Statement to Status of Women Committee

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For the third time since 2014, SCWIST was invited to address the House of Commons Standing Committee on the Status of Women. This time the study was on the Economic Security of Women in Canada.

Our Director of Make Possible, Danniele Livengood, addressed the committee via teleconference on May 16, 3017. SCWIST’s address focused on what we can do to increase the participation of women in traditionally male-dominated fields and leadership positions. We sought to address the following components of the committee’s study:
d)    identify the problems affecting women’s income, including gender pay gap, occupational segregation, lack of access to key growth sectors;
e)    identify possible tools to strengthen women’s economic security including government programs and support parental leave and child care;
f)    examine ways to increase women’s entry, participation, retention and representation in leadership and high paying positions, including in private and public sectors, in corporate boards, in male-dominated occupations and in science, technology, engineering and mathematics;

Below are the comments delivered to the committee:

 Thank you, Madam Chair. My name is Danniele Livengood and I am representing the Society for Canadian Women in Science and Technology, also known as SCWIST. We are honoured to be called upon to comment on your study about women’s economic security and equal participation in the Canadian economy. Based on over 35 years of supporting women in science, technology, engineering and math (or STEM), SCWIST will seek to address items d, e & f of the study proposed in Standing Order 108 part 2.

Over the years, much effort has been put toward addressing the skillsets of women by providing them with training to make them effective in high paying and leadership positions; however, skills are no longer the primary issue keeping women out of these positions. Access to these positions is the main issue. Women are excluded from positions that could provide them an equal measure of economic security, and in STEM fields this is largely due to gender biases against them. No amount of women’s personal empowerment, education, or skill will increase women’s presence if access is denied.

Addressing women’s lack of representation in key growth sectors and leadership positions requires changing the systems, not the women.

We would also like to recognize that many Canadian women face additional economic challenges due to aspects of their identity, such as: race, ethnicity, religion, abilities, gender identity, sexual orientation, immigration status, and age. We hope that in recommending supportive policies for women, that these other facets will be positively influenced by the improvement in our culture overall.

Access to these key positions is influenced by Canadian culture. This culture is upheld at the government level, the corporate level, the community level, as well as the individual level. We have made recommendations for how to influence culture at these various levels:

First is the level of government:

We recommend the implementation of non-partisan, gender-based analysis of all economic and social policies, including increased funding commitments to conduct these analyses. Ensuring that all policies are scrutinized for their short and long term impact on women will prevent existing policies from hindering new efforts.

Based on the “comply or explain” policies enacted in the UK, Germany, and the Netherlands, we should expect that companies in Canada meet certain pay equity and leadership diversity standards. One way for the government to do so is to amend procurement policies to require that organizations are compliant with standards which ensure the full participation of women.

We recommend that federal funding programs reward collaboration rather than competition as well as hold their applicants accountable for the diversity of their team and the impact their proposals will have on women.

This applies for media projects, which help shape the cultural norms in Canada. This applies for entrepreneurial or small business funding as women have been shown to receive significantly less investment for small businesses than men, despite being a more secure investment.

And of course, this also applies to research funding as women are less likely to participate in competitive application processes than men are, and the competitive culture of winners versus losers only upholds the perception that singular minds are more valued than the collaboration of many diverse perspectives.

We need policies to regulate the media, and especially advertising, with respect to their representations of women. Canada has developed extensive, high-quality Canadian content in both official languages; we can and should require that Canadian media respect and support diversity. Media is an essential piece of what builds our culture and thus our personal biases, if we want a future where more women are leaders in high paying and male-dominated industries, we need to show Canadians that it’s normal.

We need a federal policy on child care and family leave to ensure the full participation of women in the economy. This will help retain women, slow the departure of young workers, and save money overall on new hires and retraining. Giving women the support they need to stay in the workforce while raising a family will allow them the opportunity to compete for leadership positions and maintain their salary trajectory, while not being burdened with high child care costs.

Next, the actions we recommend for the corporate level:

Like the government level, we recommend a “comply or explain” approach for public consumers as well as shareholders to keep companies accountable for having diverse leadership teams.

To comply with such standards, corporations will need to address their hiring, retention, and promotion practices to ensure biases are not inherent in these systems.

Blind hiring, family-friendly policies, supportive policies for dealing with instances of harassment, and intentionally diverse succession planning are all things that would support women’s full participation in the workforce.

Third, we recommend the following to the community level:

We need to support and expand programs that create networks, provide role-models and ensure mentorship opportunities for women in male-dominated industries. SCWIST’s, an online skill-based mentoring platform, is a result of intentional investment by Status of Women Canada which further supports women to pursue STEM careers. While we ask the government and corporate levels to explore new ways to influence culture, we must keep up the grassroots work that has gotten us this far.

We recommend that communities actively engage in an open and ongoing conversation about instances of behaviour that do not support a culture of inclusion. Keeping a dialogue going will allow community members to share these struggles and collaborate on how best to address systemic biases.

And finally, at the personal level:

We need to come to terms with our own biases. Everyone has them. We recommend the Harvard Implicit Bias Tests – because knowing is sometimes a surprising first step.

At each level, we need build a culture where women are given access to these important positions. If we give them access, they will no longer be seen as the “problem” but rather the key to the innovation required to solve many problems, both Canadian and global.

Thank you.


To see the original letter please click here.

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