll about millennials’ perceptions about the wage gap within their own households, and how men and women felt their salaries compared to that of their partner. The result found 39 per cent of men feeling they make more than their partners, compared to 19 per cent of women.
On another question about household chores such as cooking and cleaning among heterosexual millennial couples, women were much more likely to respond that they are responsible for chores than men. The same survey found that men were more likely to be responsible for finances and being the main income earner.
The survey also found that 31 percent of men expressed a desire for political involvement as opposed to 19 percent of women, with women citing family obligations, lack of knowledge, and lack of skills as barriers they face.
“Things are getting better,” said Kishchuk. “We also asked if people think a balance of responsibilities is a good thing, and whether or not men should be taking on more household responsibilities and women should be taking on more of those financial roles, and a clear majority of millennials felt balance was a good thing.”
Aylin Lusi, vice-president of public affairs for UPS Canada, said that in her experience, small businesses required more of a bespoke service for getting export-ready. Given that only sixteen percent of small businesses in Canada are women-owned, and only eight percent of those businesses are engaged in exports, Lusi said that there is room for improvement.
“Internationally, we are engaged with an organization called the International Trade Centre,” said Lusi. “They have an initiative called SheTrades, which is looking to empower three million women, engaging them in international supply chains by 2021. We’ve partnered with them and launched the Women’s Exporters Program, which engages with women-owned businesses in countries around the world, helping them become export-ready.”
Lusi said that her most practical advice is to research, and not underestimate the amount of time and energy in preparing to export.
Mairead Lavery, president and CEO of Export Development Canada, said that as a woman leading a 75-year-old organization, she does bring a different style and set of skills to the job. For women entrepreneurs, there are specific challenges around access to capital and financing, and more of them will finance their businesses with personal debt such as credit cards and mortgages.
“Often they are asked the question ‘is your husband willing to support you with this?’ or ‘do you have a guarantor that’s a male?’,” said Lavery. “That’s one of the things that we’re very conscious about – eliminating any biases. We have appointed a Women in Business lead at EDC, so that if there are any biases, she’s there to weed them out.”
Lavery added that there is also a myth that exporting is only about items, but in many cases, it’s also about services.
Julie Savard-Shaw, director of partnerships with CanWaCH, the Canadian Partnership for Women and Children’s Health, said that providing childcare is one of the most important ways to help encourage women to take on leadership roles. She added that she also wants more training on sexual assault and harassment awareness as well as bias training addressing inherent biases in the wage gap that begin with paying children differently for things like babysitting and mowing the lawn.
“What young people may see has a direct impact on the careers that they choose,” said Savard-Shaw. “If you ask a girl who’s nine what’s her dream job, that will be completely different from if you ask her when she’s eleven.”
Karen McCrimmon, MP for Kanata–Carleton (Ont.) and parliamentary secretary to the minister of public safety and emergency preparedness, was also the first woman to command a squadron in the Royal Canadian Air Force. McCrimmon said that in 31 years in the military, she was never insulted or yelled at as much as she has been as a woman in the House of Commons.
“In places around the world, when we had women soldiers in places like Afghanistan, we really stood out and people would follow us around because they had never seen a woman in uniform,” said McCrimmon. “We can be that beacon of hope on so many issues. Change doesn’t happen overnight, but we can set good examples.”