FILE - Tina Strehlke, CEO, Minerva BC (right) Launi Skinner CEO, First West Credit Union at the signing of the document promoting gender parity. (Submitted photo)

OPINION: Steps taken in right direct, still a long way to go for gender equality

A column from Minerva BC CEO Tina Strehlke

As Canada observes the second annual Gender Equality Week, it is both an opportunity to celebrate progress made, while acknowledging there remain significant gaps in achieving gender parity. The glass ceiling might have cracks in it, but it’s far from broken.

On a positive note, the number of women in the workforce has doubled in the last 40 years. More women in the workforce means that we are generating a larger portion of household income than ever before.

So, while in 1976 it was normal to expect that mom and daughter would rarely contribute financially to the family unit, today women form not only an important part of the family economic engine, but increasingly, women are earning half—sometimes more—of a family’s income.

Women’s gendered role as the bearer of children is evolving as well. In 1976, women could expect to have their first child—if not second or third—by age 24. But now, women are more likely to delay having children to pursue education or employment opportunities, meaning the average Canadian woman’s pregnancy is now taking place at age 29.

READ MORE: Extra weeks of parental leave now available across Canada

Traditional roles also continue to evolve when it comes to child rearing, especially parental leave. At the turn of this century, only 3 per cent of fathers took paternity leave; but now, nearly 30 per cent said they would take advantage of it.

These are all indicators of positive change for women in Canada. But focussing solely on the progress would be turning a blind eye to the chasms that still exist.

As prominent figures like Melinda Gates reminded Americans last month, it will take 208 years for the United States to achieve gender equality, according to a 2018 World Economic Forum (WEF) report. For Canadian women, the number is far less — and still staggering: it will take 122 years at the current rate of progress.

READ MORE: France takes torch passed by Canada, will focus on gender equality at G7 summit

Canada, ranked 16th overall by the report, punches well-below its weight in several categories such as like political empowerment. Despite having an equal number of male and female cabinet ministers, Canada ranks 52nd in the world with respect to the number of women in parliament, behind countries like Sweden, Slovenia and Namibia.

There is also much room for improvement in a critical category: equal pay. Depending on how it’s measured, women earn between 69 and 87 cents on the dollar, for similar work, compared to men in Canada. Which is why the WEF report ranked Canada 50th overall, trailing countries like Nicaragua, Iceland, and the United Kingdom.

Here in B.C., women continue to be underrepresented in senior management positions and on boards of directors. This November, Minerva will be releasing our fifth annual scorecard, grading the top 100 B.C. businesses by revenue on gender equality at the leadership level. While we’re hopeful the report will illustrate that progress has been made, it will likely be yet another example of just how far we have to go.

Tina Strehlke

CEO of Minerva BC

READ MORE: Hatred of women creeping into public debate, Trudeau tells equality conference

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